Pick any field in the arts and you’ll find loads of specific subgroups within it. There are any number of techniques used to paint, dance, or work with clay. Jewelry is a vast field, comprising not only the making of wearable art, but also the cutting and polishing of stones and preparing the various elements that go into a piece of jewelry.
Granite Mountain Jewelry Artists is a group of 30 local artists who employ a vast range of styles of jewelry-making, including lapidary (engraving, cutting and polishing stones), wire-wrapping, precious-metal clay work, wax-casting, enamel, copper-electroforming, leatherwork (including stamping), polymer-clay work and many other technical skills to make items that speak to us and with which we want to decorate ourselves. Formed in 2012 and meeting on a monthly basis, GMJA focuses primarily on providing an educational, social and sales platform for jewelers to talk, meet together and learn about jewelry.
I met with a number of members of GMJA to hear about their work in preparation for the upcoming annual show at the Hotel St. Michael on August 12. It was stunning how diverse their work is and how passionate they are when given an opportunity to share. Some have advanced degrees in fine arts, while others have taken up jewelry-making alongside other life pursuits. Some are represented in galleries here in Prescott and beyond, some teach jewelry-making, some cut and polish stones that others then buy and use in their pieces. All get joy out of being makers and furthering their skills.
Each individual I spoke with was on fire about some aspect of making jewelry. “It’s not a hobby,” said Leslie Parsons, “it’s a passion. Anybody who has such a passion is so lucky. That really came to light during Covid.” Leslie started her art journey in ceramics, then became an accomplished printmaker, and has been making fine silver jewelry for some years, now as a member of the Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery. She got very excited talking about beads, how they’re made, their history, how they were used for trade globally, engendering cross-cultural artistic influences.
Marie Gniazdowski has been making jewelry for many years, earning an MFA in jewelry design and metalsmithing. She learned about precious-metal clay, which was created to give the wives of Japanese executives something creative to do. It comes in paper form and can fold into origami figures that retain their forms in silver after the paper binder burns away in firing. Marie is a certified instructor in metal clay and very enthusiastic about its many applications.
Another member of the GMJA group who’s had a very colorful life is Roxee Piekenbrock. Roxee was lucky to have lots of art exposure and instruction in her early years. Her career as an RN and medical illustrator led her to Saudi Arabia, where she spent years working and scuba-diving in the Red Sea. There she found and gathered black coral, which began her lifelong passion for collecting rocks. She acquired her first strand of turquoise on her first visit to Prescott. After buying a home here in 2008 she joined two rock clubs and two jewelry groups. She now focuses on working with Colbaugh turquoise, a composite stone made with small, discarded pieces of turquoise from mines in Arizona and Nevada, mixed into bricks with other ground stone such as spiny oyster, black obsidian, abalone or lava, and filled with brass inlay. The resulting stones, which she cuts and polishes, are colorful, unique, and make you want to ask what they are and where they came from.
Carol Hettenbach started her jewelry journey with beading, then moved gradually into metalwork. Her woven-wire pieces are stunning. Wire-weaving, usually done with fine copper wire, is wire-wrapping (around a stone), but includes weaving the wire, an added complexity that adds texture and strength to the piece. She also does lampworking (glass beads) and enamel.
I’m sure each of the Granite Mountain jewelers would have much to share about their work, but I was only able to meet with a handful. I did get to speak to a younger member of the group, Adam Heinke. His interest in stones began when he tried cutting cabochons as part of a 4H project. Soon he had so many stones he needed to figure out something to do with them, so he took up metalsmithing. He is now a member of Arts Prescott as well. His work is simple, elegant and designed to accentuate his beautiful stones. Adam will graduate next year with a degree from Embry-Riddle in business administration.
Roxee spoke of how she loves having the show at the St. Michael every year. It’s become very well known, and many people come every year to see the fine work of this group. Visitors can talk with the artists and hear about their processes, so it’s informative and appealing for buyers to know the connection between the artist and the piece they’re buying. There is also a (free) raffle of pieces donated by each artist.
The annual Granite Mountain Jewelry Artists Show will be held on Saturday, August 12, 9am-4pm at the Hotel St. Michael ballroom on Whiskey Row. There will be 18 vendors plus other juried artists. GMJA meets on the fourth Sunday of each month at 10am at the ‘Tis Annex. For more information visit granitemountainjewelryartists.weebly.com.