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A Conversation with Janet Huddie

Janet Huddie_Ossuary of Schemes_hero

In 2018, Bead&Button magazine and, in conjunction with the Bead&Button Show, launched our inaugural International Metal Jewelry Artistry Award.  This new award, a companion to our BeadDreams Jewelry Artistry Competition, is designed to draw attention to metal and wire artistry. This juried competition drew entries from around the world, and was judged by master metalsmithing instructors Michael David Sturlin and James Carter, and former Art Jewelry magazine editor Hazel Wheaton. A Grand Award and an Honorable Mention were awarded in both the Metal and Wire categories. 

As we reflect back on all of our winners and finalists, we like to take the time to understand each and every victor, because no two winning pieces are the same!

Take Janet Huddie of Crownsville, Maryland, for example. The winner of the GRAND AWARD in the Metal category, Janet's inspiration stems from a passion for architecture and as a descendant of Scottish engineers, that doesn't surprise us! And definitely makes for a winning piece - and story - quite unlike any other. But don't let us be the ones to tell you! Read on for Janet's own words on completing her winning piece, Ossuary of Schemes.

Janet Huddie_Ottoman Rings
"Ottoman Band Rings" made with sterling silver and enamel point to different shapes and designs seen in the architecture of the Ottoman Empire.
Janet Huddie_A Little Nonsense
"A Little Nonsense" showcasing Janet's skills in telling a narrative through her designs. 

Tell us more about you.

I’m a metalsmith and jewelry artist working in Crownsville, Maryland. I love working with metal and gemstones and all the techniques available to me. I’m also descended from generations of Scottish engineers who built ships and bridges so I like to believe I’m continuing a family tradition, just on a smaller scale.


When I moved to Maryland I had the opportunity to complete a certificate program in Metals and Art Jewelry at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Sadly this program no longer exists. I [now] teach basic and intermediate metalwork and jewelry design, and am a happily married cat lady who loves to garden and swim in the ocean. 


What inspires you?


I am constantly inspired by the exuberant, stylized decoration found in medieval architecture, illuminated manuscripts and Victorian engineering. For me, the design always drives the techniques I choose to use.


My one-of-a-kind narrative pieces are three-dimensional illustrations and incorporate many techniques including etching, metal fabrication, riveting, enameling and stone setting.


Now that you mention medieval, I'm sensing some medieval influences in your winning piece. Can you elaborate on that?

This project was inspired by an exhibition called Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe, at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. My favorite exhibit was a set of three nesting reliquary boxes that had been discovered in a cavity inside a Byzantine altar. The outer box was carved marble and contained a chased silver box wrapped in a piece of black cloth. The silver box held a third golden box wrapped in silk and inlaid with garnet cloisonné and set with precious stones. This concept of layering materials was the starting point for my design.


The name of your piece is "Ossuary of Schemes." Can you explain how this name came about? Does it have any special significance?


An Ossuary is a container or room into which the bones of the dead are placed. The line from the Robert Burns poem, Tae a Mouse, that is etched around the base of the mausoleum reads: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an men gang aft agley.” Since neither the mouse nor I had any “schemes” which included its death something had clearly gone 'agley.' Ossuary of Schemes seemed to describe the piece perfectly.

Janet Huddie_Ossuary of Schemes detail_hero option 2
A detailed look at "Ossuary of Schemes."
Ossuary close up

What was tougher: the design or the execution? Why?


I think the design and execution for this project were equally difficult. Because I’d visited the exhibition I had a concept for the project, but like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, I can believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast, that in reality are quite difficult to make. My original idea was to fabricate a tiny Cape Cod cottage, with working shutters and a hinged roof, but on paper that design quickly developed into a more traditional and formal mausoleum. The final piece is actually my third attempt. I discarded the first two because they were too small to show the detail and imagery I wanted to include honoring the life of the mouse.


My biggest challenge was keeping the angles aligned so all the pieces would fit together. I could often see the metal moving and warping as I heated it up to solder. Some of the sections had to be re-made several times, so it became a lesson in persistence.


What did you learn as you created this piece?


This project taught me to be patient and listen to my creative voice. The mouse died in Spring 2011 and I completed the piece in Spring 2016. There were months when partially completed sections sat on my bench, whilst I worked on other projects, because I simply couldn’t see how to move forward. The base and outer walls were almost more massive then my acetylene soldering torch could handle. The eaves on the roof refused to meet neatly, even though the paper pattern I used to etch the pieces fitted together perfectly. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to include a weather vane or even if I was actually brave enough to drill a hole through the center of the roof. There were many, many technical issues, re-dos and design revisions along the way, however, I always knew that I wanted to complete it and that I wasn’t going to give up

Janet Huddie_Brocade Bracelet
"Scarlet Brocade Bracelet" made with sterling silver and vitreous enamel. Good photography is key!
Janet HuddieLahaurisPendant
"Lahauri's Pendant" made with sterling silver, black onyx, and vitreous enamel.

What tip would you give someone who wanted to enter the Metal Jewelry Artistry Awards?


Invest in a professional photographer. Good photographs of your work are essential. Sometimes a digital photograph is all a juror gets to see when they are selecting from a competitive field of high quality work so the image you present is terribly important.


Of all the things you’ve learned on your metalworking journey, what’s the one thing you’d like to share?


You won’t make work if you don’t sit at your bench. Try to spend time there every day, even if you’re just sorting your scrap metal, or cleaning your tools and thinking. At some point an idea will present itself and you’ll be ready to begin.


Speaking of sitting at a work bench, describe the place where you created your piece. 


I have a studio in my basement with a jewelers’ bench and a huge tool chest, a bench for soldering, a kiln and an area for electroforming and etching. I also have a design area with my books and computer. I can’t show you pictures because it’s a complete mess and I would be embarrassed.


Do you have a mentor or teacher who has been an inspiration? If so, who and why?


Everyone with whom I have ever taken a class or workshop has been talented, supportive and generous with their time. Metalsmiths are lovely people.


What are your ideas to help bring new people (especially young people) into metal- and wirework? Where should they start?


Take a class. You will learn all the basic skills and which tools you need to get started but, more importantly, you will learn good practice and how to stay safe whilst you’re working. Be prepared to be smitten.

Another huge congratulations to Janet on her winning design!

Want to view more of Janet's work? Visit her website at 

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