By Cindy Atoji Keene
Heather Wang, 32, is part of the latest wave of indie crafters settling into the Boston area; artists who believe in the design ethos of sustainability, shun the throw-away mentality, and believe in their work so fervently that they live and work as part of creative community. A jewelry-maker and metalsmith, Wang is inspired by the organic forms of nature, and can be often found gathering sticks while she walks her dog near the Western Avenue Studios, a historic mill building in Lowell where she shares space with over 180 working artists. “I love to see a beautiful branch or flower and imagine how to recreate it in silver or gold,” said Wang, who creates whimsical, delicately enameled cherry blossom earrings; modernistic bronze branch necklaces cast from real twigs; and textured silver lace earrings. “People are beginning to appreciate items made by hand skilled crafts people again, especially when compared to more cheaply made, mass produced items that won’t last as long.”
Wang holds degrees from Rhode Island School of Design and the Royal College of Art and worked as a costume jewelry designer then briefly as a high end flute maker, an experience she said honed her skills for making accurate mechanisms and neat solder seams. Along the way, she found her current studio space, saved every dime to start her own business, and then, as she says, “Took a breath and jumped.”
Q: Why jewelry making – why not pottery, painting, sculpting, or photography?
A: I was lucky enough to attend a high school that had an arts metal class, and found I have the patience and skills to work with metal. My first major project was a necklace – a crazy hinged piece – that I wore to senior prom. I spent most of the year working on it. It’s fun to look back and see the beginnings of my artistic endeavors.
Q: What are the various tools of your trade?
A: My most important tools are my torch for soldering, kiln for firing the enameled pieces, and flexible shaft motor, which is similar to a Dremel tool. I use it for everything from drilling and grinding to sanding and polishing. I couldn’t live without my many hand tools though – the pliers, hammers, and saws used most often in creating jewelry.
Q: What’s the secret to becoming a skilled craftsman?
A: Get a good foundation with skills; you want your teaching to be old-school. Jewelry making, for example, is a very established art form and hasn’t changed that much except for computer aided design and 3-D printers. You need to know the fundamental techniques and materials.
Q: What jewelry are you wearing today?
A: If I’m out and about, I wear my own stuff since it’s the best advertisement; any jewelry looks better on a person than in a case. Right now I’m wearing a cast lace necklace made out of silver. It retains the beautiful fabric texture after casting.
Q: What do your parents think of your career?
A: My husband is a musician, and I’m a jewelry maker, so at first my parents were like, ‘Oh geez, two artists – how will they survive?’ But you have to hang on by your fingertips, and if you want it badly enough, you can make it work.
Q: How do the other artists at Western Avenue Studios inspire you?
A: After I graduated from art school, I really missed being surrounded by creative people. Making art in your spare bedroom at home is not nearly the same. Now I find it very inspiring to be near others of various disciplines, styles and media.