By Chris Harris
Artists do more than put art on a canvas; they put art on fingers, wrists and earlobes. A few crafty Cape Girardeans are fashioning the latest in fashion: authentic, one-of-a-kind jewelry.
The pieces are usually larger than the dainty necklaces found in most mall shops, and while they sometimes incorporate vintage pieces and eccentric beads, they always include a bit of the artist.
"I look for that. I look for stuff that's different," she said.
Bohnsack's gallery sells paintings, purses, sculptures and glassware, but she says the biggest seller by far is the jewelry. She hosts a few local artists and several national ones.
A lot of the jewelry is made of hand-cut stones or blown glass, but artists don't have to make their own stones to be good enough for sale, Bohnsack said, pointing out cluster necklaces of precious stones made by an artist in St. Louis.
"I feel like she does a really good job of arrangement," she said. "It's very labor intensive."
Regen Hall, who grew up in Cape Girardeau, spends up to a week on just one piece of her "ReCreations" jewelry, which she markets as "Vintage with Flare."
"Each piece has something vintage or something ethnic," Hall said. She spent time with family in South Africa in the mid 1990s and said she draws inspiration from the people there.
"I just fell in love with adornment," she said. A broken compass hung as a pendant around her neck as she showed her latest line of recycled treasure jewelry to Bohnsack.
Hall said she tries to use antique or interesting-looking broken items "just because they're not going to be used anymore and it gives them new life."
She showed Bohnsack several necklaces with fishing lures, button pendants and belt buckles as focal points.
"They're making something important again," Bohnsack said of the artists who use discarded items in their jewelry.
Her shop also carries bracelets and earrings made from the ends of old silverware. On the card accompanying each piece is the pattern and year in which it came out. Customers can even request the artist use the pattern from a particular year.
"Then there's a sentimental element to it," Bohnsack said.
The necklaces made by Cape Girardeau-artist Judy Barks-Westrich have a sentimental element in that each one is something she likes, something she would wear.
When someone sees the necklace and likes it, she said, "It's kind of like a double compliment."
Barks-Westrich has been an artist "forever" and has taught art in Cape Girardeau public schools for 36 years, but only just began trying her hand at jewelry.
"During the month of July I thought to make jewelry for the following month's First Friday," she said. "All of the pieces I made were necklaces and I concentrated on an unusual, one-of-a kind design."
Barks-Westrich made 27 necklaces, none shorter than 24 inches. She took beads, objects or odd shapes and gold-leafed them and used them as beads, stringing them between bone, mother of pearl or semi-precious stones.
"Some of my necklaces are almost sculptural," she said. "It's like buying a one-of-a-kind piece of art, instead you're wearing it around your neck to enhance your clothes or style or appearance."
Barks-Westrich said she would continue jewelry making on and off, but needed to find unusual bead sources. "Or find unusual items to be unique focal points in jewelry," Barks-Westrich said. "I want to try to make them different enough for somebody to say, 'Oh, did Judy make that?'"
Buying jewelry guaranteed to not be found on another neck is part of the appeal of handmade pieces and helps justify the price, which can be lofty.
"What you're paying for is that they've spent a long time on their technique," Bohnsack said. She sells earrings by local artist Michael Guard, who used a torch to add color and designs to glass beads.
"Even if he tries to make another pair exactly like this, he wouldn't be able to," she said. "It's too detailed and intricate."
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