ABI: Tell us about your background and how you began working as a studio assistant.
AF: When I graduated with my sculpture degree from MICA in 1998, I found a part time job helping a sculptor doing metal finishing work. His studio was in a large old building that used to be a broom factory in Baltimore’s industrial heyday. The building had a nice community with many types of businesses. It actually facilitated connections and opportunities for me as a young artist. On the pegboard by the front office I found a “help wanted” note from a woman who needed someone in her upholstery shop. I ended up apprenticing with her for 2 years and learned the trade before I went off to get my MFA. I was glad to have met and worked with a few independent self employed artists in that building. It showed me that it was an option for my life as well.
ABI: When your daughter was born, you needed to make some changes in your business. How did you do this?
AF: After I achieved my MFA from Edinboro University of PA, I moved back to Baltimore. I set up my upholstery studio and was ready to grow that business. But when my daughter was born I had to rethink how I spent my time in the studio. From that point on, I created a textile button jewelry line. The skills that I acquired in the upholstery world informed a new path of production button jewelry.
ABI: What was your experience in getting a grant to help with your studio practice?
AF: I started tinkering around with metals, doing some fine art studio exploration. I was not doing metal jewelry at all. I had a line of sculpture that was ephemeral and informed by my garden. I needed a way to preserve the sculpture in a more permanent way. I was able to secure a local art grant from the city of Baltimore, a individual studio grant of $1000 which I used to outfit my workspace with electroforming equipment and some basic metalworking tools. Through self taught studio work, trial and error, and persistence, I ended up with a line of sellable metal botanical jewelry. The grant made it possible to get the equipment without hesitating. I had thought about investing in these tools but when that grant came through I jumped at the chance to expand my studio.
ABI: You mention that your business has “stabilized”. How are you selling now to assure year-round regular income?
AF: I have put a lot of work into growing the wholesale side of my jewelry business. I like being able to take orders and fill in my calendar with ship dates for those orders. I can then plan my local retail shows around those dates. I plan my production schedule through the year so I know what to expect each month. One month I may be shipping wholesale orders every week, another month I may focus more on doing upholstery. In a different month I may have to focus on my retail shows. I look at the year and see where I need to fill in with income and the wholesale business has really helped with that. And when I get reorders, that’s nice, too.