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Why I Make: Craft as Communication
The bare beginning of my life as a jewelry artist was on a steamy Florida morning 29 years ago. I had been hired to re-create the bright tropical designs of a popular Florida artist. Our tired old house had no air conditioning. I switched on the painfully ineffective window fan. My jewelry artist corner, referred to hopefully as the studio was already occupied. David and Cedar, age seven and three, were transforming clay scraps into snakes and unseasonable snowmen. David's tongue was clinched between his lips in concentration and my toddler daughter stood on a chair, pudgy hand rolling out a tube of yellow clay.
The eight pairs of bright toucan earrings I'd crafted the night before smiled big and beaky from the metal tray where they had cured. I was a jewelry artist now! Working for someone else did not dim that pleasure. Three years later our family settled in Mill Valley, California. Our wood-frame house was nestled behind a yard scented with giant anise plants. My husband worked days and nights as a counselor in our church while I persevered through an agonizing two weeks of stacking inventory for a chronically sullen stationary storeowner. Quitting was a pleasure that is still surprisingly bright in my mind.
It took a day to figure out the rest of my life. I'll be a full-time artist. My marketing savvy was simple, medieval even. (You make something, and then you sell it.) I created polymer clay cat earrings, tongue-lolling cow pins, and scruffy little puppy necklaces. A week passed. It was time. I walked out our front door with a case full of my creations - on my way to the San Rafael business district. I muffled the insistent, nagging voice in my head... Will anyone pay money for my jewelry?
I muttered the script I'd invented during the drive over. "I'm a local artist, and I came by to show you my jewelry." Knees weak and palms sweaty, I stepped into my first business, a real estate firm. Braced to be thrown out on my ear, the welcoming smiles and "let me get the girls in the back" nearly threw me. It was the first hour of my first day in business for myself, and I made $150 - exactly what I had earned by working 40 hours at the stationary store.
I have been making ever since. My work became our family's bread and butter, my salvation during the tragic death of my daughter, and my way of saying hello to the world. The truth is that makers and those who think they cannot are bound by the same magic; the communication of craft.
Merry Rosenfield has been creating her animal-themed jewelry since 1989. She has more than 1,500 different designs in sterling silver, 14K gold, pewter, and cold enamel. Her website, The Magic Zoo, is a favorite of animal lovers world-wide. Merry is also the author of An Uncommon Life, a book about her late, extraordinarily-talented daughter, Cedar.