I’ve always wanted to live on the water,” admits artist Christine Leader, who says that she’s bounced around the state. After attending college in Detroit, the Battle Creek native and her fine arts painter husband, Scott, moved to Charlevoix — hopefully their final destination — four years ago.
Although they might not live on the water yet, they’re definitely getting closer. It takes the pair just seven minutes to walk from their home to either Lake Michigan or Lake Charlevoix. “We can hear the waves and feel the winds whipping off Lake Michigan,” Leader says.
Clearly a source of inspiration, lakes also provide many of the raw materials featured in Leader’s naturally beautiful creations. Petoskey stones, beach glass, rare stones, and other pure Michigan symbols such as pine cones and leaves are at the heart of her distinctive designs.
It was by another Michigan waterway — the Detroit River, while studying at Wayne State — that Leader found her calling. “I took metals as an elective and that was that,” she says. She went on to teach metalsmithing, manage a metalsmithing studio, and work at a jewelry company before starting her own business. She turned to jewelry-making in part, she says, when she couldn’t find the one-of-a-kind adornments she wanted for herself. “My favorite artists are those who step out of expected boxes without a fear of experimentation,” she explains, adding that her search for the unexpected is “also what initially inspired me to work exclusively with Michigan stones and elements. I wanted something I wasn’t seeing in the market.”
Clearly others want that, too. Leader’s innovative designs, set in recycled gold and silver, are sold online, at art galleries, and at select boutiques statewide. “My work is directly inspired by the incredible and vastly varying natural habitats we’re surrounded by,” she says. “I’ve designed pieces off of specific sunsets, patterns in leaves, textures of bark, and more. I’m always conscious and respectful of any local and state rules for collecting rocks and materials for my jewelry,” she adds, noting that sustainability and recycling are important to her. “Michigan only allows 25 pounds per person, per year, to be collected on state land.”
Most of her rocks — some millions and billions of years old — are found in northwest Michigan, between Manistee and Petoskey. She also likes to search the U.P.’s abandoned waste rock piles, located around old mine sites, for copper-studded specimens and other rare stones, and admits she never knows when something will spark an idea or design. “I’m looking for anything that catches my eye.
Anything unusual or peculiar, I’ll grab. Some stones I pick up off the beach and immediately see a finished design in my head. It’s like the stone is telling me what it wants to be.”
Her goal, she says, is to create future heirlooms. “People like to take a little piece of the lake home with them,” she says. “I like to think I’m capturing a moment forever in time, and that when my clients put on their jewelry, (they’ll be) taken to a specific place, time, or memory with their special people. Every piece is naturally one-of-a-kind, because there are no two same hues of Leland Blue (a brightly colored stone that’s a byproduct of iron refineries; Leland had a refinery in the late 1800s, she says, and the byproduct was used as paver base for roads and pavement, or thrown into the lake) or patterns in Petoskey stones.”
Plans include a new line of “jewelry for the home” — collections featuring Michigan stones, casting, and natural elements displayed in different-size shadow boxes. Leader describes them as “a brooch for your wall.”
Leader and her husband say they don’t regret giving up their downstate jobs to work full time as artists — even if they don’t yet live on the lake. “It was, hands down, the best decision we’ve ever made. We love this town and area so much,” she says. Northern Michigan provides more natural beauty and ideas than she can keep up with, she adds. “I’m that woman running through the parking lot after the perfect tumbleweed,” she says. “Inspiration, for me, is literally everywhere.”