Chattanooga jewelry makers find growing market for their goods

Chattanooga jewelry makers find growing market for their goods

August 1st, 2011 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Blue Skies on Frazier Avenue sells Ashlea Mayo's handmade earrings for about $25 a pair.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

Local jewelry makers say sales are brisk for their hand-crafted pieces, one-of-a-kind treasures that double as both accessories and works of arts.

Buying handmade jewelry is definitely a trend, said Mary Clor of Lookout Mountain, Ga., who sells her works at the weekly Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavilion and In-Town Gallery, an artists cooperative on Frazier Avenue.

"I see it very strongly in the Chattanooga area, especially at the Chattanooga Market," she said. "There is an average of 200 vendors there every Sunday selling things that are made or grown locally. The average vendor takes home $500 a week. That's money that's staying in the local economy and a tribute to our local arts and crafts people."

Clor, 52, makes everything from simple sterling-silver rings to intricate fused-glass necklaces and metal bangles.

An engineer by profession, Clor said she became interested in making jewelry two years ago. She has taken more than 400 hours of jewelry-making classes, including metalsmithing, silversmithing, stone setting and glass/metal clay fusing. She devotes an average of 30 hours each week to making jewelry.

"I sell so much at the Chattanooga Market that I have to keep up my inventory," she said.

Handmade pieces are typically affordable, Clor said, because the jewelers often have low overhead costs.

Denise Shropshire of Chattanooga sells her kiln-fired ceramic jewelry at Blue Skies gift boutique on Frazier Avenue. Shropshire, 51, said she likes the surprise of seeing how her necklaces and earrings turn out.

"I never know what it's going to look like when I glaze it," she said. "And that's what I love about it. It's so natural because it's baked."

Store manager Denise Scaglione said handmade jewelry sells well at Blue Skies.

"We always have the work of at least one local jewelry artist and sometimes more," she said. "We have people come into the store and ask specifically for the work of local artists."

Mary Whittle of Dayton, Tenn., makes mostly enameled jewelry, which she sells at In-Town Gallery.

"Enameling is glass on metal," she explained. "You do a layer, then fire it. You do another layer, then fire it, until you have about eight layers. The colors blend into one another, and it's very time-consuming, but it's a process that has been around since the days of the pharaohs."

Whittle, who started making jewelry five years ago, said she, too, has seen a growing interest in handmade jewelry.

"I don't have a long history in making jewelry, but in the five years I have been doing it, I have seen a definite increase. There's a real demand for buying things made in America. People don't want to go to chain stores to get cookie-cutter items. They're looking to support American artists, and that's a good thing for us and our community. I say that my art is made in the USA with a Tennessee flair."