Get to know Susan Thomas, co-owner (with her husband and business partner, Alex Brand), of Virtu: Gallery and Glass Blowing Studio at The Greenbrier’s Artist Colony, in White Sulphur Springs. Susan creates breathtaking gemstone jewelry made using various techniques including metal smithing. With a “go for it” attitude, Susan keeps her palette of possibilities open to overcome the obstacles and thrive in her field. If you are an aspiring artist, this q&a may help you ponder the “impossible” to push yourself so you can take ownership of your natural gifts.
How do you describe your palette?
To design and make a ‘home’ for an amazing little piece of nature (usually a gemstone) is both a source of inspiration as well as the map of where to begin a creation. I make use of various techniques of classic metal smithing, carving wax for lost was casting and fabrication which is the manipulation of the metals with mostly hand tools- hammers, files of all shapes, cuts and lengths, saw, and soldering. I use primarily 14K yellow gold, or sterling silver to build for the precious or semi precious gemstones. I aim for a design of strong clean lines that play off the stone that I am working with to help the two materials work as a unified whole visually and structurally. Basically I make a home for the stone and try to get out of the way, listen to it so to speak.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
The process of completing a circle of creation, when a client comes to me to work up a piece or when a piece that I have made already ‘speaks’ to someone else’s idea of beauty and quality enough to purchase work from me- that to me is a great accomplishment and to make a living for myself and family this way keeps me amazed and humbled. I would like to think that the best is yet to come as every work that I create is built on the experience and skill learned in all prior work and transactions with folks. Yes people we are honing this process called living!
What advice do you have for others?
Advice for others wanting to make there way in the world creating in some form or another….Go for it! You will learn more skills in more areas than you ever thought possible if you are open to the continual process. There will be extremes of exhilaration and despair….for me, making my first wedding ring set, the anxiety over getting it ‘right’ evaporated when the couple were thrilled with the outcome- a blend of their concept executed with my skills at the time- extremely rewarding. Despair, breaking my first very expensive gemstone. A custom cut interior carved amethyst by Bernd Munstiener, a now quite famous German cutter was my first major disaster. Of course breaking a gem usually happens during the setting process after many hours of design and execution, this piece probably had over 100 hours in it. The chipped stone and gold pendant with all the pave diamond work completed sat in my bench drawer for about 5 years. One day I had an idea for how to conceal and set this beautiful sculpted amethyst, it was successful and I kept and wore it myself. Most of the best stuff comes from learning from the worst stuff so take a deep breath and carry on!
We encourage you to visit Susan and check out her beautiful jewelry at Virtu any day of the week. Visit at 2pm from Tuesday-Saturday, and you’ll also be entertained by Alex’s free glass blowing demonstration in the workshop (located down the hill from their studio beside the Artist’s Colony). When you stop in, tell them LBSPY sent you!
– LBSPY #58. (Sept 29-Nov 3, 2014)