Interview by Juanita Canzoneri. Photographs by Juanita Canzoneri and Teri Rowan.
Jon joined Commonwheel as a jeweler in 2018 and has made himself indispensable to our Jury/Display committee. I went to his home/studio to interview him for this article.
He is our Artist of the Month for February 2019. All his work is on sale at 10% off through the month.
So, what is it that you do?
I'm a silversmith.
And how did you get into that?
I've often admired I've long admired Southwestern jewelry and wanted to learn some of those basic techniques. But I didn't want to try and duplicate the designs that the Indians used, I wanted to do my own designs. So I took a couple classes of some of the basic techniques. That was about 25 years ago and I've been kind of self-taught since then.
What did you do before you took up silversmithing?
Lots—small animal veterinarian for 20 years, then my wife and I owned a bird feeding store which gradually transitioned into a bookstore.
Yeah, I’m a birder. We sold that and the next thing was a B&B with some rental cabins here in Manitou. I most recently we had the kitchen store then the economy changed, and we retired from that.
Now I have more time to spend on my silversmithing.
Where do you get your silver?
Most of it I get from Santa Fe jewelry supply. I get sheets and wire. They come in an incredible variety.
Speaking of working with a commodity, right now it's not too bad but the price has been pretty high in the past. While I've been working with it can remember $5 an ounce and as high as $40 an ounce. Right now it's at $15, so not bad.
What part of the country did you grow up in?
I was born in DC but grew up in Colorado in Wheat Ridge. Went to school in Boulder for a few years got a degree in Zoology, then 4 years in Fort Collins for veterinary medicine. Now I'm in a career that I never have to retire from and enjoy a lot.
So when you started silversmithing did you take classes from somebody locally?
Yeah Suzanne Lindquist was giving a 3-day class for kids at the Business of Art Center (now the Manitou Art Center). I called them up and asked if they would take an adult in that class and they said, I guess. Do you have anybody signed up yet? They said, no. What's the minimum number of people you need? 3. So I recruited a neighbor and somebody else to take it. We started by working on overlay, which is a technique that I still use and some basic forming.
And then the next year she was doing a class at the Pikes Peak Community College and I took a semester there, and then another one again the next year and learned more techniques. She was an instructor that really emphasized learning design as opposed to just techniques, so we got along really well. I learned a lot from her.
After that it's just looking at jewelry, and there's a lot to look at. Jerry Scavezze,a gallery owner in Salida, he just sold his store. I was talking to him when he closed, and he said there's so many techniques out there you can't learn them all. You have to pick one and just go with it. I said yeah, my techniques are hammering and sawing, very basic stuff. Kind of goes along with the really simple designs I do.
How many hammers do you have?
About a dozen, I suppose.
Only a dozen?
Maybe it's more than that. some of them I inherited from my grandfather and father. One was grandfather was a blacksmith and the other the mechanic and I was the only boy in the family, so I've got a garage full of tools that I've inherited. I modified some of these for forming or texturing or rounding.
It sounds like you've got metal in your history with your grandfather being a blacksmith.
And my dad was a mechanical engineer. he worked on cars a lot was a handy guy that did a lot of things.
So what types of silver work do you do?
I like texturing. You have to be in the zone to do it. You start making marks and you have to just start and be consistent. Ideally you hit every spot once and make it consistent because of the reflectivity of silver because of the reflectivity of silver reflective substance where is when it's all dimpled and shiny like that it just blames and sparkles.
I really like copper as well, but I have problems with the perceived value of copper. You can spend two hours on a copper piece, and the same on a silver piece, and there would be no comparison in what you could get for them. It also has to do with so many kinds and availability of silver you have sheets and wire and I'll get different thicknesses and shapes—square, round, half-round, flat. It's a head start on all of the shapes you trying to accomplish.
I work with an anvil on a stump--standard jewelry studio stuff. I do a lot of work on that. I have different anvils too. One is actually a part of a railroad my dad had, and what's cool about that is if you hammer a piece of metal on it gets a sandy texture.
Where are you selling other than Commonwheel?
Arati gallery, Green Horse Gallery. I was in Santa Fe for twenty-odd years.
By Leti Wesolowski, contributor
Commonwheel member Sarah Stevens is a Colorado Springs art teacher and jeweler. Originally from Pennsylvania, she spent her childhood playing outdoors and doing anything creative as drawing, painting, building things, writing and putting on her own plays.
She studied visual and performing arts in high school and was a fine art major in college with a focus on drawing and painting. In the early nineties she moved to Colorado to work for the Boys and Girls Clubs, which made her realize that teaching art was a great fit for her. She gained a teaching degree from The Colorado College and has been teaching art in Monument, CO and, for the past 12 years, Colorado Springs.
Today she has her own studio where she produces one of a kind jewelry pieces both modern and organic, mixing metals, textures and a style full of personality.
What is your first memory of creating something with your own hands? How long have you been making jewelry?
My first specific memory of making something with my hands was in the beginning of Kindergarten. I remember very vividly my teacher Mrs. Wilkenson teaching me how to thread a needle, make a knot, and sew a sock puppet. I share this when I am teaching my high school classes to sew in art class. From then on, I remember drawing, painting, crafts all of the time, music, theater, writing. I didn't begin making jewelry until 2008. I took a class from my now best friend.
Where do you get inspiration?
I get inspiration from looking at other artists' work. Sometimes I find a box of random materials and it gives me an idea for a project. Sometimes, I find myself on a creative streak and I just start to see things differently.
Walk us through the steps to create one of your pieces.
When I make a piece of jewelry or a painting, I usually have a semi-plan in mind when I start. I am very drawn to texture, so I usually start there. I like order, so whether 2D or 3D, I arrange elements in an organized, right-angle-sort-of-way. I am big on finishing techniques, liking things to look rustic or worn.
What is your favorite piece you’ve ever made? What is the story behind it?
I sometimes forget about pieces I have made in the past. I might see a photo and say "Oh, wow, I don't remember doing that,” but it gets me thinking.
I suppose one [favorite piece] might be this painting I did last summer. This painting was done as a gift for our pastor who was moving to California. The painting is full of symbolism—numbers, colors, quotes, mementos, all very personal to those involved. References to the mountains and ocean, a window-like essence, a tribute to the blue skies of Colorado and the sand of the beach, a shape that rises up from its base.
What is your proudest achievement?
One thing I have accomplished that I am most proud of is sharing my abilities with students. I have had my art displayed, won awards, sold pieces, been in the paper, but my favorite triumph is getting kids turned on to art and leading them to a place where they feel like their art is important, relevant, and can make a difference in the world.
Do you have a favorite artist that you admire or follow?
Frida Kahlo is my favorite artist from history for her bravery, strength, and abilities. The modern artist I most admire might be Banksy for his social statements and "anonymous" approach. For style, my favorites are Diebenkorn, Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.
What are you currently working on? Is there anything new in the shop that you are very excited about?
I am working on a new series that involves more movement and small parts. I think I will be making more rings than I have before.
What’s next for you?
I am taking two painting classes in oil painting this fall. I am also planning on a new series in jewelry and am doing a ceramics project for our winter Marketplace.
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