Beth Novak loves metal—particularly copper and sterling silver. From necklaces and earrings to rings, Novak manipulates and ultimately marries these two elements in unique and creative ways.
She first developed a love of metal while working toward an art degree at the University of Wisconsin–Stout, but life and family intervened, and Novak didn’t return to art until her children were older. “But I came back to metals,” she says. Then, a class she attended about eight years ago on enamels changed the way she worked with copper. Now, her work features enamel-coated copper with silver backing.
Novak starts any design with a sheet of copper. She etches and manipulates the copper to create a design that will ultimately become the focal point of the piece. Then, she uses a torch or kiln to heat the copper to 1500 degrees; this melts the enamel onto the copper, changing the appearance of the copper. “The color of the piece,” says Novak, “comes from the thickness of the copper.”
Next, Novak turns her attention to the sterling silver. Using a chemical process called patina, Novak modifies the appearance of the silver. “The patina creates what I call a ‘gun metal’ color,” says Novak. “This color varies from piece of piece. I don’t have total control over the process, and it makes the surface of the silver so much more interesting.” The silver holds the enameled copper in place, and Novak uses a tiny saw blade to cut prongs that add additional support.
Her contemporary art jewelry is a hit with women who are craving something unique for a night out on the town. Novak’s work is often found at indoor shows and at a handful of local galleries. Most recently, her work was on display at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. Novak’s designs and prices vary; a pair of Novak’s earrings starts at about $80, and a large pendant can cost upwards of $900.
“Sculptural beadwork is my passion,” says Kari Erickson, a local jewelry maker. “I just keep going back to the glass beads. “
Erickson creates pieces—namely earrings and necklaces—from three mediums: sterling silver, copper, and beads with some felting. The result? A necklace or pair of earrings that looks like none other, perhaps because Erickson has been influenced by art from all over the world. “People often tell me that they’ve never seen anything like this before,” she says.
A process called needle and “wet felting” begins the jewelry formation. Using water and soap, Erickson blends wool fibers together between layers of bubble wrap. Once she has created the felt, her imagination kicks into high gear, and she begins to apply the metal and beadwork. Finishing one piece of jewelry can take anywhere from two to 20 hours, and the end result is sometimes a surprise. “I don’t know what the piece is going to look like until I’m done,” she says.
Since each piece is inspired, it is also one-of-a-kind. Erickson, who describes herself as a self-taught artist, doesn’t repeat any design, so an item purchased from her collection will never be sold to another customer. Her customers find her creations to be quite durable; Erickson believes that most of her pieces are worn as “every day” pieces. But her work also stands out in more formal events. Last summer, Erickson was commissioned to create wedding jewelry for a bride and her maid of honor.
Most of Erickson’s work, priced from $24–78, sells at art shows and out of her studio space. She is looking forward to selling items at the American Craft Council in St. Paul this spring. But most of all, she looks forward to sharing her unique art with her customers. “I want each piece to be a masterpiece,” says Erickson.
In 1974, Gallen Benson, who was at that point a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota’s fine art program, began making jewelry at his wife’s suggestion. Now, almost four decades later, he continues to work full-time as an artist and jeweler. He has made a name for himself as an incredibly unique jeweler because his pieces all have a distinctly visual element to them.
“When you look at jewelry, you often see material: gold, silver, gemstones,” he says. “Usually, you are looking at a gem set into a ring. But my jewelry is image-based, not material-based. I design with an image or concept in mind, rather than designing around a certain material.”
Benson considers his jewelry finely made and very visual. Benson’s necklaces, brooches and earrings feature images—often images from nature. Some of his most recent work includes likenesses of bees and dragons. He uses silver, gold, bone, exotic wood or enamel to create these images, and he finds that his favorite piece to create is the brooch, which allows him to focus purely on the visual element.
“A brooch is a single piece, independent of other materials,” says Benson. “It doesn’t have a clasp or a chain that changes its image.”
In the last 38 years, Benson has seen the process, product, and customer change time and again, but his desire to make “art jewelry” has remained. “The world changes,” he says, and with it, so must his product and his relationship with his clients. Although he has worked with a variety of clients in a variety of settings—like the fashion industry, the estate jewelry market and craft fairs—a today Benson works primarily with private collectors and individual clients. He plans to show his work at the American Craft Council in St. Paul this spring, and those interested in purchasing one of his pieces can contact him through his website. Items start at $300.
Joe Christensen brings art to unexpected places. Backyards, for one. The mall, for another. A painter and potter, Christensen is known widely in both local and global circles for his nature-based artwork, though his primary focus is his pottery. His pots are made to survive both indoor and outdoor elements. “I make high-fire stone wear,” says Christensen. “If you hit one of these pots, it sounds like you’re hitting metal; it’s really strong. Basically, it’s made to withstand the elements of weather.”
Christensen’s pots are also quite large—between four to seven feet—so they fit well in large rooms as well as in most outdoor spaces. And these pots are equally versatile in their appearance. An added benefit, Christensen believes, of the high-fire stone wear is that it gives him a wider range of glazes with which to work.
He splits his time between his studio in Minnetonka and his gallery in Hudson, Wisc. In these two studios, Christensen makes about four to six pots per week. Of those, half are purchased by local residents while others can currently be found in Polo Ralph Lauren stores as decorations. “The design of my work currently reflects the environment they want to create in their retail space,” he says. The rest of Christensen’s pots are shipped around the nation and the world.
Although he spends the majority of time working on pots, Christensen is also an established painter; in the last 10 years, Christensen estimates he’s generated 600 paintings. He defines his paintings as “a balance between abstract and nature.” His paintings range in size from 30”x30” to 4’x8’. His paintings can be purchased from $800–5000, while his pots are priced from $1000–6000.