Baubles, bangles, beads and other shiny creations make wonderful gifts at the holidays, whether for yourself or someone special. Find a one-of-a-kind piece that’s finely handcrafted or is designed especially for you, and it means that much more.
Luckily, the Treasure Valley’s rich community of jewelry artists is hard at work year-round, creating interesting and beautiful pieces of wearable art — but especially at the holidays.
Jewelry has been part of human culture for about 100,000 years. We use it to attract mates, align ourselves with our beliefs and cultures, show status and display our personal flair. Maybe no other art form says as much about you than what you choose to put on your body.
All of these artists approach their work with different intentions, aesthetics and processes. Most think of themselves as artists as much as they are artisans. They use their skills to craft metal and other materials to express something about themselves and the people who will wear it.
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Here’s just a sampling of what the artists of the Treasure Valley’s tight jewelry community have to offer this holiday season.
Robert Kaylor: the master
Robert Kaylor practically breathes jewelry. With 42 years in the business, he’s done just about everything: from the traveling art show circuit to owning R. Grey Gallery, one of the top jewelry galleries in the region.
He hit the heights in 2011, by winning the Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year Award at JA New York, one of the most prestigious awards in the industry for his RealSteel line made with antique railroad nails, gold and precious stones.
But now, he’s pulling back and focusing on his stunning Boise gallery that sells his work, as well as other national and regional jewelers — and getting back to his craft.
“I love the whole process of designing jewelry,” Kaylor says.
Kaylor started making jewelry in Arizona, where he studied with a Navajo master silversmith in the 1970s. When the turquoise market bottomed out, he moved at random to Boise, and things clicked.
He became a protegee of master jeweler John Poznanovich. In a few years, he owned a repair shop in Old Boise. He met his wife, Barbara, when he repaired some jewelry for her. They opened the first R. Grey on Idaho Street in the early 1980s. They moved to their current 8th Street location in 2007.
Kaylor’s aesthetic is as finely honed as his skills at manipulating metal. He turns gold, silver and platinum sheet or wire into glittering rings, pendants and more.
“I learned a long time ago that metal is like clay, only harder,” he says. “So, we have instead of our hands and fingers pulling clay, we have hammers, shears and rolling mills to pull and bend the metal to the shape we want. It’s a very satisfying process because you’re seeing it as it’s built.”
These days, his assistant, Rick Olmstead, does most of the fabrication following on Kaylor’s designs, but Kaylor always does the settings and fine finish work.
At 62, his style leans more toward architectural but with an underlying natural quality that gives it comfort and ease of style.
“The older I get, the more I want to do one-of-a-kind, more expensive pieces,” he says. “Whenever my last few years of working are, I’m going to do a numbered, very limited production — maybe six pieces a year. ”
Artist: Robert Kaylor, R. Grey Gallery, 415 S. 8th St., Boise. 385-9337. RGreyGallery.com. Prices: $2,000 and up.
Karen Klinefelter: sustainable evolution
Karen Klinefelter’s comfortably organized studio feels as refined and sleek as her modernist jewelry. She works in metal with traditional bench tools to create her delicately urban silver and gold earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
“I like pattern, texture and simplicity. So, I sometimes start by making things more complex, then I break them down into their simplest elements,” she says.
Now, she’s applying those skills to a new medium. Tagua nuts, also called “vegetable ivory,” come from South America, where native artisans carve them into sculptures. Tagua nuts can be sanded, cut, painted or drawn on, charred and carved to create a variety of satisfying designs and shapes.
She then puts them into her refined gold and silver settings for rings and pendants, or dangles them from long wires for earrings.
“I wanted to find a more sustainable medium to work in,” she says. “It’s organic and has a life of its own. I don’t know if there’s anyone else doing this, so it’s really about experimenting and pushing the medium to figure out what I can do.”
Klinefelter, 53, found jewelry by chance when she answered an ad for an apprentice in Burlington, Vt., where she grew up.
“I was bouncing in and out of college, not sure what I wanted to do,” she says.
She worked as an assistant to a master jeweler for 12 years before striking out on her own. She moved to Boise for a marriage. It didn’t last, but her affinity for Idaho did.
“Something about this place feels like this is where I’m supposed to be,” she says.
Artist: Karen Klinefelter, Karen Klinefelter Studio, 2829 N. Garden Center Way, Boise. You also can find her work at Gallery Five18, 518 Americana Blvd., Boise, or call (802) 363-7789 for an appointment. Prices: $250-$800. KarenKlinefelterStudio.com.
Mike Rogers: metal with meaning
Mike Rogers works out of a cluttered little shop in the Idaho Building, at 8th and Bannock streets. For 20 years, he has made jewelry in his Bannock Street side window. He shoots the breeze with folks who stop by to chat or play his guitars and takes his trusty dog Towns on walks.
“Man, I’m the happiest guy in town,” Rogers says. “I can guarantee it. I love coming to work.”
Rogers makes one-of-a-kind jewelry — mostly engagement and wedding sets — that blend art deco and modernist sensibilities. He gets to know his clients and works to create pieces that reflect something personal.
“I don’t think I’d be as good of a designer without someone saying, ‘What about this?’ It’s a challenge to do original work in this incredibly ancient profession,” he says.
Rogers, 54, grew up on his parents’ ranch on the banks of the Clearwater River in Kamiah. He went to Boise State University in the 1980s and discovered jewelry making through his ex-wife. The couple owned a wholesale jewelry store for several years. When the marriage ended, Rogers left town and taught his craft in California but eventually returned to open this shop.
He works mostly in lost-wax casting, the process of carving a design out of wax, making a mold and then melting out the wax and replacing it with molten metal.
“If someone had told me when I was a kid that you could turn wax into metal, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he says, holding on to a newly cast ring. “I mean this was wax yesterday. That’s so cool.”
Rogers finds inspiration in architecture and the work of artists such as Richard Serra, Picasso and Dali — especially Dali’s painting “My Wife, Nude, Contemplating Her Own Flesh as Stairs.”
“It’s just a meltdown of emotions,” he says. “It utterly destroys me.”
Artist: Mike Rogers, at Precious Metal Arts, 280 N. 8th St., Suite 50, Boise, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. 363-9293. Facebook.com/finecustomjewelry. Price range: $200 and up.
Kay Seurat: artistic expression
When you walk into Kay Seurat’s live/work space, you enter her creative world. Its shelves and drawers overflow with her jewelry, beads, sculpture, pottery and remnants of past projects and artistic obsessions.
She works across mediums, but jewelry is her constant. She makes a remarkable diversity of styles: industrial, architectural, traditional Southwest turquoise — her first true love — enameled necklaces and meditative pieces made with smooth river rock.
“It boils down to the fact that I have a short attention span,” she says. “When I start to feel bored, I’m ready to move on and do something else. Then I like to come back around to stuff. I just follow my instincts.”
Seurat, not her given name, by the way, discovered jewelry when she was traveling to shows with her pottery and airbrushed ties in the 1990s. That’s when she discovered beads.
“For some reason beads just really called to me,” she says. “Now I see they are the gateway to a jewelry addiction.”
That addiction has served her well for more than 25 years, by allowing her to explore a variety of artistic processes.
“I can learn it all and still be in the realm of jewelry,” she says.
Seurat, 67, finds ideas everywhere she looks and creates jewelry in series.
“It’s kind of random,” she says. “A lot of my ideas come from the materials. I start to work with gemstones or fossils or just metal (and) I let it take me,” she says.
Her newest addiction is making colorful patterned squares out of felt that she can make into purses, pillows or anything, and sculptural welding.
“I’ve always wanted to weld and work on a bigger scale because it looks like fun,” she says.
Artist: Kay Seurat, find her work at Gallery Five18, 518 Americana Blvd., Boise, and the Boise Art Museum gift store, 670 Julia Davis Drive. Or email or call for a studio appointment at 336-3914. Prices: $35-$500. KaySeurat.com.
Philip Portsche: antique finish
For Philip Portsche, 34, (pronounced “Por-shay”) jewelry is the family business. He operates an elegant boutique with his wife, Megan, and her mother, Margie Larson, who also designs jewelry. Its downstairs cases glitter with rings, pendants, necklaces and more — their one-of-a-kind designs.
Jewelry is his calling, he says. He worked construction as a teenager in Tucson, Ariz., where he grew up. Things changed when he worked on a house owned by a goldsmith.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, except I knew that construction wasn’t it,” Portsche says. “I was just fascinated by talking with this guy about the jewelry industry. I started doing research and saving money so I could go to the American Jewelry Institute.”
He did an apprenticeship for five years with Christopher & Co. in Hailey before moving to Boise in 2007. He met Megan a year later.
Portsche creates jewelry on the mezzanine inside his corner store. Each workbench has different tools for sculpting with wax, working with metal and polishing and finishing. And the little old desk next to his is for his 5-year-old daughter, Gemma, who “is beginning a very long apprenticeship,” Portsche says.
Portsche blends old-world metal-working techniques with modern machinery, including a laser welder. He uses both a sketch pad and computer-aided design software to create his designs.
He fuels his passion for his craft though a connection to the past, taking inspiration from designs and stones of the 1920s.
“I’m drawn towards the beauty and craftsmanship from 100 years ago that you don’t see now,” he says.
“Everything today is mathematically perfect,” he says. “With the old stones, you get a bigger flash of fire, versus today you get a million pinpricks of fire. The older stones have more of a soul for me.”
His contemporary pieces are also infused with old-world elegance and attention to detail. And he makes a couple of men’s jewelry lines: one made of Hawaiian burl wood and precious metals, another of fossilized woolly mammoth ivory.
“Not a lot of men in the area buy jewelry, but I’m working on that,” he says.
Melissa Osgood: metal meditation
The hours Melissa Osgood spends at the workbench in her tiny live/work space in Boise’s North End give her peace. Like Osgood herself, her jewelry is simple, understated and delicate. Metal wearable art that she hopes is more than just a bauble.
“Do you select jewelry to put on your body just because it’s beautiful, or is there another reason?” she asks. “Maybe jewelry can be something that connects with your inner self or helps you redirect your thinking for the day.”
Osgood started as a graphic designer. While studying graphic arts at Boise State University, she also took a few metal-working classes that piqued her interest in the craft, but life took her in a different direction.
“It was something I wanted to get back to when I ‘retired,’ ” she says. While Osgood was in Seattle, she started studying jewelry again, eventually coming home to Idaho to change her direction.
“I wanted to get back to my Boise arts community,” she says. “If you’re a creative person, it’s a matter of finding the tools to express yourself. For me that was jewelry.”
Osgood works in sterling silver and gold and uses hands-on metal-working techniques of hammering, cutting and torching that shape the metal to reflect her inner thoughts.
“I journal a lot, and when I come upon a philosophical idea, it sometimes comes together as a finished piece in my mind’s eye,” Osgood, 45, says. “Then I sketch. From there it’s a cerebral process of matching that idea to the supplies I have on hand, and then letting it evolve.”
She likes to work in series and to focus on customer favorites, “because I’m not just doing it for me. I’m also doing this for others.”
Artist: Melissa Osgood: Find her work at Gallery Five18, the Boise Art Museum gift shop and at MelissaOsgood.com. Prices: $28 to $600.