Beading BlissFrom Trinkets to Treasures, Making Your Own Jewelry is Fun and Easy
By Christy Kearney | Photo by Scott Holstein
Art is no longer confined to the walls of exclusive galleries and formal living rooms. Masterpieces created by imaginative and inspired artists are walking around Northwest Florida in the form of hand-crafted necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.
Jewelry art now is being recognized in the creative community and making its presence known at juried art festivals, art galleries and specialty boutiques along the Emerald Coast. Skilled artists use acrylic beads, gemstones, Swarovski crystals, metals, pearls, shells, wood, leather and other materials to fashion one-of-a-kind, ready-to-wear jewelry with artistic flair.
The Artists Behind the Jewelry
Each piece of jewelry takes on distinctive characteristics and personality based on the unique perspective of the artist who designs the wearable work of art.
Local jewelry artist Kelly Wild not only conceptualizes and makes jewelry, she also creates the glass beads she uses in her jewelry. Wild has converted the garage and sunroom in her Bluewater Bay home into a studio for her bead and jewelry production.
Her garage houses two torches, a computerized kiln, more than 100 pounds of glass rods, a flat saw, grinder and polisher machine, a variety of silver components to enhance the beads while they are in the molten stage, jars of crushed glass, and tools – including her ever-faithful butter knife, which she claims works wonders when making her signature seashells.
While jewelry design has been a natural progression of her art, Wild’s true passion is lampworking – the process of manipulating thin rods of glass with a torch to create beads.
Wild escapes through her lampworking, saying it is “a meditative state that allows me to pursue my inner, creative thoughts.”
In addition to working with the glass, Wild enjoys playing with silver reactive glass, frit (crushed glass), enamel powders (very fine glass), silver foils and wire, and gold when making her beads.
For inspiration, Wild looks to Mother Nature. The Utah native moved to Northwest Florida 13 years ago and draws on the mountains and deserts of the West and the Emerald Coast’s breathtaking Gulf views as she forms her one-of-a-kind beads.
“The sandstone and red rock of southern Utah has given life to my Desert Symphony and Colors of Moab series,” Wild says. “The crashing of waves upon a beach inspired me to create SandWaves, which is one of my most popular signature beads.”
Wild’s vision for her jewelry is to create simple pieces that people can wear every day.
“My jewelry pieces are perfect for jeans and a T-shirt, but ask me to add some Swarovski crystals and a few more Bali silver, and – poof – that piece turns into a nighttime or office design without taking away from the art glass,” she says.
Panama City Beach jewelry artist Mary Katherine Barrett also finds her inspiration in nature. Barrett, a former gourmet chef who says she has always had an interest in art, decided to start creating wearable art as a cost-effective way to buy Christmas presents one year. That same holiday, she received a book from her grandmother on wire-wrapped jewelry.
“I was hooked,” Barrett says.
Now she channels her creative energy into artistic jewelry, which she shows at the Donna Burgess Gallery at The Market Shops at Sandestin periodically throughout the year.
“My desire is to evoke the surreal experience of being a woman,” Barrett says. “My jewelry mixes a great deal of elements, usually subject to my mood. My inspirations come from the peculiar and beautiful patterns that erupt in nature.”
She has recently focused on using wire in her jewelry pieces.
“I love the sculpting feel of working with wire,” Barrett says. “I also use the highest-quality gemstones and love learning about their geological origins.”
Jewelry-making has allowed Barrett to pursue her creative interests while protecting the time she wants to spend with her children.
“I love planting things and watching them grow – whether it is a flower, an idea or a great meal,” she says.
Artistic Jewelry on Display
Specialty boutiques and art festivals along the coast have taken notice of the workmanship of local jewelry artists such as Wild and Barrett.
Wild sells her work online at beadsbythebay.net, at Destin’s Uniquely Chic shop and during art events such as the ArtsQuest Fine Arts Festival. Along with showcasing Wild’s jewelry creations, Uniquely Chic sells her hand-created beads individually to women, who wear them with the popular Troll jewelry line.
“I have had so much fun designing individual beads for women who wear this interchangeable jewelry,” Wild says. “Uniquely Chic also sells my hollow beads that hold sand from the Emerald Coast.”
Wild says her Waves of Destin beads are a great wearable keepsake for guests visiting the beach, and she is hoping to offer her beads at more boutiques and galleries throughout the area.
Equally successful, Barrett has been taking the beading industry magazines by storm, including a 10-page feature in Bead Trends magazine. In addition to doing shows at her mom’s shop – the Donna Burgess Gallery – and doing workshops at The Market Shops, Barrett primarily sells her jewelry online at meristem.etsy.com.
Another coastal hot spot to pick up a unique piece of wearable art is Fusion, an art glass gallery with locations in Seaside and at Grand Boulevard at Sandestin. Co-owner Teresa Gilbert believes artistic jewelry is a great addition to the gallery because each piece is a work of art.
The colorful gallery offers limited-production, award-winning jewelry from small studios, including jewelry with silver, high-karat gold and gemstones. The shop offers couture lines as well as a variety of casual, beach-ready items.
Beading for Beginners
Many jewelry artists start making jewelry with a visit to a local craft store or by signing up for a class. Their interest grows and art matures as they learn more techniques, become more confident and try new things. Barrett has turned her money-saving gift-making idea into a full-time business and encourages those interested in jewelry making or any artistic endeavor to “go for it!”
Endless resources are available for beginners online, at local craft supply stores and through local art organizations and workshops, but Barrett cautions new jewelry makers to take it one step at a time.
“Don’t spend a ton of money on things you think you need before you have any experience,” she urges, admitting she is guilty of this herself. “Start small with tools and supplies and gain some practice before you invest.”
A stop into Michaels in Destin is a great way to see what is available for novice jewelry makers. Don’t let the rows of colorful beads, clasps, settings, wires and tools intimidate you. The plethora of beading supplies is just a reminder that the creative options are unlimited. Consider making a how-to book or starter kit your first purchase, or visit
michaels.com and browse the beading section for more information about the craft.
Learning new techniques also is just a keystroke away, with numerous Web sites dedicated specifically to the art of beading and jewelry making. A popular site, firemountaingems.com, features nearly 40 complimentary video tutorials. Beading experts and experienced jewelry artists cover everything from how to make specific patterns and use the newest beading tools to how to incorporate various clasps and wires into your designs.