Billy Ray SimsTraditional Appalachian hand-split white oak baskets are the focus of Billy Ray's craft. But he also creates baskets of New...
Artists’ designs evolve in different ways. Some craftspeople look at images for ideas; others will sketch out designs before they start creating. Living in the mountains of western North Carolina has given me the opportunity to periodically get lost in the ripples and folds of the topography of the region. Cruising by car along the Blue Ridge Parkway or following the twists and turns of the “road less traveled by” always gives me an unexpected thrill of discovery as I take long walks along rivers and streams and just absorb different vignettes. After these little trips, I very often just sit at my bench daydreaming into space. Certain images seem to resonate in my head and then show up magically in the jewelry that I create.
Ruthie Cohen has been actively involved in the craft movement since 1973. She spent the first 10 years working in fiber, creating wall hangings, window treatments, and even furniture via off-loom weaving and macramé techniques. Answering a challenge to create wearable art "off the wall", she first miniaturized her designs in waxed linen with gemstone beads. Soon after, Ruthie dove into metal. Earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and even wedding bands were knotted into shape with sterling silver, gold-filled, and 14 karat gold wire. Self-taught, Ruthie's jewelry skills developed as she exhibited her work at renowned craft fairs in Florida, Maryland, Washington DC, and New York City, where she accepted challenging commissions from an international clientele. Ruthie "cut her teeth" in the wholesale world by being a tenured exhibitor from 1983 to 1999 with the Buyers Markets of American Crafts; exhibiting in Baltimore, Valley Forge, Atlantic City, Coconut Grove, and finally in Philadelphia.
Moving to Western North Carolina in 1993 had a profound effect on Ruthie's work. The jewelry designs began to loosen up, they flowed more- her stone choices were seemingly random but yet made sense together. Somehow the freedom of the mountains influenced the designs. Ruthie explored collaboration with glass artists of the area. The murrine slices of Richard Ritter, Gary Beecham and Mary Lynn White’s mille fiori cabochons, and Robert Stephan’s true dichroic glass became bezel-set “stones” in her designs. Various national glass galleries including the Corning Museum of Glass offered this unique combination of metal, glass, stones, and pearls. For the past several years, Ruthie has been creating exquisite jewelry designs with drusy as her focus, which appears to be floating, or suspended on forged wires of sterling silver or 14 and 18 karat gold. Pearls and opals are often found as accents in her work along with white and black diamonds and other unusual stones such as lava.
After 36 years of traveling to craft fairs all over the country, Ruthie decided that it was time to slow down and devote more energy into “paying it forward” by teaching others to explore the wonders of jewelry. She enjoyed opportunities to teach at the John C. Campbell Folk School and at the Wildacres Retreat. Ruthie now teaches classes and workshops at the Mountain Metalsmiths School of Jewelry & Lapidary, a school she opened 4 years ago in her own studio in Arden, North Carolina. The Mountain Metalsmiths School of Jewelry and Lapidary’s mission is to provide a location to teach those who wish to develop jewelry and lapidary skills in a non-competitive, supportive environment.