What came before this: a little bit of my journey to jewelry

I thought I'd share a little about my journey to becoming a full time silversmith. It's a bit of a winding road, as I am sure most of your journeys are, too. I often reflect on the way that our lives can take many turns, have many eras and each phase adds something valuable to the toolbox of skills and experience we carry with us into whatever we do. I never thought I'd be a full time artist. But here I am and I wouldn't change a thing that got me to this place, although I do look back at some phases (and haircuts) and cringe a little teeny tiny bit.
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erika at lake louise
The era of the fohawk... Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, 2007.
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Right out of high school I studied Social Welfare at UC Berkeley and always felt my purpose was to work with youth and women. During a summer in college I worked in rural southwestern Alaska at a women's shelter, helping to run a program for local kids. This opened my eyes to a world of indigenous subsistence life that was full of wonderful people in extreme environmental and social situations. For the first time I sensed the weight of historical trauma caused by US government policies that forced Alaska Natives to assimilate into white, European culture and religion through boarding schools. Digesting the stark contrast (and, oftentimes, conflict) between traditional ways of life and modern conveniences in a remote, foreign and gorgeous landscape stripped away a veil that I didn't know was in my way of understanding the world. 
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salmon at fish camp
Salmon strips drying at a fish camp on the Kuskokwim River, AK.
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It would be a few years before I returned to the social welfare realm. In between I lived in San Francisco where I was an intern on a trail crew in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I then worked as an art model and took my first silversmithing classes in 2010. I had wanted to learn how to metalsmith since working at a Native American trading post and jewelry store in college- Bill's Trading Post and Gem Gallery on College Avenue in Berkeley, CA. I would continue to work in the conservation/trails world seasonally for years, while making jewelry on the side. It was in 2011 that I set up my first workbench. Here is an artsy shot of some work in progress from that bench in Oakland, CA.
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And here is one of my favorite rings that I ever made all the way back in 2011, when my design ideas were untainted by social media and my creativity was only limited by my skill at that time. (That's a whole other blog post topic)
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And here's another cringe-y haircut phase at my first major craft show, Capsule SF in 2011 where I made a whole $400 and was ecstatic.
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Later that year I traveled solo through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. I carried my steel block, hammer, some stamps and silver wire with me so I could make LUV Heart Hoops and Wishbones wherever I went! I sold a pair to the owner of a hostel and that was about it if I recall.
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As I mentioned earlier, I spent a number of summers working on and then leading trail crews in national and regional parks. A stint with the Student Conservation Association in the Grand Canyon (working on the Hermits Rest Trail) led me to move to Flagstaff, Arizona in 2012. 
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Flagstaff was the first place I had a consistent wholesale customer: Mountain Sports Flagstaff. This beloved local clothing store with a small, perfectly displayed jewelry selection is still a stockist of mine. I am so grateful to them!
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A fun fact: prior to moving to Arizona I had actually sold to one other store, but it was only a handful of pieces on consignment, including my LUV Heart Hoops. That store was FIat Lux in San Francisco. If you know Fiat Lux today, please know that when I sold there nearly 10 years ago it was in its fledgling years and willing to take a chance on a random lady calling her business Lumenrose. My jewelry barely sold there and Marie, the owner, so kindly sent my remaining inventory back to me. This was definitely a huge learning experience in my baby days as a silversmith. BTW, these days Fiat Lux is one of THE spots for small-batch handmade jewelry in the Bay Area.
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fiat lux sf with lumenrose hoops
I can't believe I was able to dig up this photo of my LUV Hearts in the window at Fiat Lux.
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It was in Flagstaff that my business blossomed. But it was still my side hustle. I was working full time for a behavioral health organization as a community-based support for youth and families. The ideas of social welfare I learned about in college could only teach intellectually what it means to advocate for someone's well-being. At this job it all became real. I have never learned more concretely about meeting someone where they're at and how to listen than I did in the two years I worked with remarkable parents and kids. I learned that people usually know what they need for their particular circumstance and all the social workers in the world can't divine solutions unless they listen to someone's story and celebrate their strengths. Having a family myself now, I cannot believe the vulnerability and grace these families had to allow a stranger into their lives and their homes at some of their hardest moments. 
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After those two challenging and rewarding years working with kids and families in the context of the local community, I felt pulled to work with young people in the great outdoors again. I went back to the conservation world leading a college-aged crew in invasive plant surveys throughout the Coconino National Forest around Flagstaff. I then returned to the Student Conservation Association in an admin role and also decided to lead a crew one more time. My crew worked in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. I'd never heard of this park before my assignment, but it is the largest National Park! Even though it was one of the coldest summers of my life, I can't complain about endless wilderness and getting to pick fresh wild blueberries every day for breakfast. I even brought lengths of wire with me to prep LUV Hearts and Wishbones for a craft show I was part of when I returned from Alaska. 
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wrangell st elias nabesna road
The trail in Wrangell-St Elias where my high school crew installed geo-block and gravel to create a more suitable surface for hikers and ATV travel. 
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Ok, I am getting to the end soon. The seasonal nature of the conservation work allowed me to focus on jewelry in the winters, which is when I began doing holiday craft shows. I gained more and more experience and confidence and began getting website sales. In the Fall of 2016 my partner Ben and I moved to Tucson, AZ. I continued to work for the Student Conservation Association in a seasonal administrative role, but when that position ended I decided it was the moment to take Lumenrose full time. I created the website I currently have and ramped up my Instagram game. Because I had been slowly building my skills at the bench and growing my online presence for a number of years, the transition to full time felt natural. I finally had 100% attention to give to my business so that it could take off. Our three years in Tucson were my most productive ever and I am proud of the growth of my business and my craft in that time. While there is so much I hope to learn in order to keep improving as a silversmith (I have some big goals in 2021, soon as my studio is finished!), I have reached a much more confident place as an artist.
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In January 2020 Ben and I moved into the straw bale house we'd been building for over a year, about an hour outside of Tucson. (You can read about that here.)  I soon found out I was pregnant and then the pandemic hit. Being self employed and rural living had its benefits in 2020, although ordering take out isn't exactly an option around our parts. The weight of the year was amplified by our nation's reckoning with racial injustice and a fraught election. Now here we are in the early months of 2021. The tide seems to be turning, albeit slowly, towards collective health and awareness. It's been over 10 years since I took my first metalsmith class and four years since Lumenrose became a full time endeavor. I continue to feel renewed energy and excitement around improving my craft and my business. While my current situation is navigating the daily (hourly) ups and downs of parenting a very cute 5 month old, I can't wait for my new studio to be ready to get back to making jewelry for you again. It took me two weeks to find enough time to write this blog post so it'll be it's own challenge to find the time to drop into creating, but it'll be a welcome challenge. Thanks for reading if you made it this far. Feel free to submit a comment or send an email (lumenrosejewelry@gmail.com) with any replies. 
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I'll leave you with a favorite photo of a piece I adored making and that represented a milestone in the evolution of my work. And candid picture of my life right now.
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Arizona Poppy-inspired necklace with 18k accents.
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Baby Amalia and the straw bale studio in the background.
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PS the cover image of this post is from a little work bench I set up one time while on vacation at Sea Ranch, CA. I guess I have a tendency to take my hammering with me places. 

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3 comments

  • Hi, Erika,
    You are writer as well! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey thus far. Congratulations on all the milestones and we look forward to following your next chapter. Savor the moments each day. Baby Amalia is adorable.

    Margaret Seltenreich
  • Even if I wasn’t your Dad, this is a beautiful, personal and heart warming story. (Oh ok, of my favorite oldest daughter.) Thanks for sharing your adventures and aspirations again. Time and life moves on but it’s wonderful to remember your earlier life away from home.

    Love, Pops

    Bernie Mark
  • Best story ever, Erika! And one day I know you will read a story by Amalia and feel the beaming pride I feel. Love you forever :)

    Rosemary

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