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Copyright 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of July 9 - 15, 2003


Working in miniature
to create art

Express Staff Writer

"Im Canadian. Ive never been to the Southwest," Michele Black said.

So, naturally, the Ketchum jeweler packed up a camper with everything shed need for a five-month journey to the desert and took off for the desert. Her only company was her cat, Frank Sinatra, a "cell phone and NPR on a lucky day," and mobile studio in miniature.

It was not inspiration Black was seeking but time and space. She camped in Arizona in wildlife refuges until she found the lowest elevation in the Sonoran Desert. Her schedule was to stay a week in one site and then go for supplies. Then shed set off for another locale.

One of the only encounters with people came when she met up with the people from Barry Peterson Jewelers in Tucson for a gem show in February. They saw everything from ganja smoking hippies selling piles of crystals off a tarp on the floor to the high-end dealers, including "a guy who had a gigantic emerald sitting on his table," she said while holding her hands about a foot apart.

Readying herself for the Ketchum Arts Festival was one motive for the trip. She created many new pieces for the show that takes place this weekend, including one of a kind pieces and what she calls her "bread and butter" bracelets. These pieces have multiple strands of semi-precious gems from citrine, garnet, labradorite and peridot to pearls and coral. The magnetic clasps on these eye-catching designs are her own invention.

"I do all the metal work, and all the soldering."

Her camper is fully rigged like a boat, with a small head, kitchenette, bunk and a working studio. A small Honda generator powers all her tools, including full soldering capabilities via a small oxygen tank and propane tank.

"Like a Chinese puzzle every corner is packed," she said, with items necessary for her work. She works with such diverse metals as copper, sterling silver, 18 carat gold, and shakudo, a copper gold alloy from Japan.

Black learned her trade while apprenticing for Barry Peterson in Ketchum. She was an artist who mostly worked in wood and with found objects. And she was already adept at metal work.

Going into jewelry design was her way of "condensing all of that down into a feasible art. Barry has all the tools. It was an amazing environment for three years," she said of her time in the studio above the jewelry store.

Its the art of jewelry that appeals to her, not the mass production of it. Ideally, shed love to draw and then hand designs off to a craftsman. For now, though, she goes it alone, creating elegant, fanciful, dramatic pieces. Her eye for color and shape are apparent in all her work as she melds traditional techniques with contemporary design.

"Its funky stuff but still fine," she said. Indeed, her work has that weighty solid feel that gives it a sense of permanence.

Eventually, "Id like to do one of a kind work in small series and then move on. Thats when it really feels like art."



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.