'A little bit of imagination': Creative jewelry maker is among Market Street Festival artisans

May 2, 2010 12:16:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Sarah Crowley exudes a gamine charm that belies her senior years. With a seemingly-permanent chuckle, she shares humorous tidbits of life as a jewelry addict, surrounded by tables adorned with ultramarine lapis, shimmering freshwater pearls, golden coral, jet black beads and every hue of turquoise. 


The Columbus woman has been making jewelry for decades for her own personal enjoyment, to give to family and friends, and occasionally sell. She''s even been known to give pieces away to someone who just looked as though they needed a reason to smile. 


"Every once in a while, I''ll see a person that you just feel like they need a pretty necklace or bracelet, and I''ll give them one. It just makes me feel good," she smiles. "I love sharing." 


"Aunt Sarah has always been so generous and sweet," nods Crowley''s niece and fellow jewelry-maker, Nancy Cobb, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., sitting nearby. The two took time out from working on a necklace design Wednesday, setting aside a bead design board, beads, wire cable for stringing and an assortment of tools. 


Crowley will make her first Market Street Festival appearance May 8, joining more than 200 other vendors and artisans in downtown Columbus for the city''s celebration that annually attracts thousands of people. 


The jewelry maven may be a veteran craftsman, but she''s actually fairly new to festivals. Her first juried art competition was West Point''s 2009 Prairie Arts Festival, where she won second place honors.  




Gypsy road 


Crowley''s love of jewelry is by no means a new development. She jokes about a 1950s-era photograph of her as a teen, dressed in a bathing suit -- and a cameo necklace. 


"I just don''t feel dressed without jewelry, and the gaudier, the better," she grinned, modeling a decidedly Southwestern''ish red coral necklace and earrings she made. For "gaudy," read striking. 


"Turquoise is probably my favorite," admits Crowley, who travels to New Mexico each year for corals and turquoises, striking out in an RV with her husband, Jack, and the family dog, Harley. The semiprecious stone beads she finds in Santa Fe (and previously Gallup) are available in an array of colors, from the dramatic dyed vermilion to peacefully organic earth colors. 


She does the driving. "I''ve logged a lot of miles. I''ve driven in every state, except Hawaii. I tell people I''m the gypsy in the family. ... Time is just something you don''t worry about; it''s enormous freedom." 




Button, button 


One might also say Sarah Crowley has never met an old button or broach she didn''t like. 


"I love yard sales!" enthused the estate and yard sale devotee. She''s been collecting "old jewelry" for about three decades.  


"I even bought shoeboxes of jewelry from Dr. Lehmberg''s wife''s sales, I guess back in the ''70s," she shared, referring to the physician for whom Lehmberg Road in East Columbus is named. 


Crowley finds joy in taking a piece of the past -- like a Victorian style broach, old watches, a glamorous rhinestone-encrusted button or even an intriguing belt buckle -- and giving it new life, incorporating it into new designs. They range from delicate to chunky, short to long, casual to elegant.  


"I have a rhinestone button I bought for 50 cents at a yard sale over by Lee Park," she begins, talking about some of the pieces she''s made almost as though they are friends. The button became the centerpiece in a fashionable necklace. "Everybody wants to buy it, but that''s one I won''t sell." 


She is completely self-taught. 


"Everything I do, I''ve learned by doing," stated Crowley, who started out by figuring out how to repair broken necklaces. 


"Once you learn the basics of making jewelry, all you need is just a little bit of imagination," said the mother of three, who recently taught jewelry-making classes in Tuscaloosa. 


"The hostess sent out these nice invitations that said a jewelry artist was going to teach, and I thought, ''Who''s the artist?''" she shared, with self-deprecating amusement. "It''s comical when you think about it.." 




Do your thing 


Designing is sometimes a process of trial-and-error. Occasionally, it''s back to square one. 


"If I get through with it and don''t like it, I take it apart right then and say, ''I don''t like you,''" Crowley remarked matter-of-factly.  


Finding inspiration seems to be no problem.  


"I see something and I think oh, I can''t wait to get home and bead that!" she grins. She even relishes the challenge of occasionally replicating for her daughters, nieces or herself high end necklaces sold by luxury retailers. 


For this Market Street Festival vendor, like so many other artisans, the joy is in the unexpected discovery, imagining what can be, letting the hands interpret the vision, then sharing it with others.  


And the places you go and the people you meet along the way make the process -- and life -- all the more fulfilling.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.