It was really love as first…saw? I first made a pendant in 8th grade art class. All my tablemates were growing frustrated with using the jeweler’s saw (it’s basically like a miniature hacksaw with a blade that looks like a piece of thread) but instead I was just more and more enthralled. I found it immensely satisfying to be able to transform something so elemental as sheet metal into something beautiful.
I kept taking metals electives all through high school and give great credit to Ron Frank at Fox Chapel High School for recognizing and encouraging my interest. We took a field trip to Society for Contemporary Craft and seeing art jewelry and museum quality metal work really opened my eyes to the full potential of the medium. I went to Syracuse University specifically for their jewelry program (and because at the time I wanted to be able to double major with creative writing), so it’s been a steady growth since then.
I love the technical aspects of the process–there’s so many aspects that are like miniature engineering, and I love the scale of jewelry. Small things feel very immediate to me, I appreciate the portability of it, and the idea of something that I’ve made becoming part of someone’s daily life, even in a tiny way.
What/who inspires you? What do you do when you have a creative block?
I’ve been teaching metalsmithing and jewelry making since about 2007, and I’d say that my students are a major source of inspiration. I love seeing that spark of discovery in someone else, and seeing innovative ways to solve problems. Metalsmithing can be pretty tough (especially if you’re a kid and you’re still working on simple stuff like hand-eye coordination), and helping someone to be successful and to watch a project transform is really satisfying. It brings me back to why I initially chose metalsmithing (or why it chose me), and makes me want to go home and get in the studio even if I’m exhausted.
If I’m feeling uninspired about on particular medium, I usually try to be creative in another way, like writing a chord progression, or sketching. Sometimes I’m also too stressed to be creative, (which can be a legitimate challenge as a working artist) so I try to empty my brain by cleaning, or folding laundry, or generally being productive and crossing items off the to-do list. I’m not always great at relaxing, but I’m trying to practice more self-care and allow myself to enjoy and relish non-essential things like long bike rides, yoga, road trips, gardening, hanging out with my horse, reading, and writing letters to friends in other cities.
As far as general sources of inspiration, I love landscapes (buildings, bricks, sunsets, old signs, gardens, horizons) and colors (I try to distill or evoke a feeling, place, song, etc. into a simplified motif). When I make pendula (the dangle earrings with three different colored discs), I imagine how to express exuberance, or interpret a photo of the patchwork linoleum from the old Quiet Storm restaurant in Garfield, or how to express one of the best songs of all time, Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’ in color (the answer in my brain is lime green, aquamarine, and burgundy).
What kind of music do you listen to when you work? Tell us a little bit about your band and getting involved in that.
It’s a pretty wide range that depends somewhat on my mood but mostly on what kind of work I’m doing in the studio. I love strange history, science, interviews, and storytelling via an ever expanding podcast list for when I’m doing less focused tasks like cutting up sheet metal, sawing, filing, and general cleaning. When I need to pay attention more to what I’m doing I gravitate towards 80s-90s indie/college rock (Sleater-Kinney, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Carla Bozuluch/the Geraldine Fibbers, Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian, Slowdive, Lush, Broken Social Scene), and hip hop (De La Soul, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, anything on Stones Throw Records). If I’m doing something really detail oriented, I try to stick to something I already know and love or something instrumental-ish (DJ Shadow, Four Tet, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Boards of Canada). As far as more current (new) bands, I’m really into Warpaint, Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, Whitney, Real Estate, Alvvays, DIIV, Beach Fossils, and Courtney Barnett…I like listening to entire albums so I have a sense of how much time I’ve been doing any one task. And I have a studio ukulele if I need a break, but the guitars have to live upstairs otherwise I’d end up trying to play along/learn songs instead of accomplishing anything.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was maybe 15? I definitely needed to have my parents drive me to guitar lessons before I got my license. I played bass in a band in high school, then just alone writing and recording fragments of songs all through college. I wish I would have collaborated with other musician friends around me in college, but I’ve always been a bit anxious and that seemed way too scary! I played bass in another band for a bit after moving back to Pittsburgh after I graduated, but we were never motivated enough to book shows and play out. I was on musical hiatus for several years after that, not on purpose, but it seems like my creative brain shifts its output from time to time. Like all my ideas came out as poems in high school, then as visual art through college, then songs for a summer, then mostly metals for the last few years.
Regarding this band, Sound Elevator, I met Dan and Zev through mutual friends. They’ve been pals and bandmates since they were in high school, and we’ve been playing as a trio for a year/year and half. The band has been in existence since 2012, so it’s evolved as other folks have come and gone. I play guitar and sing (both of which would astound/terrify my 15 year old self), Zev plays bass, and Dan sings, drums, and makes loops and rhythms and noises on the sequencer. We all co-write and collaborate, and it’s astounding how much more fun it is to play music as a 30-something because I care way less about other people’s opinions. I never thought I was a good enough to play guitar in a band, and being in a band with people who are kind and encouraging and up for sonic adventures is pretty grand.
If you could meet a famous person who would it be and why? If you have met someone famous or not famous who particularly influenced you, tell us about them.
All of members of Sleater-Kinney – I’m so inspired by their artistic output in general, but also by what seems to be an incredible collaboration both within the band and in support of so many other types of projects. I met 2/3 of the band last year, but it would be amazing to have a conversation instead of just being awestruck and awkward–Carrie and Corin were incredibly nice though.
June Schwarz and Angela Gerhard, both metalsmiths and enamelists. I’d love to geek out with them about glass powder!
And in real life, when I first started selling at I Made It! Market and other shows back in 2006-2007, I thought Amber Coppings of xmittens was a local celebrity! Like so professional and having these multiple design lines and real photos of people wearing her wearables and making beautiful, functional items! I think our Pittsburgh craft community is full of so many kind people who are so willing to share their experience and talent and expertise, and Amber was one of the first people I really got to know from that world. She’s an amazing educator who I get to work with in other ways these days, too, and I’m so grateful to call her my friend!
I think that everyone in your orbit influences you to some degree if you’re open to receiving what wisdom and warmth they have to offer. If I start to think about this too much, the amount of wonderful people who I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with is staggering. Like in good way.