(EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the next installment in a series of articles highlighting local artists who create wearable art. These Fashion Friday features will be published each month on First Friday.)
Canadian born beadwork and jewelry artist, Victoria Neely, moved to the Williamsport area in the 1960s. She grew up learning craft and jewelry under her mother's tutelage. She specializes in beaded and fabricated wire jewelry with semi-precious stones. To see Neely's most recent work, visit her Facebook page, Beadwear Jewelry or her website beadwear.org.
Tara D. McKinney: It sounds like arts and crafts were a family affair for you. Is that where your interest in jewelry making began?
Victoria Neely: Yes, my mother was an art teacher at Montoursville High School for many years. She taught all the craft classes, including jewelry making and pottery. When she taught jewelry making, she had a studio set up on the back porch of our home. My brothers and sisters and I would help out by holding a torch on the centrifuge during a lost wax cast. We learned to be creative just by being around her. I started out on my own when I was pregnant with my second child, 21 years ago. My oldest son went to West Branch School where I was in charge of arts and crafts at the fair. I bought supplies and made earrings on the spot. I just kept adding to my repertoire of skills and supplies and started attending non-juried shows just to get my foot in the door. I improved my craft until I could get into juried shows. To be selected for a juried show, you have to send in five images of your work showing the complete price range and scope of your work plus one photo of your booth set up. A jury of your peers chooses who gets to be in the show based on the images. The jury is made up of other artists: a jeweler, a photographer, a potter, etc. It's very different from a non-juried craft fair. You're in good company if you are selected for a juried art festival or show. The crowd coming to that show is expecting higher-caliber work. They understand what goes into that kind of work and with that understanding comes a greater appreciation and desire to purchase it.
TDM: Do you admire any artists especially, local or not?
VN: I worked for James Meyer and Marc Williams years ago. James is retired and he's the local goldsmith who really started things off in Williamsport. Marc also started out working for James and has been creating gold jewelry in his own studio for many years. Larry Pauling, who also got his start with James, is a very fine goldsmith who does a lot of engraving, which is a lost art these days. Those three local goldsmiths really inspire me. My greatest inspiration though would have to be my mother, Patricia Neely. She is an award-winning artist who has been a lifelong learner, teacher and creative force. She has been a potter, a jeweler, a fiber artist and is now a watercolorist. She also is my biggest source of support and encouragement.
TDM: How do you find inspiration to create a new piece?
VN: A lot of times it's emotionally inspired by the seasons or maybe someplace that I've traveled to. I might make something based on color palettes found at our cottage in Georgian Bay, Canada, or a trip to the beach using the colors there. I live on about 60 acres of forest and fields and there are a lot of beautiful colors inspired by nature right around me. Mostly I'm inspired by colors and the emotions attached to them. I also do a line of jewelry that utilizes inspirational words to encourage others. I stamp words into sterling silver. They're words like "hope" or "faith" or "joy." For instance my sister-in-law is very sick. She's not remembering things any more than 15 minutes at a time. Sometimes she gets depressed and doesn't feel like living. So, I made her a bracelet to help her remember that she is never alone. It says, "I the Lord am always with you, trust and believe." I guess you could call it "inspirational jewelry," because it is meant to encourage and inspire others.
TDM: Can you give me an idea of what some of your pieces might cost and where people can see and buy your work?
VN: On the low end of the pieces I make: beaded earrings, bracelets or necklaces made with semiprecious stones, crystals, freshwater pearls, ceramic and shell beads. These pieces start at $10 and go up to $52. At the high end of my jewelry line I do some fabricated wire and jewelry necklaces, bracelets and rings using sterling silver and 14k gold fill and rose gold fill with semiprecious stones. The higher end jewelry is priced anywhere from $50 to $150. I mostly travel and go to juried art festivals up and down the East Coast. I'll be at the People's Choice Festival in Boalsburg in July. I often have open houses in the area throughout the year. Updates of where I'll be can be found by checking my Facebook page, which is Beadwear Jewelry. I have a one page website, beadwear.org. However, I find that the Facebook page is easier to update quickly, as I can make a piece of jewelry in the morning and post it on my Facebook page that day. I also have an Etsy shop under Beadwearjewelry.
TDM: Who are your customers and what are they wearing?
VN: My customers can be found all over the world, but mostly in the United States. Earrings are very popular because they're at a price point people can afford in this economy. A lot of people like natural stones and precious metals like sterling, copper and gold and they need earrings to go with different outfits. I make a line of quality jewelry at very affordable prices. I never had a lot of money to spend on jewelry, so I wanted to make a line of high quality jewelry for everyday people like myself.
TDM: How has participating in First Friday benefited your business?
VN: I've been making jewelry for 21 years, mostly showing at craft shows out of the area. With First Friday I've been able to connect with local people and develop a customer base here in Williamsport. It's a good networking opportunity and community for local artists. I think nowadays people are more interested in buying locally and supporting artists they can talk to and get to know. It's a lot of fun to go to First Friday and connect with other artists and people who admire and support my work.
TDM: What do you enjoy most about your work?
VN: Well, I enjoy the creative process. I like being able to make something from nothing, or rather, take very simple materials and make them into something beautiful that others can enjoy. I think that everyone is creative in one way or another, they just need to find their niche. For me, the creative process is about expressing myself by finding ways to make things beautiful or by making things that will encourage or inspire others.
TDM: How would you describe your designing style? What about your jewelry really says Victoria Neely?
VN: I think it's the high quality and affordability of my pieces that I mentioned before. It is an every day line of jewelry for the everyday woman. My jewelry also is very natural and earthy. I use materials such as copper, sterling and gold fill and genuine stones, crystals, pearls and other natural materials. Lately, I am focusing more and more on the environment as well, and am moving towards using more recycled and upcycled materials in my work.
TDM: How would you describe the local jewelry making vibe?
VN: We have a lot of very creative, talented jewelers in the area. They all have their own style. There is a lot of variety. There are a lot of gifted bead artists and goldsmiths. It's much easier for people to start making beaded jewelry these days because everything you need to get started in the craft can be found online or at stores like Michaels and A.C. Moore. Competition breeds creativity. Sometimes people get lazy and stuck in a rut if there's nobody challenging them. Nothing will challenge you better than a competitor. Williamsport has a huge community of very talented artists and jewelers. We support one another and encourage one another. It is great to be a part of such a wonderful community of creative folks.
TDM: What's the best thing about living and working in the Susquehanna Valley?
VN: I'd have to say the people. There are a lot of artists in the area and we all support one another. It's pretty common to for us to mentor other artists who are just starting out. It's a matter of sharing what we know with other people. We're supportive of each other and the community itself also is very supportive of artists. First Friday, the Pajama Factory, the Converge Gallery, the Billtown Film Festival, Michael Pilato's mural work and many other artistic ventures have been helping draw more support for the artistic community in our area. I am so blessed to know and be part of this creative community.
McKinney may be reached at life@sun gazette.com. To submit an artist for consideration, email dborick@ sungazette.com or call 326-1551, ext. 3108.