Precious Metal Clay and Cabs

Silver and stone merge into colorful critters.

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Story and Photos by Ellen J. Cole

I am currently enjoying my artistic work with metal and stone. Like all artists, I have arrived at this place because of various life influences and artistic experiences. I certainly never thought I would be as busy as I am in retirement years, practicing my art and meeting people through social media who admire my work and are eager to purchase it.

I was born in the small, coastal town of Belfast, Maine, and as a child, spent the summers in Hampden, Maine. My mother, a seamstress, was an artist in her own way. I watched her create her own patterns and produce her masterwork. Today, I use patterns I have created to produce my jewelry.

My father introduced me to rocks and stones; consequently, rocks and fossils have always been a love of mine. I have picked them up all over the country. Dad was an earth-moving contractor who built roads and foundations. Our home was built in 1948 from pink granite brought from the coast of Maine. Today, our family home still stands as a restaurant in Hampden. On Sundays, my father took my siblings and me for long walks in the woods. We would sit on logs, enjoying the sunshine and the quietness. I loved watching the small creatures: frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, and all bugs. I admired the tiniest flowers. I realize that I now incorporate those elements into my jewelry.

My husband and I had a successful business for 25 years. We worked long hours and raised four children. All the while, I had to find moments to enjoy my artistic pursuits. I enjoyed sewing, painting, quilting, and basket weaving.

Meanwhile, I began to collect pottery. I always admired my family’s old pottery pieces. As I talked with potters and attended art shows, I had the desire to try this new medium. Pottery classes opened up a whole new world of clays and glazes. I worked hard to perfect the making of large bowls and vases, but realized the greatest satisfaction for me was in making smaller vases and bowls decorated with frogs, flowers and dragonflies. I thoroughly enjoyed experimentation and “working outside of the box”. I still display dozens of my pottery pieces in my home.

In 2004, I contracted Lyme disease. The joint pain and fatigue hindered me from continuing to throw pots on the pottery wheel, and necessitated a change in my artistic work. I began to experiment with stone carving; however, the Lyme disease prohibited me from doing heavy work with stone. For therapy, I also experimented and perfected skill in cloth weaving, making colorful wraps, shawls and scarves. Fortunately, over time and with proper medication, my Lyme disease was brought under control.

At about the same time, the local art center advertised classes to learn how to work with precious metal clay. As I considered yet another direction, I believed the precious metal clay work was, well, suited to me at that time. I was fortunate to have a talented teacher who trained me well. I began creating small, intricate silver pendants, rings and earrings. I shared my enthusiasm with others as I taught classes in Maine and Florida. It was gratifying to share my newfound craft and see what each student would complete. One day, an artist friend encouraged me to put color into my creations. That was magical advice that propelled me in a new and current direction.

I have found new satisfaction and joy in making silver jewelry with beautiful cabs. Because my friend suggested I use color, I discovered cabs made by Russ Kaniuth. I purchased some colorful stones and began to make butterflies and moths from my previous silver designs. It was so much fun!

As I work daily, I love to look at a cab and imagine what it can become. My customers have challenged me, asking for different critters such as seahorses, crabs, luna moths, owls, turtles, and bugs of all kinds. I have learned much about identifying various stones. I have favorite shapes and sizes, and two of my favorite stones are ocean jasper and flowering tube.

I now ship my jewelry all over the United States, and to Canada and other parts of the world. My husband, Sonny, travels daily to the post office. My heart is in each piece I create, giving each one a special personality, and my customers have expressed their surprise when they receive their beautifully wrapped packages.

Pictures of my pieces are posted on Instagram as Sonny and Ellen Cole. I hope you will enjoy viewing them.