Artisan Alley: Celebrating Nature’s Mysteries


By Antoinette Rahn and Erin Dana Balzrette

“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”
~Francis Bacon

The longer I live, the more I appreciate and respect the mysteries of nature.

For as much is known about nature, I’m still amazed at how many fascinating unseen ‘views’ of mysteries are unveiled regularly. We see it in every aspect of the rock, gem, mineral, fossil, and lapidary community on a regular basis. And what an exceptional honor that is.

I would also say discoveries and unveilings of these mysteries occur almost daily at the intersection of lapidary and silversmithing. Again, what an exceptional honor to be witness to that type of fusion.

In this installment of Artisan Alley, we learn of the inspiration behind five stunning pieces created through collaboration. The brilliant pieces showcased in the Artisan Alley blog/column are the genius of silversmiths and lapidary artists who are members of the Stone and Silver Facebook group.

Wanong Dendritic Opal Pendant 
Silversmith: Barbara Bureker
Lapidary Artist: Sherri Dougan

As is often expressed by the lapidary artists and silversmiths behind the featured pieces of this column, there is a little bit of the person who is making the piece that is represented within. Silversmith Barbara Bureker discusses this as she explains the inspiration behind the Wanong dendritic opal pendant she created, which features a cabochon by Sherri Dougan.

“As I designed the pendant for this wonderful cabochon, I knew I wanted the stone to really shine without too much distraction. At the same time, I have to put something of myself into the jewelry I make; I have a really hard time just putting a stone in a bezel and calling it good,” she said.

“Because of the ghostly dendrites in the stone, I decided to add my own “dendrites” to the setting. My first thought was to set the stone on either copper or bronze, with silver dendrites. But after playing around with the stone on different metals, it was clear that a silver back really brought that rich golden glow out. I then thought I’d use bronze for the dendrites, as the more golden color of bronze would match the golden color in much of the stone. But I decided to go with copper, as there is one coppery colored line that runs diagonally through the golden part. I thought the copper might bring that out nicely.”

Explaining further, Bureker shares how each element of the piece serves an important purpose and its presence is valued.

“I decided to blacken the silver to connect with the black of the dendrites and  also to help both stone and copper stand out. The bail is also copper – also hammered like the dendrites – to extend the dendrites up. I wasn’t sure about using a silver rivet. I almost used copper, but kind of like the contrast of the shiny silver rivet. It connects to the bezel around the stone. My main desire always is to do justice to a beautiful stone like this. I hope I did that!”

Her partner in this collaboration, lapidary artist Sherri Dougan, speaks about her inspiration being the color of the stone.

“The colors of this stone worked so well with the dendrites i just had to do this lovely drop shape,” states Dougan.

Silver, Jasper and Dark Ivory Glass Beaded Necklace
Arrangement Artist: Sandy Wiltzius Morris
Silversmith: Shari Blackswan Windsor
Lapidary Artist: Armi Priyati
Bead Artist: Cindy Erickson

If the phrase ‘it takes a village’ hasn’t been used often within the lapidary community, I’d be surprised, and would suggest people consider it more. A perfect example of the power of collaboration is present in this necklace.

As Sandy Wiltzius Morris explains, the idea for the piece began with the beads.

“My inspirations for the total piece were the beads I got from Cindy Erickson of One Big Tree Designs, and the pendant that Shari Blackswan Windsor smithed,” she said.

For lapidary artist Armi Priyati, the jasper material provides a balanced presence, and is core within the inspiration for her work in this necklace.

“(It’s) the boundary between the two sides between the good and the bad side,” Priyati explained. “What I make uses mineral jasper from the island of Sulawesi located in the country of Indonesia. Jasper has a very beautiful blend of colors, in my opinion.”

Interpretation, even in something as detailed as the pieces of this necklace, lends to the creativity and the meaning.

“My inspiration for this piece was in reminiscing about antique chocolate boxes for Valentine’s Day,” states silversmith Shari Blackswan Windsor.” I’ve always loved them, and the stone has a sort of antique look to it.”

In addition, sometimes the inspiration is an approach that seems perfectly suited for a specific piece. Such was the case for Cindy Erickson as she created the beads that began it all.

“(The two large beads) were inspired by a technique I learned while studying with my mentor in Los Angeles. This technique includes making glass shards out of dark ivory glass rods that are melted onto the end of a metal tube,” she explained. “Silver leaf is then burnished into the hot glass and air is puffed into the end of the tube. The resulting bubble is allowed to harden and then broken with a metal wand.”

She went on to explain another stage of this technique.

These “silvered ivory shards” are then carefully applied to the base bead for kind of a scrimshaw effect. To finish off the bead, silvered ivory glass is melted into a ball called a “gather.” The gather is stretched into a thin rod called a “stringer.” This stringer is applied to each end of the bead for a nice finished look.”

Epidote Sprays With Quartz Crystals/Bone/Amber Pendant
Silversmith: Alejandra G. Whittier
Lapidary Artist: Judy Burmeister

Another often cited source of inspiration is nature. That’s exactly what came to mind for silversmith Alejandra G. Whittier when she saw the uncommon cabochon made by Judy Burmesiter.

“The Epidote sprays and quartz crystals reminded me of moss formed on the trees in the middle of the forest,” Whittier stated. “This pendant represents the spirit of the forest. The face is made of carved bone, and the body and setting is made with sterling and fine silver fabricated pieces. The piece was antiqued and highlighted with a matte finish.”

For lapidary artist Judy Burmeister it was more internal.

“As a lapidary, I’m always trying to find the balance between raw specimen and wearable art. For this piece, I was in love with the circular fan sprays of Epidote nestled among Quartz crystals and was thrilled to be able to encompass both in what turned out to be an amazing piece.”

Malachite/Chrysocolla in Chalcedony Silver Pendant
Silversmith: Chris Deschene Goyette
Lapidary Artist: Liz Cain Dicken

Sometimes the inspiration is not physical, but metaphysical, as Chris Deschene Goyette explains in regard to the inspiration behind this piece.

“Strength. I am a big believer in the healing power of stones. This one drew me in because of the strength of its qualities and its unique shape and combination of minerals,” she said. “Malachite/Chrysocolla in Chalcedony is another powerful combination to help protect you from negative energy, different physical and mental health conditions and promote emotional honesty and healing. Each of these stones serves to protect the wearer but working together to create an emotional armor that increases your mental abilities and inner peace. Chrysocolla allows you to speak your truth, to yourself and to others.”

Simplicity is sometimes the greatest source of inspiration and creativity, as Liz Cain Dicken attests.

“This stone brought to mind seeing green leaves through a window with white sheer curtains so I kept the shape simple to keep the focus on the malachite “leaves,” she said.

Lili-Pad Jasper Sterling Silver Frog
Silversmith: Elias Grivakos Greer
Lapidary Artist: Teddi Giannakopoulou

“I often decide what to create while I search in our inventory of our rough slabs,” Elias explained. “As I examine each slab, creativity begins. Soon thereafter, my mind immediately visualizes an item to create. The process is long and tedious as I begin by sketching my idea. From there, the process begins to take form with eventually carving the item in wax.”

Working off the idea of a collaborator also often drives the process, as lapidary artist Teddi Giannakopoulou explained.

“Finding the appropriate stone for the Frog Prince was definitely nature inspired. Nature is bountiful and we all often take inspiration from wildlife to create something of our own.”

“I believe beautiful stones are the perfect element found in our world and can inspire our creativity. This Lili-Pad Jasper Cabochon had all the qualities for the design to have Elias set in his frog pendant; it had the right color and the pattern true to a frog’s natural appearance…Simple, yet dynamic and vibrant in bringing him to a life.”

Be sure to look for new Artisan Alley showcase blogs/columns each week.


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