5 questions with Challenge winner Helen Yetman-Bellows

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We're pleased to talk to Helen Yetman-Bellows, one of the winners of our ASCEND Design Challenge for her piece, Birches. Birches is part of Helen's Wilderness Collection, is made from silver and incorporates metal stamping, chasing and repousse. 

Helen is a retired professional horseman! After a long and storied equestrian career, she began teaching yoga, and now owns Yoga Unfettered®, a traveling yoga studio offering clinics on functional yoga for everyday life. She is also a multi-award-winning professional silversmith who has been in business for more than 20 years. Her business, Squirrel-Eze™, is an artisan's boutique near her home in Massachusetts, where she is happily known as the Squirrel-Eze Lady as well as by her birth name.

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HOW DID YOU LEARN TO MAKE JEWELRY?

I began my career at the Worcester Center for Arts and Crafts, the oldest school of its kind in the United States. I have also experimented heavily on my own and taken various silversmithing classes and clinics over the years. 

I specialize in silversmithing. I started working with beaded designs, then added silversmithing centerpieces, and now my pieces are primarily metals. I use my love of nature and simplicity to design bold yet delicate jewelry that makes a statement, not an impact. My designs are miniature drawings in metal that are scenic, reminding the wearer of places they have been (or want to be).

WHAT’S THE GOOFIEST/MOST EMBARRASSING MISTAKE THAT YOU HAVE MADE?

I was demonstrating working with a torch on a piece of sterling at a show. I went too far, burning it to a bubbly, freeform, blackend lump--in front of customers! Embarassed by my mistake, I wanted to throw it into my sterling recycle bin before anyone could see it. But one customer who was watching my demonstration loved its "organic feel" and bought it. I was stunned!

I later learned that some artists specialize in "reticulated" silver (as some torch-worked silver is called), that there are no mistakes, and that even though I found the piece to be an awful mess, I was reminded that the customer is always right.

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WHAT IS YOUR WORKSPACE LIKE?

My workspace is cozy and organized. I have built in a mini-oasis into my workspace. I am surrounded by special momentos from places I have been, as well as things I love, including a small tree, carved birds, Native American Corn Maidens and landscape paintings. It also contains a special box full of letters from some of my customers, which I re-read at random to lift my spirits on days when my creativity is being challenged.

My most unusual item is a picture of a lion. I was commissioned to make a pendant in his likeness for the woman who had raised him at a nature preserve (he was orphaned). She loved the lion, I loved her story. She cried tears of joy when she saw the finished piece, and it was my proudest moment as a jewelry designer. That picture never ceases to make me smile!

I love my portable workbench! I take it to shows, use it in my boutique, and have taken it out in the woods on my 24-acre homestead. My favorite place to work is wherever I set up. Once, I set up my workstation in a sleeper car on an Amtrak Train traveling to a jewelry competition and exhbition 1,400 miles from home. The conductor, our room attendant, and fellow passengers stopped in frequently to see the pieces progress.


WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? WORKING ON ANYTHING NEW AND EXCITING?

I hope to add foldforming to my stampings, etchings, chasing and repousse, and tesselation forms, creating my own distinct style. By incorporating all these techniques into each piece, I hope to build depth and realism into my nature scenes in a painterly fashion.

Currently, I am planning a series of collaborations with my husband, Jim, who is also my business partner. He specializes in elegant sterling silver chain maille. I have applied for (and hope to win) an Artists-in-Residence Program grant, to carve out time to do just that. I'm also busy re-working my website, writing a book about my adventures, making a living and a life selling my work fulltime, and expanding my textile line, which I create from my paintings and jewelry designs.

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WHERE CAN PEOPLE SEE MORE OF YOUR WORK?

Our store, Squirrel-Eze & Friends Artisans Boutique, can be found at 18 Highland St., Townsend, MA.

Our website, www.squirreleze.com, will soon be updated with our extensive 2017 show schedule, and folks can subscribe online for more details.  

FIND MORE: metal , forging , finishing

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