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Casting stories in silver: Carl Clasmeyer

A look inside a whimsical, puzzling, and playful world of miniature clasps, toggles, and pendants. 
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Clasmeyer walnut box closed
Because he just can’t help himself, Carl often goes the extra mile for his customers. To house a commissioned ring, Carl created this stunning ring box from a real walnut shell. 
Clasmeyer walnut box open
The legs, lips, clasp, hinges, and squirrel decoration are all sterling silver, and the walnut shell is lined with satin.

Customers browsing at the bead show booth of goldsmith and jeweler Carl Clasmeyer are immediately drawn into a whimsical, puzzling, and playful world of miniature clasps, toggles, and pendants. They are also quickly captivated by this self-described “talker” and story teller from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  

"When I was maybe two-and-a-half years old, we lived in the Monterey Bay [California] area, and we used to go to the beach. My Mom says that I would draw pictures of people in the sand. And one day, an older lady came to watch. She said she was a retired art teacher and that kids my age don’t perceive details like ears and noses. She told my Mom: ‘I think you have an artist in the family’.”

Clasmeyer loves to share stories about the pivotal times in his life which led to him becoming an artist. As a child, he was always fascinated with miniatures. He made a tiny miniature golf course where the club was a toothpick and the ball was a BB from his BB gun.

Another story dates back to when he was “stuck in a transport squadron” in the Air Force. “One Sunday, I was playing pool, and the first sergeant said that he wanted to see my room,” Clasmeyer says. “And I think, ‘Boy, am I in trouble!’ I had drawings all over my room. And he said, ‘I heard we had an artist here. You’ve got a real talent, son.’ And later, he arranged for me to be an illustrator/draftsman in the Air Force. There are people like that who prop us up and set us on our path.”

After the Air Force, Clasmeyer travelled a mostly self-taught, 40-year artistic path honing his skills as an engineer and draftsman, illustrator, painter, commercial artist, iron and metal worker, sculptor, carver, silversmith, and goldsmith. He’s painted and restored vintage cars, painted murals on buildings, created company logos, illustrated government manuals, run a jewelry store, and designed countless engagement and wedding rings.

“If it weren’t for the art, I wouldn’t have gotten into the jewelry,” Clasmeyer says. “And if it weren’t for the jewelry, I wouldn’t have gotten into the clasps.”

Clasmeyer Bird
THE MACAW CLASP
Clasmeyer doghouse
THE DOGHOUSE CLASP
CLEVER CLASPS

It’s the clasps that have drawn curious crowds around his trade show booths, as this 6-foot, 6-inch tall man with huge hands deftly demonstrates to customers how clasps smaller than his pinkie finger open and close. Many are so puzzle-like that they almost should come with an instruction sheet to describe their clever operating mechanisms! But don’t get the wrong idea — once you understand how they operate, the clasps are easy to open and close yet totally secure.

His flying macaw clasp has spring-actuated wings which compress to the body when the circular perch/branch is slid over the body past them. Then the wings spring out, and one pulls the branch up to the bird’s feet — right next to its microscopic food bowl. This clever clasp is so attractive that you will be tempted to wear it in front as a pendant on a chain. In sterling silver, it is 1 1⁄2 in. (3.8 cm) tall.

When the 1-in. (2.5 cm) long doghouse clasp is opened, a pooch is revealed. It is raising its paw to shake hands and is only 1⁄4 in. (5 mm) long.

To open the turtle clasp (shown in the group image above, lower right), one unsnaps the tail by pulling it downward. Then by squeezing the back legs together and pulling, out pops an unexpected frog. “That’s the one that gets the most laughs and kinkiest comments that have shocked even me,” Clasmeyer laughs. “People at shows start laughing and telling their friends to go see the guy with the big elephant backdrop who has the turtle/frog clasp. It’s more than just functional. It’s a conversation piece. It’s a mind puzzle. It’s a sculpture. It’s humor. It’s a triple treat! People love that.”

The bibliophile will be delighted by Clasmeyer’s latest miniature antique book clasp which, when opened, reveals a smaller diary. When the diary is opened, an even smaller phone book is inside. Why? “Just for the sheer fun of it!” Clasmeyer says with his trademark humor. The book clasp measures just 5⁄8 in. (1.6 cm) overall. 
Clasmeyer Illustration
To produce his book clasp, Clasmeyer begins by drawing each design actual size. 
Clasmeyer Wax Mold cropped
For the second step, he sculpts the piece in wax. 
Clasmeyer Cold Mold cropped
The third step is to make a cold mold from the wax sculpture, a process that takes about a month. 
Clasmeyer Finished Clasp cropped
The pieces are then cast from silver, and hand-finished. Here's what the silver clasp of all three books looks like when it is complete. . 
Clasmeyer frog
THE FROG CLASP
Clasmeyer carousel
THE CAROUSEL BEAD
Carl's creations — such as this carousel bead with 5 mm horses that rotate around the central axis — are available on his website, clasmeyer.com
A VAST INVENTORY

In Clasmeyer’s diverse inventory of 120 items (clasps, pendants, and beads), one can find dolphins, doghouses, elephants, horses, frogs, dragons, lobsters, mermaids, seahorses, hummingbirds, butterflies, turtles, frogs, parrots, cats, and more. On the more eclectic side, he has crafted tire and jack, wrench and nut, glass torch, boxcar, and mask and snorkel clasps.

As well as being a compelling storyteller, Clasmeyer is a great listener — of his customers. When he was selling at bead shows from 1999–2007, he had lots of sterling silver beads and a handful of clasps. He learned that the demand for innovative clasps overshadowed the desire for beads. So he went back to his workshop and changed his focus. Many of his subjects for future clasps come from customers. They’ll ask for a hummingbird, and he’ll add it to his list. His toggle of a diver captured within a shark’s jaws was an idea suggested by a customer. 

“All of my clasps are idea-driven and handmade by me — from design, to prototype, to molds, to production, and to assembly. It’s a one-man operation, and they’re all made in the U.S. of A.,” Clasmeyer says proudly. For the clasps, he usually works in sterling silver, but he will do gold on request.

 
Clasmeyer crown clasp
THE CROWN CLASP
TELLING A STORY

Clasmeyer also creates commissioned jewelry. One example is a ring he created for a “real car guy.” It depicts a 1969 Chevy El Camino with bumpers in white gold, diamonds for headlights, and rubies for tail lights. “I love doing unique work that speaks about peoples’ lives, their passions, their marriage, or their business. I really like making things that tell a story,” he  says.

“People say I have the optimistic energy of a 20-something,” Clasmeyer says. “I truly believe that when you are pumped up by an inspiring vision and the happiness of creating something, that helps you stay young.

People tell me my clasps are unique in the world. They say they keep them in a curio box or on the mantel and show them off to friends. I’ve created adult toys!”

Well Carl, we certainly agree!

If you're interested in seeing more of Carl's clasps and pendants, check out the gallery of his work below, or visit his website, Clasmeyer Studios. 

FIND MORE: findings , metal , making findings

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