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An Interview with an Artisan Aug 2010

Local jewelry artist Cara Ellison Halbirt discusses the links in her chain

Q: Cara, you have a jewelry making business. Is this something you have always done?
A: I can’t pretend that making jewelry was a life-long goal of mine. I’m a “Let’s Give This a Try and See What Happens” kind of girl. In college, I decided on a degree in Art History, and back then, there were two degree plans for Art History majors: Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts. My decision for BFA hinged on the fact that the course of study did not require math classes. Then through the process of elimination, I realized that I was not a painter, drawer, sculptor or basket-weaver. That left ceramics or metal-smithing.

Q: So obviously, you discovered metal-smithing was your forté?
A: I even wanted to change my degree to metal-smithing, but since it was my senior year, my dad wouldn’t let me. After graduation, I moved back to Houston and began working for my dad. But even as I sold tower packing and tried to sound like a chemical engineer, I still kept an interest in the arts. I visited museums, got a master’s in art education and tried to figure out ways to make jewelry without a full studio. As a college student, I couldn’t imagine lighting a torch. Now I’m selling my jewelry, teaching myself fine silver fusing, and I’ve obtained Art Clay certification that I’ll soon be teaching to others.

Q: How does a piece evolve?
A: In four phases. The first involves sketching, playing around, manipulating the links and beads, getting frustrated, sleeping on it, starting over until I get it right. Then, I wear the design everywhere to test how it feels and moves—to drop the kids at school, to yoga, to read, to sleep, to dinner, you name it. Next is pricing, photographing, blogging, etc., about the new piece. The final phase involves my customers. I wait to see what they think.

Q: Your jewelry style is so unique. Is there a name for it?
A: No, not formally, although the bracelets and some of the earrings follow classic Chain Maille style. I have always loved vintage and heirloom pieces. My goal in creating is to try to give my jewelry a “new” heirloom look, but I want to avoid creating pieces that are tied to a trend. I want people to be able to collect my pieces and wear them forever.

Q: People love your Wedding Ring Bracelets. What gives with this design?
A: People love what the design represents. The Wedding Ring design materialized when my maternal grandfather passed away in 2005. Since my mom is his only daughter, she inherited his wedding ring. She wanted to wear the ring, but it was way too big. So the ring on a bracelet idea was born, and ever since, I’ve been honoring grandfathers, husbands, great-grandparents and beautiful antique wedding rings found in a drawer or a flea market that just needed a home and a second chance to be admired.

Q: You are known for wearing lots of bracelets. Did you originate this style?
A: No, my mom is the original bracelet stacker. I must admit I inherited her style in this regard.

Q: Any motivational thoughts for someone who may have a latent desire to create?
A: Perhaps my “Let’s Just Give This a Shot and See Where It Ends Up” philosophy is not necessarily the worst on the planet. Sometimes it just takes a while to discover where you end up.

Contact Cara via e-mail at cara@studio219designs.com or via the Internet at www.studio219designs.com, www.twitter.com/cara19 or www.facebook.com/studio219.

Enigma Bracelet. A complex weave comprised of over 250 sterling silver rings.

Wedding Ring Bracelet featuring Cara’s grandparents’ wedding rings.

Fine Silver Pendant with Freshwater Pearl accent. Pendant crafted with Art Clay.

Fine Silver Pendant with Freshwater Pearl accent. Pendant crafted with Art Clay.

Freshwater Pearl Earrings. Freshwater Pearls hand-twisted with sterling silver wire into a free-form, organic shape. Each pair will be slightly different and uniquely yours.

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