Natural Selections
Two shoreline artisans imbue jewelry with pieces of Michigan’s past.

By Daisha Cassel

Whether the materials used are gathered from Michigan surroundings or inspired by them, Julie Sanford and James Blanchard each have a knack for incorporating environmental elements into unique wearable designs.

Studio JSD, Julie Sanford’s Grand Haven jewelry business, is filled with nature-influenced pieces. A trio of rings inspired by the writing of Michigan artist Gwen Frostic feature miniature silver animals and a toadstool fashioned from two tiny, locally found fossils. Natural Michigan stones are the centerpiece of many of Julie’s creations. Displayed pieces — some fabricated by Studio JSD workshop students — often reflect the region’s landscape.

A few hours up the coast, Traverse City artist James Blanchard creates art from “basically every gemstone material found in Michigan.” While he works with over a dozen traditional setting stones, his current focus is native copper.

“Copper is such a rich color by itself,” James explains, “what I try to do is find pieces that have interesting patterns of matrix and simply bezel-set them in sterling.” He notes that remnants of the Keweenaw Peninsula’s copper mines eventually end up on Lake Superior’s beaches.

Copper is just one relic of a by-gone era left in Michigan. “Fordite” — cut from striated layers of automotive paint spray-off from the days of hand-spraying autos — and “Leland Blue” — a blue, porous rock resulting from 1800s’ iron foundry run-off — are two industrial waste gems that inspire both artists.

“People really like the fact that (Fordite) came from Michigan’s industrial heritage,” Julie says, describing the stones as “a beautiful way to repurpose cast- off materials from an automated process and use them for handmade artistry.” While naturally occurring gemstones are always popular, Julie notes the appealing thing about Fordite and Leland Blue jewelry is that “it’s really elevating the material.”

Two Paths to Creativity
James is a self-taught artist; Julie taught art in local schools for years before starting her studio. While James prefers a solitary approach to his craft, Julie’s studio is often a social hub for workshop students. But despite their different approaches, the foundations of their creative craft are much alike. Both began combing Great Lake beaches at young ages with their fathers.


Julie Sanford’s Leland Blue pendant (above) and James Blandford’s Fordite ring (at right) feature “industrial waste” gems.

“Today, I take my kids on this same path, hunting for treasures that will inspire or become part of my pieces,” Julie shares.
“My dad was a collector,” says James, whose favorite memories include looking for glacially tumbled fossils.

He urges burgeoning Michigan jewelry makers to be patient and focus on personal creativity — not money. “Make what you like and your clients will find you,” he says. Julie, whose workshops include turning beach glass and pebbles into jewelry, advises starting artists to work with found objects: “There are plenty in our area.”

Learn more at galleryfifty.com, jamesblanchard.etsy.com, julieandforddesigns.com and studiojsd.com. Read more about Michigan-made products in BLUE’s Fall Issue 2012. Daisha Cassel is…