by Thea Tenenbaum
This is one in a series of sketches of craftspeople, members of Boulder Arts & Crafts Cooperative, inspired by a quote from the book “Baron in the Trees” by Italo Calvino. He writes “…association renders men stronger and brings out each person’s best gifts and gives a joy which is rarely to be had by keeping to oneself, the joy of realizing how many honest decent capable people there are for whom it is worth giving one’s best…”. This to me is the essence and benefit of our Cooperative.
Nancy has two great loves in her life—making jewelry and dancing traditional Swedish folk dances. The jewelry she creates, which is very sculptural and much concerned with negative space, has the same sense of motion that her Swedish folk dancing does—a rounded, rolling movement. The forms created in the dances are as elegant as her jewelry and the awareness of the spaces in between is surely why the dancers don’t step on each other. She was the most surprised when she realized she was incorporating the same flowing motion into her work as in her dancing! She has always drawn and moved in squiggly curly shapes but form, not ornamentation is her trademark.
Nancy, from youth on, has always enjoyed building and making things with her hands. She loves to solve problems of design and function and feels that she was born differently wired than most girls and would have made a great mechanical engineer.
She started out making sculptures as soon as her hands began working correctly, about the age of three, going on to create and sell animals made out of pipe cleaners in grade school. Later on she fixed her broken washing machine by casually taking it apart and putting it back together. Always she has squirmed in an atmosphere of “girls don’t do that” and felt cramped by a limiting environment of strict gender roles.
She has made pottery, sewed, blown glass, made chain mail and fenced with metal rapiers and daggers, which she says is a lot like Swedish dancing. Nancy remembers the joy she felt when she was first allowed to do a project on the lathe at an Arts and Crafts course in high school. All the skill in her mind and hands has been dedicated to making jewelry for nearly 40 years, her sustaining passion, which she taught herself and became good at by just plugging away until she gained skill and experience. Nancy can teach jewelry technique and has learned design by watching and being taught by friends. Her success at making her living being a jeweler is because she was told it was impossible, she laughs.
Nancy, an example of the word “local”, grew up in Boulder, Colorado where she went to Foothills Elementary, Casey Junior High, Boulder High School and CU where she graduated in anthropology. She then took and taught jewelry classes at Denver’s Red Rocks Community College, was a founding member of two art galleries in Denver, worked in local jewelry stores and eventually became a member of Boulder Arts and Crafts Gallery where she has sold her work for more than 30 years.
She likes and needs the quiet and isolation being a jeweler affords her but does not feel she enjoys being a businessperson, especially in the last few years when making a living has become more difficult for craftspeople. Separating work and the rest of her life has been a challenge too and she is glad to be working at home, in a studio above the garage, farther away from the call of laundry and the temptation of daily domestic chores. She is most skilled at forging metal and at setting carved stones, which are hallmarks of her work. Her folded silver jewelry requires great hand strength which she acquired being a rock climber. In addition to climbing, backpacking, cross county skiing and technical slot canyon climbing are other activities she does with her husband and dance partner Larry.
John Denver wore silver buttons Nancy made for him when he once introduced the Grammys, and Robert Redford’s wife has some too, so keep your eye out for lovely buttons with clean, spare lines and flowing designs.