NORTH CAROLINA MAKERS: RACHEL WILDER JEWELRY
North Carolina enjoys a vibrant community of makers, artisans, craftsmen, and artists. At the Our State Store, we travel the state hunting for local artisans who create special, handcrafted goods, and we’re giving you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creators of some of our most popular products. Sit a spell with us as we introduce you to some of our favorite North Carolina makers.
There’s a stretch of precipitous highway running through the Pisgah National Forest on I-40 westbound that intimidates the casual driver and slows hulking tractor trailers to a crawl. For drivers, this passage marks the transition into the misty blue hills, where the eclectic city of Asheville sits at the meeting of the Swannanoa and French Broad rivers. Asheville, the “Paris of the South,” teems with vitality and spirit, borne from its population of makers, doers, and dreamers. Around every corner you’ll find something homegrown or homemade, and boutiques are filled with quality, locally-crafted items.
Jewelry artist Rachel Wilder can be found amongst this creative population. Originally from Greenville, South Carolina, she attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Tired of the big city, she yearned to move South after graduation. She chose Asheville because of its strong artistic community, its various outdoor activities, and its vicinity to her hometown.
CC Image courtesy of Selena N.B.H on Flickr
We chatted with Rachel to learn more about her training, the inspiration for her jewelry, and her life.
How did you get started making jewelry?
My first exposure to jewelry making was through enameling and metals classes that I took as a teenager. These were my first real metalsmithing classes and where I totally fell in love with working with metals. I subsequently had the wonderful opportunity to go the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, where I learned from fabulous teachers and experienced this kinetic environment to learn and create in. I furthered my studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and I also worked under a few other jewelry artists while there. More recently, I took a phenomenal stone-setting class at the New Approach School in Tennessee. There are so many ways to incorporate gemstones into jewelry that it would take a lifetime to master them all. I’m trying out new designs that push my stone-setting skills. I have owned my jewelry-making business since 2008.
Tell us about your studio.
In the past, I had a studio in the River Arts District here in Asheville. However, I currently work from my home studio, which is a small 100-square-foot room in the back of my house that’s attached to my bedroom. I love this because there are three windows that face south and let in plenty of sunlight. There are some things I miss about my old studio but you can’t beat low rent and a short commute! I sometimes fantasize about a beautiful open studio with enough room for a gallery space where I can simultaneously create and interact with visitors, but that’s a step my business is not quite ready for. For now, I’m happily nestled in my little space at home.
What is your working style? Do you prefer organized chaos or everything in its place?
A little bit of both. With jewelry making it seems that no matter what I’m working on, every tool ends up on my bench. I pull out all kinds of pliers, burs, hammers, and files, and they end up piled on top of each other in chaos. I get overwhelmed by this and eventually clean up and put everything in its place, but that doesn’t last long because as soon as I’m back to work, the process repeats. I have a lot of essentials! I couldn’t do what I’m doing without a lot of hand tools. I most certainly couldn't live without my torch and polishing machine either, not to mention the tool most essential to any modern crafter -- my computer.
Walk us through a typical day for you.
I have a little morning routine that I do to help get me started for my day, but every day is different. Many days start with emailing customers or other computer-related chores. I spend several hours making jewelry but that is maybe about half of the business. I go to the post office a lot and spend more time on the computer purchasing materials or writing invoices. I also do all of my own photography and website management, and both of those take up time. I try to fit all these things into Monday through Friday and end at a decent hour but that rarely happens.
What’s your process for creating a piece of jewelry from start to finish?
A piece usually starts out as an idea in my head that I jot down in my sketchbook. Sometimes I will have to order the materials and wait for them to arrive in the mail, which is not the fun part. Then, I get to work it out in metal. Sometimes this goes smoothly and other times it doesn’t, and I start all over. I’m always excited by the act of taking a design that was in my head and making it a reality.
Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
I find inspiration for the forms and textures in my work from nature. I like to create leaves and trees and organic compositions. However, when I’m working with gemstones I let them guide me towards a design. Some stones inspire me to create complex forms, while others simply want to be set in a way that shows off their natural beauty.
What inspires you about living in Asheville?
I don’t know if I could have gotten my business off the ground if I didn’t live in a town that is so supportive of the arts. This city has a large community of creators and makers but also a receptive audience. The fact that there were people interested in displaying and purchasing my work from the beginning demonstrates how important handmade art is to this area. I am an avid hiker and getting out in nature always helps me recharge. I also like to look at plant books and images online for inspiration. I get really excited when I go to gem shows. I always come home pumped to get in the studio.
What was your favorite memorable reaction to your work?
More than once I have had a customer in my booth at a craft show who is about to make a purchase, and I look up to see that she is already wearing a necklace or earrings of mine. Usually they follow up by saying that it is their favorite go-to piece and they wear it everyday. It makes me feel amazing to know that some people enjoy my work so much that they’ve come back for more!
What advice would you give to yourself five years ago?
Keep it simple. Don’t overthink everything and if you’re stuck, just make something! If a task seems daunting, just begin, and you will figure the rest out as you go along.