Exhale

The final part of the trip consisted of a wild and very wet motor-boat ride

I snuck away.

Very far away.

An almost silly 30 hours travel far away,
to the remote lake Atitlan in rural Guatemala.

This was our ridiculously gorgeous view of Lake Atitlan

A friend of a friend had moved there, among a fairly well represented expat US/Canadian community. Otherwise, I probably would have spent the rest of my life never knowing about this magical place.

The view from the outdoor ‘livingroom’ of our AirBnB casita

The area around lake Atitlan is a surprisingly well-adjusted mix of expats and locals: on one hand, the old and new-age hippies who came here maybe for a week or two, and didn’t leave, and on the other the amazing local people of Mayan decent. The latter being the kindest and most open-hearted people I have met in a long time.

The curious texture and pattern of hand-thatched roofs

This was to be a family trip, but for various reasons became a mother-daughter trip of myself and my eldest daughter, now 25. Surprisingly, we found each other’s company delightful almost all of the time. Some things that had needed to be said for a while came to the surface, and we learned a lot about each other.

We enjoyed eating the delicious Guatemalan snacks

 

“Eating local” takes on a different meaning in that climate

We flew on points and stayed at an AirBnB, mostly making our own meals, which made the whole thing very affordable – and quite rustic, with an outdoor kitchen/dining room, frequented by nightly visits of a variety of wildlife. Even cooking your own meals becomes challenging when food and water is generally contaminated – a humbling experience.

While this is still a developing country, one could spend surprising amounts of money staying on the lake’s shores, if you’d like to ‘cleanse yourself’ in one of the new-age high-end resort-type hotels complete with reiki, yoga, and other healing ‘solutions’. 

But we just hung out in the sun, read, talked, went for hikes through the jungle trails and along treacherous cliff-side paths on the steep volcano sides, and ate – which both my daughter, a chef, and I enjoy.

 I don’t think I will take the exhausting journey again, but it sure was gorgeous.
 I had a birthday while there, and going out on the lake with my adult daughter in kayaks before the sun rose, watching the sun rise behind volcanic mountain ranges and over the calm lake, was definitely a memorable way to celebrate my birthday.

Contemplating the year past, and the one to come

I sure am happy to be back at my bench now, though, and excited to work with gemstones I purchased from my trusted suppliers. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you might get some glimpses of what I am working on!

Look closely to see the little tuft of steam spewing from one of the volcanos at sunrise. The rumbling could be felt often

 

I am a Goldsmith

Sometimes people are surprised that I call myself a goldsmith, since I also work with silver. I thought I’d demystify that discussion for you.

There are two main reasons for the decision to use this term. The first is actually rooted in the 18th century. I always thought that with the American war of independence was created not only a division of countries, but also of spelling. That the North, what was to become Canada, remained loyal not only to the British crown, but also the British spelling of English words. Turns out it’s not that simple, and Canadian spelling does not exclusively follow the British. But in any case, there are marked differences, such as ‘color’ south of that border, and ‘colour’ north of it. Or ’jewelry’ and ’jewellery’.

When I initially started my company, still finishing my degree in jewellery design and metalsmithing at Canada’s premier institution for that degree, NSCAD University, I did not yet think very big. I named my sprout of a company ‘jewellery designer, metalsmith’. A few years later, I realized that I was going to perhaps one day sell in the USA, and that this term would prove an obstacle. I did not want to box myself in by using the British/Canadian spelling.  Hence I had to find a different way to describe what I did by way of a new business name.

Fire melted old gold jewellery into this little gold nugget

As you may know, I was born and raised in Germany, and only came to Canada as an adult. In my own cultural heritage, a jeweller is someone who sells jewelled body adornments, not who makes them. It is a retail position. Whereas the person making those items is known as a “Goldschmied” – someone smithing gold. But they, and I, also work in silver. But as it turns out, that term, silversmithing, is applied to the fabrication of vessels – be it of silver, copper, brass etc. You might start with a sheet of metal, and apply hand tools such as mallets and hammers over stakes, in order to displace the metal and shape it into vessels. I am also trained in this craft;  in artschool these courses were referred to as ‘holloware’. Of all the terms, what I am is clearly a goldsmith.

Coloured stone like sapphires and spinel look great on 18k yellow gold

So this is how I arrived at the decision to use the word ‘goldsmith’, even though I also work in silver and copper, and I also set jewels. Particularly in a day and age where anyone can purchase beads and wire, and may call what they create ‘jewellery’, it is perhaps important to make the distinction. I added the word ‘designer’, because I have a university degree in jewellery design, a tough course of study, taught by this country’s highest award-winning professors – I feel I have earned the title.

This 18k custom Twofooter ring was a dream to make

I also like that the term gets to the heart of my passion: I truly loooooooove working gold. There is nothing like it. The weight of the material in your hand – this in itself is beauty to me. When you start working gold: forging it, cutting or filing it, it behaves completely differently from other metals. It even sounds differently. I love its qualities so much. I appreciate its durability, its refusal to be destroyed by time, yet be so malleable. I find it to be a metaphorical inspiration for how to live my life: have heft/meaning, shine with a warm glow, do not let external circumstances destroy you, and yet remain malleable, carrying warmth.

For the ‘Precious’ Series, I wrap luscious 22k gold around rough diamond cubes

Meet Aryam!

Ah, I am finally back in the studio. Luckily, I have a new sidekick, who held the fort during my absence. Meet Aryam Zubizarreta Perez!

Let me give you a little background:  I started my business in 2005, while still finishing my BFA in jewellery design and metalsmithing from NSCAD University in Halifax. I sold one ring at the school’s student store, then another. Soon, I approached my first gallery, Fireworks Gallery on Barrington street, where my work is sold to this day. Then Galerie Noel Guyomarc’H in Montreal. And so on, and so forth. My children were still little then, and being a mom was my priority. Things grew very organically for quite a while, and after finishing school I eventually started sharing a studio at the Arts Annex on the Halifax waterfront.

In my Arts Annex studio, over a decade ago!

However, a few years ago, I found myself at a juncture where I had to either give up making jewellery, or take it on 200%. I did the latter – jewellery making was going to be my full time – double time, actually! – job, with which I was to independently support myself financially. Yikes!

I worked hard and built the company, doing every single bit myself: the designing and making of jewellery, the graphic design and marketing materials, the travel to shows, lugging the wood, keeping track of inventory, and the bookkeeping.

At some point I started hiring help, just here and there for a few hours. Then I had Kris MacKenzie with me one day a week – we developed a deep friendship over the years that she helped me out in this way. Eventually, I had to face the fact: I needed full time help, and Kris meanwhile had a successful career in CAD/CAM. So I put a job call out on Canada’s job bank, looking for a goldsmith with minimum 5 years experience.

I received many many replies, most of them from outside the country. I followed a couple of leads for some time, but they were not the right fit. And one day, I received Aryam’s application. Aryam was already settled in Halifax, and he was very well trained – just in the wrong field!

This is what he wrote

“I am applying for the position of Jeweller at your Halifax studio. Over the last fifteen years I have worked as an artist, craftsman, and carpenter in both Nova Scotia and Cuba. In Cuba, I studied fine arts, developing skills and experience working in many mediums including jewellery making, ceramics, and glass work. My subsequent work as a luthier and woodworker has shaped my career as an artisan. All of my endeavours have been marked by high levels of responsibility, efficiency, and professionalism. 

There was definitely a learning curve. Some things got melted along the way

I am a motivated self-learner and self-starter and am able to learn and acquire new skills and trades very quickly. I am focused and determined, and am used to working long hours doing fine-tuned and delicate projects. I have exceptional spatial intelligence with the ability to visualize, draw, design, and fabricate high quality handcrafted products with efficiency. I feel confident that the combination of my fine arts training and technical skill-set would make me an excellent candidate for the position of Jeweller at your studio.”

I was baffled. And intrigued. Sometimes, you have to go with your gut, and I did just that when I asked Aryam in for an interview, regardless of the fact that he lacked the appropriate training. Perhaps a ‘blank slate’ was a good thing.

Long story short, this courageous young man started a trial month. And then I hired him.

Aryam did not misrepresent in his application letter – he really is motivated, and he really does work hard. I have been so impressed with his progress, and he has already become an invaluable member of my tiny team of two. I don’t even know how I did it all on my own, before.

We have a little project which he has been working on, which will be revealed soon. Stay tuned!

photo by Grace Laemmler

Meanwhile, in Vermont

If I’ve been a little silent over here of late, it’s because I took off for a bit! Right after New Year’s, I left for Vermont, to apply my creativity in a completely different way: cooking. You might know that I am pretty passionate about food. This, however, is different. I am here to cook for a small meditation retreat. It is wonderfully refreshing to be doing something completely different. Volunteering in my community is important to me, and this is my favourite way to do it.

I have really been getting into colour and texture

The tricky bit about this one are the restrictions: no meat, no onion or garlic, not even leeks. And no chillies. This style of eating is part of many yogic traditions, and it it how monasteries cook.

For me, this challenge highlights where I hide as a cook. Not being able to use onions, especially in vegetarian cooking, isn’t easy. It means I rely a lot on aromatic vegetables such as celery and fennel, as well as citrus and fresh herbs. I do this same gig often at this time of year, and sometimes I have access to excellent produce, even in winter. This time, sadly, that is not so, which makes it harder still. But once you slow down and start to look and feel and smell, you start discovering all kinds of possibilities: Indian curries with their colourful spices, Moroccan cuisine, African stews, and simple vegetarian Italian or French meals. I am having fun with this, and it is refreshing to apply myself to something completely different for a bit.

Sun-coloured Squash Soup with majoram

The contemplative nature of the space is also a very nice change of pace, of course. And the bonus? I get to cook in an amazing kitchen. I am starting to miss my bench, though, and look forward to coming back soon.

I’ve gotta say – I am enjoying my current creative space a lot

I will be back in the studio February 9th. During my absence, my new employee and apprentice Aryam is manning the fort back in the studio. THAT is a whole other story, which I will tell you about in the next post!

New Onefooters with gems coming daily

This is a very busy time of year for use makers.
Now that the shows are finished, I am still finishing more Onefooter rings with gems every day.

I managed to get a few quick photos of the newest additions of Onefooter rings with coloured gem stones. The photo quality isn’t great, but it’ll give you an idea. Have a look here!

Some of the newest ones have the most amazing gems.

I will try to get them all onto the site, including the ones still I had with me at the shows, in the next few days.  If you fell in love with a particular one, and know its OOAK number, just drop me aline and ask if I still have it.

unheated green tourmaline from Maine, hand-cut in Nova Scotia!

 

yikes what a great sapphire, eh?

 

This beautiful peridot is from Arizona, hand cut and polished in Nova Scotia