At Eyes Open, we value being able to offer a story along with each gift purchased. In order to further uplift the voices of our Makers, we've decided to start an interview series, Meet the Makers. We kick off our series with Amanda Pehrson, founder, metalsmith, and artist behind Denver-based jewelry company Fancy Boheme. She also happens to be a deeply talented writer and storyteller. The following is a casual conversation between Amanda and I, exchanged through email-- read on for the magic that ensued!Hayley: Where do you gather your inspiration for the shapes and colors you use?
Amanda: I'm really drawn to the interplay of feminine elements like curves and celestial silhouettes with more utilitarian elements like clean lines and minimal shapes — a little art deco meets Mad Men. I usually gravitate toward muted pastel stones like opals and turquoise — they remind me of little candies, so they add a sense of playfulness to a classic piece of jewelry. I love to create pieces that feel timeless — something you can wear decades from now and still feel beautiful.
Hayley: What makes metal and stone your primary materials of choice?
Amanda: When I first started out, I used a lot of beads and plastic components or plated metals — it was fun to learn how to construct jewelry by putting a lot of disparate objects together. Even though I was just one person, I started to become aware of my environmental impact — it didn't make sense for me to just put more material things into the world that would eventually make their way into a landfill when a trend had passed. I want to create things of value that will last a lifetime with proper care, which means primarily using metal — I love using sterling silver because much of what's available on the metal market has been recycled — silver is melted down and formed into sheets, which I buy to turn into something new.
Amanda: For me, there was never a resounding moment that I knew metalsmithing had to be my career, or a profound confidence that I was talented enough to make it my calling. Like so many people, I felt limited by my day job and sought to do something with my hands after a long day of being at a computer. Gradually, I began to make more and more room for metalsmithing in my life by taking classes to learn a new technique or signing up for an event to see if my pieces were interesting to a broader range of people beyond just my (very supportive!) friends and coworkers. What I lacked, or continue to lack in metalsmithing ability or business acumen has always been outweighed by my enthusiasm for making things with my hands. I love being able to take a found object, like a raw piece of turquoise and turn it into something wearable that someone can pass down to their grandchildren.
I think other people sense that enthusiasm too, and eventually it got to the point where I was busier and had more projects going in my jewelry project world than any of my consulting work, so I decided to try Fancy Boheme as a full-time focus. While making the move to full-time required lots of savings and planning, it helps immensely to take the pressure off if I view it as an ebb-and-flow of where I'm focusing my time and energy in the short term — after a few more years of doing this work maybe I'll feel confident enough to call it my career — or maybe I never will! Either way, I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love right now, especially when the world feels upside down.
Hayley: What’s the vibe like in your studio?
Amanda: Although this year I'm primarily working from home to be safe, I split my time between working on my kitchen table and a shared studio space on East Colfax called the Art Gym. The space caters to lots of mediums and it's really fun to work in an interdisciplinary environment. There are painters, printmakers, woodworkers and metalsmiths all working in one big open space. The space also houses a professional kitchen, so there's always some sort of delicious smell wafting through.
Amanda: When I come to a specific point in my workday where I'm feeling stuck, I try to go for a walk or a run, even if the weather sucks. A lot of times just physically moving allows that stuck feeling to pass through me and I can settle back into my work. When I'm experiencing heavier and more prolonged weeks of feeling blocked, ironically, it's usually after I learn a new skillset or have lots of different elements to choose from. My creative brain gets overwhelmed easily, so I have to continuously remember to limit the "inputs" when designing something new. I'll challenge myself by asking, what would it look like if I only used turquoise in these pieces? to allow me to order to limit my options visually and create a path forward. I'll also think, what's worked well in the past? to help build a little confidence when I'm feeling unsure or self-conscious about an upcoming project. When approaching my Fancy Boheme Everyday collection, I decided to keep things simple by just launching with rings, which are my favorite thing to design and physically make. Eventually the collection will be rounded out with minimal earrings, bracelets and necklaces, but limiting my options in this initial phase helped me just to take what would normally be an overwhelming first step of getting a signature collection off the ground.
Hayley: Lastly, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
Amanda: None of us could have predicted what this year would bring, and I think in a way I'm still settling into the losses big and small — we all are. Before the pandemic, I had a lot of plates spinning for a one-person business: I had pinned my hopes on the idea that if I had a lot of things going on at once, eventually it would lead to business growth. Individually, each thing made sense, but collectively, they added up to a lack of focus that was both physically exhausting and never felt like I was building something that could grow sustainably.
In March, all of the stores that carried my work were closed and all of my spring and summer events started to send cancellation notices. My shared studio space closed down, so I immediately set up shop at home, creating (an incredibly humble) makeshift studio setup at home on my kitchen table, just like I had in the earliest days of starting my business. After the initial stress of such a big transition lessened, I reconnected with why I started metalsmithing in the first place, I noticed that I really love nuance, and working in cycles instead of trying to do everything at once. I began creating just a few of one-of-a-kind pieces and adding them in batches to my online shop. It's helped to create a work routine for me (which I've come to rely on especially when everything else feels incredibly uncertain) and more predictability for my customers in knowing where and when to find my new pieces. Whether it's a sweet note at checkout or a Zoom call to discuss a custom project, I'm surprised at how connected I still feel to the people who are buying my work even though we're physically apart. I'm constantly inspired by and so grateful for the growing number of people who choose to purchase handmade and shop small. It feels as though a shared sense of scarcity and uncertainty has reinvigorated a sense of purpose in our purchasing decisions — we want to feel a deeper meaning in the things we buy and a connection to those we buy them from.
Interviewed and edited by Hayley Gray-Carpenter
Product photos by Amanda Person of Fancy Boheme
Bio photos by Angela Uzunovic of Mixed Nuts Photography