Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lisa Krikawa: Wonderful Wedding Rings and more!

Lisa Krikawa

I heard about Lisa Krikawa of Krikawa Jewelry Designs upon learning that she won the latest Mort Abelson Scholarship to the Revere Academy Masters Symposium. It was the first contest I’ve entered as a jewelry designer. I didn’t expect to win, but I approached it as a new experience to learn how these things are done. It took me hours just to figure out how to submit the photos properly! So when I learned that a winner had been selected, I was fascinated to find out that it was Lisa.

Lisa specializes in custom wedding rings and unique lockets. She is more than a single artisan; rather she has emerged as a small business owner with a staff of skilled goldsmiths.

Here’s a few minutes with Lisa:

Congratulations on your win of the Mort Abelson Scholarship to the Revere Academy Masters Symposium. What class will you take and what do you hope to get out the experience?

I am taking the micro-pavé class with Christo Kiffer. He is a master of micro-pavé, and an internationally respected, award-winning jewelry designer and goldsmith. Christo's vast experience includes a specialty in diamond setting which lead to his signature "Floating Channel" designs. I will be learning to set diamonds as small as .003ct, which is about the size of a ball on the end of a fine ball-point pen. I am a sucker for fine, microscopic detail. Truly fine jewelry should retain it's beauty under magnification.

Your work seems to specialize in interesting and unusual wedding rings. Why is this your focus?

I have a hard time with making jewelry just to make pretty jewelry. My passion lies in putting my talent (and that of my extremely talented staff) to use by making something that is meaningful. One of the most rewarding experiences for me in this business occurs when I collaborate with my client and my staff to create a beautiful wedding set that is designed around our client's specifications and brought to a fabulous 3-D existence by my creative team. As it turns out, this is an incredibly meaningful experience for our clients as well, and the icing on the cake occurs when we get their response to the final rings and their exceptional experience with us.

What appeals to you about mokume-gane? Do you make your own?

From the beginning, I have considered myself a metalsmith first and foremost. As an artist, my preferred palette has always been the palette of precious metals, from green gold to gray gold and all the colors in-between. Mokume-gane was a perfect medium for me. We hand-pattern our mokume in-house.

You also do fantastic specialized work in lockets which is unusual....what do you like about creating lockets?

Lockets are precision projects that contain meaning inside and out. Mechanisms such as hinges and catches give me a technical challenge, while the concept of hidden compartments capture my imaginiation.

You have a larger staff and business than most art jewelers. What do you think it requires to come to your level of success?

My greatest asset to my success has been my tenacious spirit and my business minded approach. I take nothing personally and look at nothing as a failure, only an opportunity for growth. My professional experience is enlightened by collaborating with other passionate and talented individuals, working together as a team, maturing and growing together, and resolving issues in a loving manner.

What do you see as the particular challenges and opportunities during these economic times?

The challenge of course is the consumer's general resistance to spending money. The opportunity is to help people express themselves through customized jewelry, as the general opinion of mass produced merchandise flags.

What advice would you give to fledgling jewelry designers?

Always follow your heart and do that which you are passionate about. Passion will provide sustenance regardless of monetary gains; it will sustain you in lean times. Enter into business only if you have a penchant for it, otherwise you will be miserable, bogged down in paperwork. Don't consider outside employment as a failure; rather use the time you have wisely and don't give up on your dream. And for success in any endeavor, embrace the four agreements: be impeccable in your word; don't take anything personally; don't make assumptions; and always do your best. We are each 100% responsible for our lives. Never, ever put blame on others. Let gratitude lead your way.

I love Lisa’s advice!

Thanks for stopping by!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tom Herman: Carving Classic Romance!

Tom Herman

Tom's studio

I heard about Tom Herman and Seven Finger Jewelers through my friend and mentor, Beth Rosengard. Tom’s classical work is absolutely stunning; and even more impressive upon discovering that his company was so named because as a small child, Tom lost three fingers in a farm accident. Clearly, Tom makes more with seven fingers than most of us do with ten but it is unusual enough that I started our interview by asking about it:

It’s no different than working with ten. I’ve never considered it a handicap, but it is distinctive so when I needed a name, I decided on Seven Fingers Jewelers. My high school years were hard, but as soon as I forgot that it was a handicap, then everyone else forgets as well. I go to craft shows with a back drop of my Seven Fingers Jewelers name and I’ll talk to customers sometimes two or three years in a row and they’ll sometimes say, “now why is it you call your company, Seven Fingers? “ And they will be surprised when I show them my hand…they just never noticed before.

Tom specializes in the ancient technique of metal carving.

Chasing is one of the oldest techniques in the world. I do almost all chasing because I start with thick enough metal to carve into and then take the metal and use punches to define it. I consider engraving a very hard technique to learn, but chasing… tap tap tap… you have a lot of control over the metal and I find it so ungodly easy to do because I do it a little bit at a time. Once you put your hand to it and once you know how to hold your work, it becomes very easy. I don’t mean to belittle the technique; it does take practice, but all those amazing pieces we think of in history such as work by Lalique, was all made by regular people. I find the hardest part to get people over is the romantic idea that it is really difficult to do this work. The point is to get off the romance and get on with the artistic part of it.

How would you describe your style?

Romantic I think and classical in many ways, combining organic forms and geometric balance. My work is inspired by nature. I don’t think there is any better designer than Mother Nature and I feel like the ideas are never ending. I look for natural form in stone and cut the stone to enhance its natural beauty and then design the piece around that. I think of it as collaborating with nature. Also, if you look at any classical work, there is always an element of focus. You can appreciate leaves because they are inside a frame. When you look at leaves in nature, there is no frame so you are not focused on them...the idea that you can’t see the forest for the trees…so that is the balance I try to put in my work, to focus the eye on the beauty of the design of nature by containing it within an architectural form that helps focus that beauty.
Like Faberge and Lalique, it’s that kind of quality I am after because it is timeless.. When I was 40, I saw a Lalique show and I realized that work was over a hundred years old. It is so poignant and so engaging that it is the kind of work I want to make; that is timeless and will endure year after year.

With much of your work priced in the five figures, how are you dealing with the economy?

I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I have learned many things over those years. I am not a pure artist. I have two kids and a wife and we have to make a living, so it is not just pure artistry. I don’t get to sit in my studio and think high thoughts, I have to make money. I believe the best way to do that is to use all the techniques that have been incorporated into my life and designing ability to make the very highest level work I can and that work will then find its own market because its beauty will attract people to it who can afford it.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

I think there is nothing more important than selling your own work. Galleries are good, but unless you are there watching people look at your work, you don’t get a true idea of whether you are touching them or not. I think it is really important to be there and watch people interpret your work. I find that there is nothing more valuable than seeing that. And, you really have to have the desire to do this. The desire is everything. I worked the first 7-8 years and made not a dime. It isn’t the kind of work where you will get out of school and find a job that pays $70,000 per year. That’s not going to happen. So, it is key to follow your desire and focus your desire. And, you have to be self motivated. I still work seven days a week often 10-12 hours a day and it is because I like it. It is because there are things inside me I can’t get out fast enough.

I so enjoyed my time with Tom. What an incredible talent and such a lovely person!

Tom will be at the Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference from February 19-22 and then at the American Craft Council, Baltimore from February 27-March 1.

Thanks for stopping by! Sally

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Karen Olsen Ramsey: Dancing With Metal

Karen Olsen Ramsey

Karen's Studio in Sierra Nevada, California

LaVite Luccicante

Les Tres Baigneurs

Frog's Leap

Satsuma Vine-Back

Satsuma Vine-Front

I was introduced to Karen Olsen Ramsey through my friend, Beth Rosengard. I had asked Beth for recommendations on people she thought to be great jewelry designers/creators and she gave me a tremendous list of people….many of whom you will see in the blog over these next months.

Karen’s work is amazingly crafted and ever so lovely! She specializes in chasing and repousse which seems to be rarer to find these days so I started our interview by asking about her focus on this technique.

I like the fact that chasing and repousse are ancient metal forming techniques. I am very interested in lifestyles, items, and many of the time-honored values of prior generations. I feel the importance of slowing down, taking time, noticing and connecting with what we are doing on a daily basis. Working with my hand tools in my studio as I tap shape into my metal, I feel a sense of relaxation and peace. My pace is not hurried, nor am I concerned about a mass production run. To me, the process evokes a connection to traditional craftspeople, a respect for process that symbolizes quality, intention, and a reverence for life that supercedes the hurriedness of our modern daily lives.

I really enjoy working directly with the metal. I have carved and cast wax models in the past, and have enjoyed doing that, but I feel a real affinity with the metal itself. I love to see how plastic it can become, and I also enjoy the challenge. I have a strong background in woodcarving, which is a subtractive sculptural process. Forming metal sculpturally through chasing, repousse, and forging is a similar process, in that material is not added to create the sculptural form. Material is shaped, changed, or removed to create the dimensional form desired. Process has to be carefully planned and analyzed in advance, as mistakes are difficult (if not impossible) to repair. To me, this is the ultimate challenge. Envisioning and designing a piece of jewelry comes naturally to me. Taking my two dimensional drawings and executing them into three dimensional finished pieces takes careful planning, consideration, and patience. Sometimes I make prototypes of certain elements to work out the complicated fabrication processes before taking on the finished pieces in gold. Successfully completing a challenging fabrication is what brings me joy…knowing that I have the tools and experience to bring to fruition a design that originated in my head, and knowing that I persevered until it was complete.

Karen’s work is particularly unique in that the backs of her pieces are as finished and beautiful as the fronts. I asked about this…

I know a fine furniture maker who finishes the backs and bottoms of the drawers in his pieces as if they were the front sides in view. I really liked that concept when first I heard it, and have incorporated that practice into my jewelry as well. I want the backs and insides of my pieces to be respected as integral elements of the piece, and not just considered “the utility room”. Some pieces are designed with an element from the front side that carries over to the back. Others symbolically contrast the feel of the front. Sometimes a stone or pearl is set there as well. I don’t typically publish photos of the backsides of my pieces, nor do I show clients a drawing of the backside on commissioned work. It is a surprise element that is then looked forward to with anticipation while the piece is being made. Some clients flip the piece to the back as soon as they receive it to see what is there before spending time looking at the front. I feel that the backs of pieces are personal… it is the part of the piece that is only visible to the wearer, and they alone hold the prerogative to reveal or keep concealed that aspect of their jewelry. The backsides also remain an element of surprise. If a piece were to accidentally flip to the back side, the viewer’s response would be one of pleasure, rather than dismay.

It is unusual for someone to make all ear wires, chains etc. Why have you chosen this route?

My pieces are all very individual. Many are one of a kind, and others are made individually in limited editions of 12. Because of this, they have a look of being made, one by one. That look and feel is important to me. I want my clients and those who view my jewelry to really sense the passion that I have for making jewelry, and the reverence that I infuse in each part of every piece that I make. Commercially made chains and components have a look of consistency that contrasts with the unique individual look that my pieces imbue. I want my work to be an extension of me, of my values, and of my heart. Incorporating ready made components would bring in machine made and mass production elements that I want to limit, both in my work and in my life.

You say you built the "ultimate jewelry studio". What makes it so?

Oh, my studio is my little slice of heaven! Built into the hillside a short walk down a woodland garden path from my house, the studio is bright and inviting. A wall of recycled casement windows and French doors face west onto a wooded slope. My fabrication bench looks out these windows, and gives me views into the natural world that is my inspiration and my muse.

I am a do-it-yourselfer, and designed the studio myself to allow for all of the workstations and tools that I wanted to bring into the space. Someone once told me to allow for at least twice as many electrical outlets as a typical room would have, so that I did! I have 23 outlets, and actually could use more! I had a contractor build the foundation, walls and roof, and I completed the electrical, plumbing, insulation, drywall, floor, and trim myself. It is really “my” space, and when I sit down at my bench in the morning, I feel like I have come home.

I continue to add specialty tools to my studio as time goes on, but for the most part, I feel very fortunate to be able to work in a beautiful space, walking distance from home, and have all the tools that I need right at my fingertips.

How would you describe your style?

I don’t really have a term that describes my work accurately, and I guess that I prefer not to categorize it with a label. My influences are from the great French jewelers of the Belle Epoch, Japonisme art, and the natural world around me. When I design a piece of jewelry, I strive for a design that takes the eye on a visual dance. I want the elements of each piece to move lyrically from one part to the next, to create a story within the imagery, and evoke a sense of movement, spirit, and peace.

So many great jewelers come out of the Revere Academy. What do you think was the most important thing you got from that experience?

Revere Academy has an amazing plethora of highly skilled, knowledgeable, compassionate, and fun teachers! I can say without hesitation that the most important thing that I received from my training at Revere’s was a profound respect for precision and exactitude in fabrication skills. I also learned the patience needed in order to achieve that precision.

What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities in 2009?

I believe that our greatest challenge is to see challenge as opportunity. I have a phrase that I like to use that I call “Going in the Back Door”. I taught this to my daughters when they were young, and they use it successfully still. When faced with a difficult issue, I reminded them that the difficulty only faced them, and that, if they were to go around to the back side of the problem, they’d surely be able to get through it. Within every challenge lies an opening for something new. Without that particular challenge, we might never have the opportunity to pursue the new path that presents itself to us in this moment. So when a difficulty arises, I encourage myself and my family to look for the opportunities that are possible only because of this issue…what alternate directions can I look in that I might not have otherwise. I am always pleased, and many times thrilled with the new directions that become apparent in such moments. It takes the frustration, pain, and stress away from difficult times, and transforms them into growthful and productive opportunities.

With the slow down in the economy, I am taking time to reassess my priorities. I am reevaluating how I can use my time more efficiently, more meaningfully, and more generously. I am hopeful that everyone will look at their own lives and businesses and see how they might be willing to change in order to meet the challenges in front of us right now.

The biggest opportunity of 2009, I believe, is the encouragement from President Obama to volunteer. Getting involved in community service is an amazingly rewarding opportunity to feel needed, to spend time doing something important, and to make a difference in the lives of people whose lives are dramatically altered by this present economy. Giving of oneself is a powerful antidote to stresses and worries, and offers opportunity to view momentary concerns from alternate perspectives.

“The greatest distance in the existence of man is not from here to there nor from there to here.

Nay, the greatest distance in the existence of man is from his mind to his heart. Unless he conquers this distance he can never learn to soar like an eagle, and realize the immensity within."

~ Angaangaq (an Eskimo-Kalaallit elder)

What a pleasure to get to know Karen. Her work is masterful and I love her outlook on life (not to mention her fabulous studio)! She echoes the sentiments of almost every designer I meet—using this economic crisis to reassess priorities and work on perfecting the work.

I wish Karen continued tremendous success and happiness.

You can find more of her work through her website:

Thanks for stopping by!