Lanesboro jewelry designers show
how body adornment becomes art
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 3:04 AM
Storytelling is the age-old way to pass down information throughout the generations. The words and images that are a part of stories act as carriers for important symbols, which can teach important lessons as well as entertain.
Michael Seiler and Liz Bucheit were the featured artists at the exhibition opening at Crown Trout Jewelers last Saturday evening. The paintings in the background were done by Seiler's father who he counts as a great influence in his life. They display artwork throughout their store.
PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN LEADER
The Lanesboro Art Center, through its various exhibits, has been an important platform for local artists to share their stories. In its current exhibit, titled Traditions in Transition: The Art of Jewelry Redefined, the art of storytelling is expressed through body adornment pieces.
Local goldsmithing and jewelry experts Liz Bucheit and Michael Seiler have built their livelihoods around producing jewelry that is not only beautiful, but that also holds special meaning to themselves and to their customers at Crown Trout Jewelers in downtown Lanesboro.
Their exhibit opened on Saturday and will continue through March 30 at the Lanesboro Arts Center. Both Bucheit and Seiler hope it will increase awareness of not only their business, but also of the importance of telling stories through creative means.
For Bucheit, it was the old Norwegian fables that significantly influenced her. "I grew up going to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah with my mother," she recalled, noting that her mother has a rich Norwegian ancestry that rubbed off on her through the telling of old fairy tales.
She also grew up with a love of drawing and painting, which drove her to pursue a metalworking major at the University of Iowa. Bucheit graduated with a Masters in Metalworking and Jewelry in 1984.
"Metalworking is great because you get to draw, paint and use a lot of other mediums besides working with metal," Bucheit explained.
In 1999 she won a grant to attend the Rauland Fold School in Telemark, Norway, where she immersed herself in Norwegian folk culture and honed her metalworking craft.
Bucheit has traveled elsewhere since that time, training in Ireland as well. She is fascinated with bridal cultures around the world and many have influenced her work in creating tiaras and crowns that fit the style of the respective cultures. Besides Norway, she continues to research culture from the Netherlands, Ireland, Japan, and more recently, China.
"My heart is still in Scandinavia," stated Bucheit, who still does conservation work for the Vesterheim Museum's silver collection that she grew up loving to look at.
Her path to establishing Crown Trout Jewelers 17 years ago in Lanesboro started when she was living in Minneapolis after moving there from California, where she worked for a designer in Santa Cruz.
"My mother told me to check out this little arts town," Bucheit recalled saying that she wasn't expecting much. But she assumed wrongly. "The first time I saw the Art Center, they were having a tattoo show. A tattoo show!" said Bucheit.
She left impressed and, ever since moving here in 1996, has continued to appreciate the opportunities in Lanesboro.
"In the cities you are a tadpole in a huge pond," she mused.
Bucheit has been able to raise awareness for jewelry design and goldsmithing through the LAC, especially through their new exhibit. She also gives talks about Norwegian filigree and culture to groups such as the Sons of Norway.
Other education opportunities presented themselves through the local school, as Bucheit and other local artists would take turns teaching art classes at Lanesboro High School. "If young people can gain an appreciation for art, they can see that it's an intrinsic part of everyday life," she explained.
Bucheit's interest in body adornment jewelry from other cultures caused her to realize that the human body is a story. "Anything you wear, all these things tell a story about you," shared Bucheit. "The body ends up being a canvas for your story."
The jewelry, crowns and tiaras she designs and makes all have stories tied to them. "Jewelry can signify wealth and status," she explained, "but it isn't just about those things as much as what it means to the individual."
This idea is one that Michael Seiler agrees with.
Seiler grew up in Ohio and got his start in goldsmithing and jewelry design through an apprenticeship in 1995.
"I couldn't find a major I liked in college," Seiler joked. "I was in a jewelry store once and started asking the man behind counter a lot of questions. After taking up 45 minutes of his time, he gave me two books to read. I read them, brought them back, and was offered an apprenticeship soon after."
His interesting start in the jewelry industry paid off; Seiler mastered a diversity of techniques such as fabrication, wax modeling, stone cutting and stone setting. "Most people don't have the variety of experience that Liz and I have here," he noted.
Having grown up with a skill in painting, drawing and sculpting, Seiler has found he can still employ those interests in his work today. When people come in to Crown Trout Jewelers with an idea for a piece they want custom made, Seiler and Bucheit will make accurate sketches to help visualize the piece. Around 20 percent of the business they have at the store comes from custom designed pieces.
Each piece Seiler makes, he wants it to be more than just an adornment. "I want to tell the buyer's story and my story as well," he shared.
To give his work more meaning, Seiler draws inspiration from things that he reads or sees. For each new piece that he creates, he writes a poetic description of the story or feeling that it represents.
At the LAC exhibit, one will see these poetic descriptions complimenting each piece. Seiler says he draws inspiration from writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Hans Christian Andersen.
Bucheit's work on display has two-dimensional images that model the work and show how it can be worn. Each piece of artwork has a short description and price for sale.
Also on display is Bucheit's nationally-acclaimed "Autumnal Tiara," which won the 2012 Women's Jewelry Association Bridal Category. Recognition from regional, state and national levels has increased, as Bucheit's award demonstrates and it is something they will not let go to waste. Not when there is still a lot of work to be done in ensuring the future of their industry.
All inventory in Crown Trout Jewelers is designed and created by Bucheit and Seiler. They do everything when it comes to running their business and meeting custom design and repairs. They are members of an ever decreasing population of goldsmiths who use techniques that are now programmed into computers.
Seiler is concerned that their traditional jewelry crafting techniques are being lost as machines replace humans. Being able to mass produce jewelry drives prices down, which can have an effect on customer numbers. Raising awareness of the value of completely hand-crafted jewelry is something both Bucheit and Seiler work on constantly.
They have made it a priority to offer classes focusing on teaching others some basic jewelry and silversmithing techniques. They hold classes on Silversmithing, Viking Knit and Saami Bracelet at Crown Trout Jewelers and they also bring their talents to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn., and the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Information for upcoming classes and registration can be found on their website crowntrout.com.
Thus far, they have averaged 15-20 people per class within an age range of 30 to 60 years and from places as far away as Colorado.
"People really want an experience," stated Bucheit. "They get a hands-on opportunity and we get to educate them how to be better jewelry consumers."
One of her favorite comments from a student was when the person said, "They just don't charge enough for jewelry!" Getting people to understand just how much time and thought goes into a piece of jewelry is just as important as passing the information down to apprentices, a few of whom Bucheit has had.
Seiler and Bucheit are working on creating an intern position to get "younger people involved and interested." In the future, the couple hopes to branch Crown Trout Jewelers into more galleries and to exhibit more. This is why the LAC is so important to Seiler and Bucheit; it has provided a place to base their outreach.
"The LAC has been very open in allowing us to raise awareness," explained Bucheit. Seiler has been exhibiting for four years and noted that the LAC has been very supportive in driving their exposure.
"What they are doing is remarkable," shared LAC Gallery Director Robbie Brokken at the opening night reception on Feb. 9.
Executive director John Davis also praised the art that Seiler and Bucheit have produced saying, "It is a real honor to have their work here. Their national recognition and awards are a testament to the synergy of their ideas."
It was that recognition that led to Seiler and Bucheit being named recipients of grant money through the Minnesota State Legislature and the McKnight Foundation. The exhibit is being sponsored by Inspire(d) Media and presented in cooperation with the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, Inc. "This all allowed us to finish work we had in our collections," Bucheit stated adding that the grant award has shown that Crown Trout Jewelers is still an economically viable business in Lanesboro.
While the exhibit runs until March 30, Bucheit and Seiler will continue to run their business as normal, which has its challenges. The fluctuating price of gold and the cost of materials in general always affect the final sale price of a piece. But since Seiler and Bucheit make everything by hand and with raw materials they don't have any middlemen that could raise prices. They also recycle old gold that people bring in for a custom project. Seiler noted that there are fewer and fewer custom jewelers out there, which has helped him find his niche in exactly that.
Bucheit works with many brides who are trying to find that perfect tiara or engagement ring and she takes it very seriously. "When we make a piece for someone, we are becoming a part of their lives, their legacy," she shared. "We are a part of all the big moments in people's lives and we just hope that we can help make good memories."
These stories are what lie at the heart of any type of jewelry made by Seiler and Bucheit at Crown Trout Jewelers, and it is what drives the creation of new pieces of artwork that stand for much more than what the eye can see.