Finding meaning in process
By Jessianne Castle EBS Contributor
LIVINGSTON – Inside a home on a quiet street in Livingston, a rolling mill stands mounted on a wooden table made bright from a sunny window. Adjacent to the mill, which presses textures into and helps shape strands and sheets of metal, is a kiln used to melt powdered glass onto copper in the process of enameling. A torch and anvil rest nearby and dozens of hand tools neatly decorate yet another tabletop.
Beth Gregory’s studio speaks the story of process. An artisan jeweler, she is well versed in the steps it takes to transform sheets of metals like copper and strands of sterling silver into simple, yet intrinsically beautiful designs. Her necklaces are often made of chains forged by hand, while earrings boast rectangular and oval shapes that wear the mark of the hammer. Sparkling gemstones might be hand-set, or the natural glow of the metal shines through.
Gregory’s enameled pieces are delicate yet bold for their bright glassy colors and design. Layers of powdered glass are added in phases, interrupted by time baked in the kiln. The heat fuses the glass, creating unique pieces every time.
“It adds something special or beautiful to everyday life,” Gregory said of her jewelry. She added that her favorite material to work with is sterling silver. “I just like the way it looks so much. I love the warmth it gets when you add a patina.”
Gregory says she’s inspired by her surroundings—the mountains, places she hikes or walks with her dog—and shapes all around her. “I think, well, how would I do that with silver,” she said. “It’s almost like one idea leads to another. I just always have a backlog of ideas.”
Raised in Tennessee, the artist originally studied at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she received a bachelor’s in art design, though the call of the hammer and forge wouldn’t attract her for some years later.
After moving to the Shields Valley north of Livingston to her husband’s family’s ranch, Gregory received her teacher’s certificate from Montana State University. She taught for a time at a small school in McLeod south of Big Timber before settling in Livingston and taking up work at the Livingston Center for Art and Culture.
Four and a half years ago, she tried a jewelry-making kit on loan from a friend. “I was just hooked,” she said. “I quit my job and dove in. I had done lots of other art, but I think jewelry is a good fit for me because I like that it is functional. People can use it and wear it daily.”
She added that she also enjoys that jewelry is a craft, rooted in history and extensive enough she can continue to learn and explore for the rest of her life.
“It’s a process. It’s an even balance between creating, expression and science,” she said. “I enjoy thinking through the process of something.”
Gregory’s skill is indicative of hours spent learning by doing, though she’s also taken metalsmithing courses at MSU and has attended a number of workshops that cover topics like stone setting and forging.
Later this winter, Gregory will attend a workshop on wax carving, where she’ll learn how to build wax molds that can be used for casting. Currently, all of her jewelry is fabricated, or built in pieces; however, by pouring molten metals into wax molds, she will be able to make more complicated pieces that take on a more refined look. “It opens up a lot of possibilities,” she said. It would also allow her to recycle her metal scraps in-house, she added.
Gregory sources her metals locally whenever possible, purchasing recycled copper from Pacific Steel in Bozeman, and also using recycled silver. In the future, she hopes to explore with gold as well.
While Gregory has many pieces currently available both online and in local galleries, she also enjoys creating custom pieces for her customers. Her work is available at The Trove West in Big Sky and Cello in Bozeman, as well as online at her website or on Etsy.
Visit bgregoryjewelry.com to learn more.