Making has been a part of my DNA since I was a kid. My dad put a hammer in my hand at the age of 4 and I was helping him re-roof the house by the age of 8. My mom supported my need to create a new kind of neighborhood club every week, with names like “build a birdhouse club” or “paper-mache club.” I was always finding ways to create something and fill a need at the same time. Flash forward to today, where I own 2 businesses, G.E.M. Creative and A.Clarke Metalsmith. G.E.M. focuses on empowering creatives to be entrepreneurs, where A.Clarke creates minimalistic jewelry for your everyday elegance.
G.E.M. and A.Clarke work together as ‘Yes, and...’. I didn’t want to be full-time with jewelry because of my other passions, however, I didn’t want to call my jewelry a “side hustle.” Thus, they work together symbiotically as I want to practice what I preach and stay present in both worlds. At G.E.M., we support makers through one-on-one consulting, mentoring, workshops, and boot camps. We facilitate through business development strategies, leadership training, and organizational structure. We also host a class series focusing on running a business.
I actually began my BFA as a ceramicist and took metalsmithing classes as my elective studio classes. I loved it so much that I switched concentrations and have been involved in the world ever since! I graduated with a BFA in Metalsmith and Jewelry from Grand Valley State University, studying under both Bev Seley and Renee Zettle-Sterling. I have been a metalsmith for about 16 or so years.
I don’t get to do it much anymore, however, casting is my absolute favorite. I love the entire process, especially that sizzle when you quench the flask at the end! As a close second, I would have to say raising intrigues me, although I don’t have much practice at it. I would have to say my casting class with Renee at GVSU was the best class I have ever taken.
After graduating with my BFA, I moved to North Carolina for a few years. I really thought I was going to get my MFA, but that all changed when I realized that I had too many passions to dedicate myself solely to being an artist. I began looking at graduate programs that would support my making habit and create a space where I could explore things outside of the creative field. I ended up back at Grand Valley, but this time for their Masters in Public Administration: Nonprofit Management + Leadership. I was also able to secure a graduate assistantship at The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. It is here that I honed my three worlds. I found a way to intertwine and connect them so they could work together.
During this time, I was able to create more than jewelry, a curriculum, and connections, I was able to create symposiums/conferences surrounding entrepreneurship and art. I took everything in and cultivated this beautiful relationship with both my art and business. After graduating, I moved on and started working for SNAG as their Conference Director. It was the perfect amalgamation of my two worlds. I really did love what I got to do at that job, but in 2018, it was time to move forward so I could do what I’m doing now.
After living in Grand Rapids for 15 years, I moved over to Ferndale in January of 2020 (oof, I know!). Living here has been wonderful though. I learned a lot about myself. I’m physically closer to my family (but not too close) which is amazing because I get to see all their dreams happening in real time. My parents are in the process of starting an aquaponics farm, my brother got married last year and they had my beautiful nephew, and I’ve also found a couple of places to volunteer at. I love to be in nature and travel, cook, host bon fires, and I recently took a trip to Puerto Rico and a trip to Red River Gorge is around the corner!
I feel like the work I’m making right now is really fun to make. All of my jewelry is inspired by the lifestyles of those that influence me or lift me up. It’s really fun to embody their spirit and then design something that they would want to wear and could actually afford to purchase. It’s not about lowering my prices but designing something that fits their price range so that they can feel good about supporting a local jewelry artist. I like being their introduction to a much larger world of contemporary jewelry.
My answer for my favorite thing I ever made? It’s not jewelry related. I think my favorite piece is a largescale outdoor installation I created based on people’s handwritten old love letters. It was hosted on the Gillet Bridge in Grand Rapids, MI during Artprize. It was about 80 feet in length. I was able to collect about 900 handwritten love letters from people. I pasted them to wooden boards and then put them on display for others to read, walk on, interact with, take pictures of, etc. In the middle of all of that, I supplied a desk with paper and pens, where people could sit down and write letters to whoever they wanted to. After that, they could donate it to the desk, or take it with them, keep it, or mail it to the person. It was an incredible experience and I collected more than 1,200 more letters. I have dreams of moving forward with this project, it just hasn’t happened yet.
My jewelry can be purchased on my website, www.gemcreativemi.com/shopaclarkemetalsmith
I have been a member of MSG for 3 or 4 years. I recently was appointed to the board on MSG and am loving it so far. I’m excited to reconnect with my metalsmithing community!!”