Maria, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am originally from Zaporozhye, Ukraine – the home of the Zaporozhye cossacks. Came to the United states on August 31, 1994 as an exchange student. Lived in Rochester, NY for a while – I went to school there (RIT), then moved to Charlotte, NC. I currently live in Hendersonville, NC with my husband Gerry and our five four-legged children (2 dogs and 3 cats). I work as a data analyst and operations forecaster for Bank of America, as well as help my husband run his two businesses, write, translate and a few other things here and there. I think I need a 36-hour long day.
Tell us how you got started making jewelry.
My mom and my paternal grandmother both liked making things. Mom particularly excelled at it – she was a fabulous knitter and seamstress. So, whenever I wanted to learn something, I was always encouraged to just go and try it and see what happens.
One time when I was about nine or ten years old I was digging through mom's craft magazines and stumbled onto a brochure about beading. It included a couple of patterns and had very good step-by-step instructions. I became particularly interested because the brochure said that the patterns were originally found among the Ancient Greek records.
I was very into the ancient history – Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia. I also knew by then that jewelry was a very important communication tool in Greece. A lady of sophistication was expected to wear the right jewelry not just for a specific season but also for a specific occasion. Every precious stone had a meaning, and women were expected to know how to use those meanings to communicate their status, their likes and dislikes, their expectations from a party they were attending, etc.
So, I picked one of the patterns and found some black and white beads and made a necklace – my very first piece. I have used that pattern many times since, and created several variations of my own, but I still remember that first one.
Could you describe the crossover to the etchings & illos – is the creative process the same or different, i.e. do you need to access a different ‘headspace’ when translating the inner vision into concrete form?
Every art form I work with came about in its own separate way. Although, I suppose I must have an overall predisposition of some sort, because once I acquire a skill, I find it fairly easy to develop it.
Pyrography – the decorative woodburning/etching – was something I learned at camp as a kid. Our summer camps offered different classes or clubs. Most girls took ballroom dancing, or rudimentary English, or sewing. But by then I've already done the dancing, I spoke pretty decent English and I not only knew how to sew – I have disassembled and reassembled mom's sewing machine several times.
And then there was this class for boys taught by a woodworking artist. So, I joined that class. The tutor purposely gave me a very difficult image to work with – it was a portrait of the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin – hoping I would quit or maybe just to see what I would do. But I finished it. My dad still has it at our apartment in Zaporozhye. When I got home from camp, I told my parents that I did not want any other gifts for New Year's or for my birthday, except for a woodburning tool. So, they got me one and let me have it early. I kept my word and did not ask for any other gifts for that entire year.
Illustration is my most recent pursuit. As a kid, I was told by various drawing instructors to not venture beyond technical drawing. I had a very good sense of perspective and could draw three-dimensional shapes without a ruler, but it was suggested that I should not draw anything else.
So, that bit lay dormant until I came to the States. I have always been a scribbler – my mind wanders very easily, and keeping my hands occupied helps me stay focused. So, I've always done these little drawings – on napkins, on notepads, on backs of envelopes. And at some point people started asking me if they could have those. And when I asked why, they said they liked the drawings.
Joining Facebook propelled me even further into illustration. Not only was I encouraged to re-publish some of my books and translations with pictures, I have also met authors looking for an artist. I shall be forever grateful to Mandy Ward – my first serious collaborator in the children's literature area – for giving me free reign with her Land Far Away books, and just letting me be as outlandish as I wanted when putting faces on her fantastic creatures.
We do have the first book in that series out – Pika the Phluph and the Gribblebid Tough – and the second one is all laid out and ready to roll this summer. I am also working with another wonderful poet Wayne DePriest. Mandy did a bit of matchmaking there, and I scored another fun illustrating project.
Tell us about the materials used, do you have favorites, are there any particular challenges and why, what are your sources.
When I plan out a piece of jewelry, I do not focus on the physical properties of my materials – at least not from the start. Rather, I open my bead boxes and just start setting things aside, thinking through what I want to communicate with a piece.
Then, once I have the general idea of what I am about to make, I address the more practical side – like the weight of the beads, will the regular jewelry filament be strong enough to hold them or should I use a wire, is magnetic clasp going to be strong enough, or should I go with a lobster or barrel clasp, that sort of thing.
I have used everything – basic glass seed beads, crystals, wood, ceramic, plastic, silver, copper, semi-precious stones. I buy most of my beads from Firemountain Gems and Rashi Jewelry, but I am also always on a lookout for interesting components when going through antique stores.
I also like creating groups of pieces with a theme. For example, “Take Heart” collection is a series of necklaces and brooches that all have a heart-shaped focal element. But they are all different in size and in mood, and all have different names, like “Heart of love” or “Topsy-turvy heart”. One of the pieces from that collection was bought by our mutual friend and writer Gev Sweeney. It was called “Double Trouble Heart”, because the pendant was jasper and was red on one side and chocolate brown on the other.
My other collection – called the Seaside collection – has pendants made of seashells and rocks I found at the beach
Could you pick a favorite piece and tell us what it means to you – what makes that one item stand out?
This piece is from my “Beautiful Glass” collection – a series of pieces with pendants of colored lamp glass. It is listed as “bronze and turquoise” in my store, but I also call it “Burnished waves”, because it reminds me of the way the sun hits the ocean when the light falls just right.
I took some risks with this piece, making the necklace very dainty and delicate against the large bold medallion, while still trying to make sure that the piece had a balance to it. So, I accented it with larger wood beads and added two additional focal points with two large pieces of Baltic amber, framed by wood circles.
I was very pleased with the overall effect of something you can wear very casually, but that can also hold its own paired with a cocktail dress. And besides, I am addicted to the blue and brown color combination in all its varieties – and this fits in very nicely with that very sophisticated and beautiful color scheme.
Soon I shall share some of Maria's work from my personal 'collection'.