Feathers & Flair Collection
by Strange Grain Artist Will Barnes
Although I only started making jewelry in December of 2017, I feel like I’ve come a long way. It’s been a long journey, nonetheless, with many obstacles and points in which I felt like giving up.
When I started, I literally had no money. My previous business had all of a sudden hit a huge plateau.
Out of necessity, I started making jewelry. I was looking for any out, but living in New Mexico, there isn’t much opportunity.
My wife had wanted to make jewelry, but the equipment required was pricey and we didn’t have much extra money coming in. She found a pile of parts for a lapidary saw and grinder combo. With my background as a millwright and metal fabricator, I told her I could wire a switch, a pump, and a new motor. Even build a bracket in which to mount the motor, which we wound up finding on craigslist for fifty bucks.
Once I had gotten everything set up and going, I wanted to make sure that it worked efficiently enough for her to operate it safely. I also want to make sure that the blade that came with it, was good enough to cut through some of the stones that I had found in a nearby mountain range, the Jemez Mountains. I didn’t know if the stones that I had were any good, but after searching the internet, I found that I had discovered various colored agates and jasper.
I was instantly in awe when I first had cut a stone, shaped it, and polished it to a shine for the first time. I would run in and out of the garage, back and forth, showing her another and another stone that I had cut and polished.
My wife who initially became interested in making silver jewelry was having a hard time with the learning curve. Heck, I didn’t know much either. But, there was something that I did know, and that was metalsmithing. Since I was a teenager, I had done ornamental iron, which later transformed into a career as a millwright and foreman of a fabrication shop. I wanted to be able to show my wife how to do it, so I decided that I would try to make something, but all I was brass. In fact, it was a brass bed that my in-laws had gotten rid of, and the only solder that I had was a super low-temp, lead/tin solder. Having to learn how to solder a metal that required a lot of heat, with a solder that had a low melting point was my first initial challenge.
Eventually, after about a week, I decided that there had to be a better solder to use, so I went to Lowe’s and bought some brazing rod. I literally sat there with a torch for 10 minutes and nothing, it wouldn’t melt the brazing rod. I was about to give up, but my wife was going to a local jewelry store/wholesaler at her lunchtime from work and I asked her if she could ask them if there was a better solder to use.
The lady told her that base metal solder would work. I was in luck! Finally, a little ease to what I was doing, even though the previous challenge didn’t slow me down. Even by that time, my designs were already coming to life. I had junked a lot of the first things, but I wanted to make something good. I decided that I would make a piece to sell in my online store, and because my failing furniture brand, Strange Grain, wasn’t making any sales, I thought that I would put a piece of jewelry up to see how it did.
Within a week, I had sold my first piece. I told my wife, “if they keep buying it, I’ll keep making it”. Her, having been pregnant at the time with our second child, had taken a break from making jewelry because of the toxic chemicals that are necessary for making jewelry, but I wanted to thoroughly know how to make it, so when she was ready, I would be able to show her in a better manner.
One sale a week was my goal, and as of a week ago, I had my 100th sale, far surpassing my original goal. Having no hope with my previous business, making jewelry has been a huge light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m currently trying to make it a full-time endeavor. Although that isn’t very far away, I’m extremely grateful to have made it this far. I think I’ve found my true passion and I’m happy to announce my first real collection, called Feathers & Flair. All of these pieces are currently available. I’ll be producing a line sheet for wholesale inquiries. If interested, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org