|Meet the Designer-Artist
Where do you live?
North East, Pennsylvania
Describe your artistic style.
I'm a huge fan of the Victorian Era. I built my own 4000 sq. ft. home all by hand and using all manner of materials I could hunt up which spoke of the Victorian Era. When it comes right down to it, however, I love all that is beautiful. I can find so much pleasure in working with new materials that had never occurred to me in the past but revealed a new meaning of the word "beautiful" to me. I am now finding myself venturing into areas of style that I had never gone to before. Whilst gold was always my basic metal of choice, I'm learning the magic to be found in bright silver, antique brass, and all other metals. Texture is also becoming a new world for me as I push myself into finding ways to embrace new textures and find ways to make them work together. Finally, I would say that one of the biggest things I seek to do with my jewelry-making is to work as many pieces as I can in a way that makes them versatile. I love a necklace that has two different looks when worn front way or backwards. Both sides are really "fronts" and can be used that way. I also make my more involved projects so that they can be taken apart and used in a variety of ways. The piece I'm submitting to the Swarovski contest called "Big, Blue and Beautiful" can be reconfigured into at least 10 very well balanced and useful necklaces. I also try to restrict myself to clasps that are easy on and easy off for people who have trouble with their hands. My wife has Rheumatoid Arthritis and has a great deal of trouble putting on jewelry. I make my pieces so that they go on and off as easily as possible. I am making that one of my biggest focuses as I learn jewelry-making. I am working very hard to find those clasps handicapped women can put on easier. While some of this problem can be solved with the use of elastic and other similar products, I am a firm believer in making whatever I create something that will last through the ages. In my piano rebuilding work, I am fastidious about making all my repairs ones that can stand the test of time and I carry that work ethic into jewelry-making. I don't want to make a piece that will last until the elastic goes; I want to make things that can be handed down to your grandchildren who, in turn, can hand it down to their grandchildren.
What inspires you as a designer-artist?
All my life, I have been artistic. I have a degree in piano and in voice at the college level and also some post grad work in voice. I have sung in professional ensembles and been used as soloist therein. At the same time, I have enjoyed learning the pleasures of painting landscapes and still lifes. I also have spent my last 20 years rebuilding all manner of pianos; grands, uprights, players, standard pianos, orchestrions (nickelodeons) and so forth. It was that work that started me in the discipline of making stained glass windows for orchestrions. I have also been able to serve my local church by making stained glass windows for them during a remodel some years ago. One window I made for them was large enough that it took a crew of five or six men to put it up into place. It seems that anything I touch in artistic arenas eventually starts to turn out well. I taught myself to knit, crochet, weave and hand spin wool and silk back when I was a young man. It becomes difficult to say just what inspires me because I look all around me at all times. Very little gets past my notice. I have a proclivity for seeing, hearing, feeling everything around me very clearly. It can become a noisy world for my senses at times but I'm always finding new inspiration from this so I consider it a blessing in disguise. Perhaps, my current primary inspiration is the fact that I'm getting older and all the piano lifting over the years and the work of hand building a large house that has taken a severe toll on my body. I am slowly decreasing my efforts in the piano restoration shop in favor of working with jewelry-making. I find the work so very relaxing and challenging and it is so much easier on my body. My wife and I both share physical infirmities that are making it imperative that we really seek to diversify our efforts in order to accommodate our bodies.
What materials do you most enjoy working with?
I adore working with the products of the sea. Whether it is Paua Abalone or shark's teeth, I find myself fascinated by all the wonderful things that come from the sea. I never had such an appreciation for how beautiful all these things can be until I began a new venture into lutherie where inlay of shell is common. From there, I have taken off. But it doesn't stop there. As a child, I could definitely have been classified as a "rock hound". I even belonged to a rock club. I have always been appreciative of the products of the earth and get great joy out of working with the beautiful things that come from there. Whilst there is great joy to be had in working with blue sapphires, I find the beautiful plays of color and light of Lapis Lazuli far more enticing. Diamonds are a precious thing indeed, but I take great joy in seeing the beautiful things I can make with Swarovski crystals and with ice cracked and clear/colored quartz. I love the beauty of a perfect ruby but I get even greater inspiration from a red fossil stone, a peyote piece made from Czech seed beads in one of their glorious reds. My next favorite endeavor is going to be to see if I can make successful pieces from a batch of silk flowers I have made solid and glossy by binding them in nitrocellulose and in using some of my stash of hand blown stained glass cut and ground into cabochon shapes to be bezeled into seed beads. As I usually do, my first attempts in these areas will find their inspirational starting point in the Victorian pieces I've seen and loved. Finally, I love the look of true pavé. While I don't have the materials and skills to do traditional pave work, I look forward to taking my stock of settings, plating them in my own shop in 24 karat gold and making bib necklaces with chaton and Swarovski flat back rhinestones. I also have a supply of antique Swarovski Rhinestones which have never been opened before that I am using in my work now. My first entry into a contest contains all the Swarovski needed for the Swarovski contest but I didn't restrict myself to modern Swarovski work. I included Navettes that they made decades ago.
What is the name of the piece you submitted with your success story?
Big, Blue and Beautiful Necklace
What inspired this design?
Our one son's favorite color is blue, to honor my wife for all the challenges raising him produced, I made this necklace in the color he likes most. I also made it on a fitting frame that was sized out and padded to fit my wife exactly. The title means: "Big"--for big girls. "Beautiful" is for the fact that their beauty deserves to be thoroughly and unashamedly adorned. "Blue" is for our son.
How did it come together?
I started with a fairly detailed form in my mind but allowed my creative juices to take over whilst keeping them under some semblance of control as I went.
Share Your Background
When and how did you begin making jewelry/beading?
Well, I may have told more than I needed to earlier on. The real story is actually very touching. My wife has had a very hard life and has had very little support from her family during all her hard labors. I wanted to make a very special piece of jewelry for my wife to commemorate each of her hard won victories of life. The birth of her two sons (my step-sons) and her earning a degree to become an R.N. were all overlooked as if they never happened. I made her very dramatic pieces meant to pay her back for all that she should have received plus interest. My wife is a large-framed girl and I love the beauty of full figured women. But they don't get an easy time at the clothing store, the shoe store or the jewelry store. I wanted to make pieces that would balance with her body shape and enhance her beauty. It is this initial start into jewelry-making that inspired me to start making pieces of all kinds and putting them out for sale. Any sized woman can find beautiful things to wear in my store but I really do try to make a point of designing and building pieces that can play up the best aspects of a big girls shape and to help take attention away from those things that they would prefer to deemphasize. I've been making jewelry now for a little less than a year but I am the type to obsess on something when I decide to learn it and have spent my year busily making all the pieces I could and spending all my free time with my nose buried in books and in magazines to seek out inspirations of what women are enjoying in the here and now, not just what was worn in the Victorian era. My wife and I are both committed to making our on line store of craft items, sewing patterns and jewelry slanted towards the bigger girl. We are trying to make a statement that so many big girls are really breathtakingly beautiful but they have been lied into thinking they are ugly because they don't have the perfect BMI. While I would never suggest that women abandon their health and its maintenance, we want them to know that it isn't necessary to lose weight to be beautiful. They already are beautiful and any choice to lose weight is one that they make for their own desire to feel better. They certainly don't need to do it to look better. And this from an average sized man, a little overweight but nothing earth shattering. But a man who knows beauty when he sees it and wants to help make the women of our planet feel beautiful and worthwhile just as they are.
Who introduced you to beading?
I was introduced to jewelry-making and beading by a close friend of mine. Me.
How did you discover Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®?
As I said before, when I start to take an interest in expressing myself in a new art form, I obsess on the craft. I had not been studying books, magazines and the internet long before Fire Mountain became known to me. After taking several weeks to explore Fire Mountain in deep detail (both on line and through their large catalogue) I knew that I had found myself a home. Fair pricing with really great bargains for the person smart enough and patient enough to hunt them down.
What other hobbies do you have?
Architecture, painting, crocheting, knitting, weaving, spinning, hand dying, building and rebuilding pianos and guitars, the physics of sound and how they apply to musical instrument's sounding boards--strings--hammers--sound egress systems, jewelry-making is my current obsession and one that will probably remain high up on my list the rest of my life (whenever life gets tough, I just go to my beading bench and start to make something beautiful--it is so relaxing and quieting). Also, I am a bona fide expert in furniture restoration and refinishing, as well as the same for pianos and other wooden musical instruments. I also rebuild the components of pipe organs and have much of these items set up in my home. Singing, playing the piano and pipe organ.
Do you belong to any beading societies or beading groups?
No, I have not been so fortunate yet. I am, by nature, a little timid in groups and joining societies and beading groups is a challenge for me. It is one of the things I think Fire Mountain will be instrumental in helping me overcome.
What role does jewelry-making play in your life?
I'm new to beading and cannot expect to be selling enough to make it a bona fide "living." However, I have a four year backlog on my piano restorations and I hope that, by the end of that backlog--as I am not taking any new customers in piano work unless it is a special piano that I "want" to work with--I hope to have grown the jewelry business to a steady part-time affair. We also sell sewing patterns and have over 7000 such patterns listed in our store at http://moonwishesstore.ecrater.com/ where my jewelry is also currently listed. I have been taught not to "despise the day of small beginnings." My goal is to sell one or two fairly substantial pieces my first year. But I am working toward the goal of selling two items a month by the end of the first year on line. That's the goal but I have a realistic success point that I will consider "on target" for a fledgling business. Right now, one of the biggest roles jewelry making is having in my life is its ability to ease my mind when life is tough and it is also giving me new appreciations for the depths to which my wife's artistic skills reach. Many things that I must think out with my color wheel in my hand, come as totally instinctive to her. I find that amazing. So jewelry-making/beading is serving to strengthen my marriage as well.
If you used jewelry-making as a way to bring in income, how are you selling yourself and your jewelry?
Well, we are new to this and have not had the time to line up all these sorts of excellent ideas. I am committing considerable time toward the job of entering pieces into contests that are serious works meant to be winners, not just things I threw together in hopes I'd sneak out with a win somehow. Our web site at which the jewelry is for sale is http://moonwishesstore.ecrater.com/ And I have a separate page on my own piano restoration web site where I keep close up images of my work for people who want to see my offerings up closer. These pictures can be found at: www.pianorestoring.com/jewelry.htm Due to our poor health, my wife and I cannot commit to heading out of town for craft and jewelry fairs or markets. Our local area is rural and somewhat backward and such fairs are few and far between and have little by way of jewelry related content. But we do look to find everything we can in both the printed form and on the net. I will be working hard to interact with the people of the jewelry world as time goes by. I have found that the world of jewelry makers consists of a great group of people. My old main business of restoring pianos was very cut throat and political. The customers were very impatient and demanding and each of the projects I take on requires a year to complete. I'm looking forward to entering into relationships with the people in the beading world who are gentle, polite, helpful and enthusiastic. An arena that one doesn't find much anymore.
Do you participate in any charity fundraisers?
No, I don't involve myself in the charities as described in this question. However, my wife and I faithfully present a full 10% of everything we profit from all the irons we keep in the fire to our local church which spends as much of its money as it can on men and women who are overseas helping poor and sick people to have better housing, food, medical care and share with them our faith.
Any advice for aspiring jewelry-artists?
Read, read, read. The jewelry world is full of great people who will bend over backwards for you. However, I feel it is best to come to people who are "in the know" with a solid foundation of the art form already in place. Don't waste their time asking them to spoon feed you everything about making and marketing jewelry. Learn all you can and go for help when you really need it. They'll be there for you but it is fairer to them and in your best interests to have learned as much as you can first. The other big piece of advice I would give is to invest a serious sum of money into materials for jewelry-making. First study what's available and what it's used for. Understand how the work is done and then study to see what's for sale and who has the best prices and who has the best offerings. When I made my first big buy of materials I spent over $4000. But I have found that this was almost not enough to provide me with everything I needed to let my creative juices flow without being hamstrung by lack of materials.