North Carolina enjoys a vibrant community of makers, artisans, craftsmen, and artists. At the Our State Store, we travel the state hunting for local artisans who create special, handcrafted goods, and we're giving you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creators of some of our most popular products. Sit a spell with us as we introduce you to some of our favorite North Carolina makers.
North Carolina is like a treasure chest: open the lid for a peek inside, and you will find wonders in every nook and cranny. Many of this state’s pearls rest in the corners of its small towns, like the vibrant college town of Davidson, which entices visitors from the Carolinas and beyond with its Main Street charm. Jewelry artist Bonnie Boardman was one of those visitors. After stints in South Florida and New York City, she knew she was home when she visited Davidson for the first time. Since then, she’s been handcrafting treasures of gold and silver to adorn the modern Southern woman. We spoke with Bonnie to learn more about her life and work.
Like many North Carolinians, you are an expat. Where did you grow up and how did you end up here in North Carolina?
I was born and raised in South Florida with my brother and twin sister. I grew up near the water and have always loved the ocean. Growing up, I was a crafty kid, and I loved sketching and making clothes and fashion scrapbooks. I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I’ve been married to my husband for 24 years, and I have a son in high school and daughter in middle school. I am a full-time, mostly self-taught jewelry designer. My husband and I moved here almost thirteen years ago, and that is when I started Bonnie Boardman Jewelry and began a full-time career as a jewelry designer. While living in New York City, my husband and I would visit relatives in Davidson, and we knew it would be a great place to raise a family. I love the climate and the distinct seasons North Carolina offers. I also love the proximity to Charlotte when I need a more urban environment, and that within a relatively short drive we can be camping in the mountains or boating along the Georgia coast.
Your background is in art & fashion. How did you get started with jewelry making?
I attended the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and studied photography before my husband’s music career took us to New York City. There, I worked in the fashion industry for over eleven years, primarily as a textile designer. As a hobby, I took classes in watercolor and began painting in both watercolor and acrylic. When my sister sent me a bunch of loose beads, I began making beaded jewelry for fun. When I wore the pieces to work, I got compliments and, before long, I was taking orders for my creations. On a whim, I signed up for a metalsmithing class and was immediately hooked. I loved every bit of the process of working with metal and had found my true passion!
Tell us about your home studio. How did you create your workspace?
My studio is in my home and is a large space with lots of windows and natural light. I only use one end of the room to actually make jewelry. The rest is for storage of jewelry supplies, displays, shipping materials, and so on. My husband built a large L-shaped desk so I could have several stations to work at. I have my soldering area, my drilling, filing, and polishing area, and a space where I work with gemstones.
My husband works as a private music instructor from home with his studio next to mine so I get to enjoy hearing his music throughout my day. My studio is not open to the public; I prefer to keep it a small working studio. There is definitely a place for everything but not everything is in its place. I’d love to say I’m very organized, but I’m not. It looks very disorganized, but I know where everything is.
Can you walk us through a typical day for you?
I am more of a night owl and would love to sleep in every day, but I get up early to get my daughter off to school. I use this morning time to drink my coffee, catch up on emails, social media, invoicing and computer related tasks, and, when time allows, to flip through fashion magazines where I find inspiration. If I need to take pictures for social media or my website, I usually do it in the morning. The best part of my day begins when I go to my studio to start creating. If I have orders, I start with those first and once they are complete, I am able to begin working on new designs that I have been thinking about. Once I start, I find that my creativity leads me in many directions, and before I know it, I have made many new pieces. That is what I love so much about the creative process; one new idea leads to many more. I literally have more design ideas in my head than I have time to make!
I usually break for lunch with my husband and take some time to run my errands, including jewelry order drop-offs to the post office and local boutiques. When I return home, I head back to my studio to work until my kids get home from school. The next several hours are spent being a mom: juggling homework, after-school activities, and dinner. Most nights, I head back to my studio when the kids go to bed, especially when I have an upcoming show, and continue my work, often until the wee hours of the morning.
We recently featured your Silver & Gold Hoop Jewelry in the March 2018 issue of Our State magazine. They were inspired by the organic shapes of river rocks. How do you find inspiration for your pieces?
Sometimes, I find inspiration in the gemstones I acquire. Color motivates my designs, and I handpick all of my stones based on their shape and brilliant color, as, and I will build a piece around that.
Other times I will start with an idea of a shape and go from there, like with the Silver & Gold Hoop Jewelry in this month’s Our State magazine. I found the inspiration for these pieces from actual black river rock stones I had at my house. I was drawn to the shape of the rocks, and I wanted to imitate that in jewelry form.
To make these pieces, I began by hand-cutting pieces of sterling silver or 14K gold fill wire from large coils. I then shaped each piece of wire as a circle and soldered it closed. Next, I shaped the circle into the river rock shape using my hands and sometimes using small tools to attain the perfect shape I want. I am a perfectionist, and I will tweak the shape until it is exactly what I want it to be. Then it's time to add texture to the piece by hammering both sides to get the desired effect. Finally, it goes into the pickle pot where it will soak to remove any fire scale before it is put into the polisher, where it will tumble until it has its finished shine. I then add the pendant to the chain, which I hand-cut to specific lengths. The necklace is finished with a clasp and every one of my necklaces uses my signature large end ring, which I have formed, soldered, and polished. This is an extra touch I include with all my necklaces, as I think my customers appreciate having a larger end ring to make fastening easier. Whatever the inspiration or design, I always try to imagine the final piece on the wearer. I want my pieces to not only be original and beautiful, but to look flattering on the person wearing it.
What hobbies do you have? What keeps you feeling creative?
From a very young age, I was obsessed with fashion magazines, and I still am. Although I do try to read them as often as I can, I will never be able to catch up on the stacks that keep piling up. About once a month, I declare a non-working day and literally spend hours catching up on them. When the summer comes, I love to grow herbs and vegetables. North Carolina offers so much green space, and I enjoy walking greenways and trails whenever I can.
What are your most essential tools? What do you feel sets your handmade pieces apart from mass-produced pieces?
It’s not exactly a tool but I love the tree stump I use to do all my hammering. It really absorbs the shock of metal on metal really well. I also could not do what I do without my hammers that give all kinds of different textures, as I am known for incorporating textures into most of my jewelry. I strongly believe that anything handmade is better than something mass produced. Simply put, there is a person behind each handmade piece: someone with a story and vision, someone with creativity and a passion for what they do.
What advice would you give to yourself of five years ago?
I would tell the artist of five years ago to ask other more established and experienced artists for advice about how they handle many aspects of their business. I have learned it all myself, and it would have been nice to have had some guidance along the way, instead of learning by trial and error. I would love to better my skills in business management and marketing. I love the creative process but sometimes struggle with that end of the business.
Do you have a favorite piece or an example of a memorable reaction to your work?
My favorite two pieces are ones I made for myself by melting down my late mother and father’s gold wedding bands. The freeform pendants are textured and hand stamped with a special message on the back, and I wear them every day.
I also cannot live without a stack of mixed metal bangles with various stones that I also wear everyday. I think they are my favorite as I find them flattering and sexy, and the stones are so beautiful. I find it both funny and flattering that many times people have asked to buy the jewelry I am wearing right off me on the spot! I also love hearing from people wearing my pieces that someone has said to them, “Is that a Bonnie Boardman?”
Interested in other North Carolina artisans? Read up on other featured North Carolina artists on our blog.