July 2023
The Natural World of Jeweler Bill Ford

It’s very satisfying to make something and then step back and say to yourself, “I made that.” This can apply to anything we accomplish, like fixing a fence or filling out an application, but for artists this is true on a whole other level. Fixing things or filling out a form doesn’t bring the same gratification as creating, transforming physical substance into something beautiful through one’s individual artistic sense and acquired skills.

Halloween Pin

When the towers came down on 9-11 Bill Ford, long‐ time Prescott resident and jeweler, did what artists feel compelled to do when they are moved — he went to his studio. He made pins depicting the lost towers and gave them to people he cared about. Makers make things because they are compelled by their natures to do so. It’s how they interact with and respond to their environment. “I make jewelry not because it’s lucrative, but because I’m compelled to,” he says.

Imilac Pallasite meteor, 14K pendant
Korot Opal, sterling pendant
Broken-heart Milagro pin

Bill grew up in New York and was fortunate to study at the Pratt Institute, the New School for Social Research and later at the Kansas City Art Institute. On leaving school he focused on leather work, making handcrafted sandals in New York City. After some time he moved west to learn saddle making, first in Wyoming, then in Montana, where he met his wife. They then moved to Arizona and eventually settled in Prescott, where Bill began studying jewelry with Dick Marcusen. Bill got pretty serious about it and was soon teaching jewelry at Yavapai College, which he continued for decades, helping train up many fine jewelers.

Amethyst ring
Fire agate, sterling pendant

Ford’s work is mostly out in the world being worn and appreciated by those smart enough to have acquired it when it was available. Some years ago he submitted a bola tie to our local rodeo committee for use in promoting the event, featuring a silver cowboy riding a bucking stegosaurus to promote the “World’s Oldest Rodeo.” I am fortunate to have inherited a small horned-lizard pin by him that was given to my mother years ago. It’s among my most cherished pieces of jewelry.

Repousse Horned Toad pin

Bill doesn’t show his work regularly in any gallery, but keeps working on jewelry and leather pieces that satisfy his need to create. He will make bespoke pieces. His work over the years has been eclectic, sometimes a simply set piece that allows a particularly unique stone to speak for itself, some‐ times a “trick” piece, complicated and difficult in execution.

Copper belt buckle

One technique Bill uses frequently is repousse, which produces one-off pieces. First you put metal into a soft pitch material, then flip it over, hammer it and chase it to create the desired form. “There’s something really special about putting myself into the work by doing it that way as opposed to making it in wax and casting it and making hundreds of the same thing.” He spoke of how when you get married you buy a ring, but that ring really only has significance based on how long you’ve had it. Jewelry made for the individual is a talisman, he feels. It brings its own juju with it. The Natural History Institute is currently exhibiting the work of a group of northern Arizona jewelers, including Ford, under the theme of looking at natural history through the jeweler’s eye. In the very informative panel discussion held at the show’s opening (available on YouTube), each artist had the opportunity to speak about their take on the art of transformation, of taking a commodity and making it into a thing of beauty. Jewelers can remind us that the natural world should not be commodified, but rather seen as a thing to be loved. The show will run till July 14 and is well worth the visit.

Elk teeth, fire agate pin

Bill is at a place in his life where he doesn’t want or need to push his product to generate income or exposure. “You can do it one way, but it’s really time consuming and you’re not going to make any money. You can do it another way that would be more profitable, but I prefer the Amethyst ringfirst way. I always made a living, but was never that successful. How much do you need to live?” While he doesn’t feel as compelled to produce as he used to, he still gets excited about a spectacular or unique stone. Bill will always be a maker. “It’s gratifying to make something, then step back and say, ‘I made that!’”

Visit the Natural History Institute at 126 N Marina St. to see Bill Ford’s work in the “Written in Stone” exhibit. You can contact Bill at azwilliamford@yahoo.com.

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.

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