In my ongoing attempt to live with less, over the spring I turned a ruthless eye toward my art supplies: acrylic and powder paints, pastels, collage materials collected over the years, dozens of different beads from when I designed jewelry professionally, tons of mosaic tesserae from my subsequent artrepreneurship, partially completed works in various media, wire cutters, jewelry and clay tools, plus sundry items. For a moment I wanted to dump all of it to circumvent my tendency to keep things because, maybe, some day I would want it. But I have to believe that should I reinvigorate my art practice, I will find new materials and the means and space to do it.
Opening bins of supplies and sorting through the contents felt like attending a reunion. Some of the items I no longer wished to see, others felt like old friends who, no matter how long it’s been, will bring a smile to my face. Knowing that a few mosaic artists were willing to receive my surplus made sorting easier. I shipped two 18 pound boxes of supplies and a smaller box, packed with various beads and Italian glass, to a third artist. Later, I donated many more pounds to a local mosaic friend. I offered my clay tools to a ceramic gallery. Having tried and failed to love that medium three times (in New York, Mexico, Denver), it was a relief to send them where they will be used.
Rummaging through my stash, I found some unfinished beaded jewelry, wires knotted and awaiting the attachment of clasps. I paused from my sorting to finish them, and redesigned one bracelet in the process. As I unstrung the beads, substituting new ones and rearranging them until it felt right, I noticed a deep part of me started to relax, as if it were being allowed to breathe again. That feeling of inner blooming is as delicious as it is elusive; it’s what hooked me on jewelry design in the first place, when I reached for beads to quell anxiety after 9/11. In 2002, suffocated by my consulting job, I followed the oft-cited advice to “do what you love and the money will follow.” I launched a jewelry design business and, in a challenge to my introvert nature, sold my work at art fairs and festivals. Over time, I built a small and loyal clientele. But schlepping my wares and a tent from show to show was, while tiring, far less exhausting than trying to be someone I wasn’t: a cheerful salesperson/therapist skilled at convincing women who, while admiring my work, needed encouragement and validation to purchase it for themselves. My sales, while steady, never reached the potential I imagined. Eventually, I found a studio which doubled as a retail space. I mailed dozens of press packets announcing my new location. A major paper picked up the story and ran an article about me just after Thanksgiving in 2005. For two days, customers mobbed my small shop. It was my “fifteen minutes” of fame. Over the next few weeks, I sold more than I had in the previous 10 months. The money had, after three years, followed.
After the holiday rush, a voice inside told me that it was time to move on, even though I had just “made it”. To stop so soon after receiving coveted publicity felt wrong, as if I owed the newspaper and its readers longevity and stability. I worried I’d be perceived as a flake or a schmuck for closing shop after being in the local limelight. Just before Christmas, someone burglarized my studio, stealing my laptop and much of the jewelry. Insurance covered the loss. Still, I wondered: was that a sign to get out?
I decided to continue, mainly to thumb my nose at the thieves. Fundamentally, the adventure had ended, but inertia and a sense of duty kept me in it. I rationalized that selling allowed me afford luscious beads that helped me express my sensibility. Since my ego had become entangled in the design process, I could no longer imagine making jewelry for the sheer fun of it.
By the time I shuttered the business, burnout had killed the joy. I swore I’d never make another necklace again. I sold many materials but kept my favorite beads. They had become friends of a kind, a record of the arc of my aesthetic evolution and my visual signature. Selling them, at that time, would have been wrenching. Looking through them in April, I remembered what I had seen in each and what I hoped they’d help me to communicate. Some no longer resonated, and I found homes for them. Those that still spoke to me I kept, contrary to my initial impulse.
My foray into my bead collection inspired a few pieces for summer. I enjoyed the tactile and visual experience of creating, without allowing my mind to “turn it into something.” Joy and fun are valuable in and of themselves. Sometimes we need to do what we love simply to feel that love. To be an amateur is to do things for the love of them. To monetize, routinize or otherwise aggrandize the activities that bring us joy can, in certain cases, kill it.