Maven Style: An Interview with The Metallist

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In the hours that I am not writing, blogging, and exploring, I also run a socially conscious business called Kicheko Goods. Kicheko participates in a few local markets based in the DC area and through these events, I meet makers and business owners who inspire and whose craft and work speaks volumes. One of these small and mighty businesses is Ashley Kriehn of Metallist, a handmade artisan jewelry line that incorporates natural and architectural influences. Each piece is well made and many of them come with a backstory and personal linkage. I asked Ashley if I could interview her and showcase some of her work. Everyone, meet the Metallist.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

My name is Ashley Kriehn and I am a mostly self-taught metalsmith with my own business Metallist. I make contemporary jewelry primarily out of sterling silver. I strive to push the boundaries of my art form as well as my medium.

How did you get started with your business?

I went to The Art Institute of Dallas and received my bachelor’s degree in Interior Design.  After graduation, I worked for an architectural interior design firm in Dallas for three years before I got engaged.  I moved to Northern Virginia the summer of 2009 to be near my fiancé (we had grown up together and reconnected later in life). I enjoyed working as an Interior Designer, but upon my move to VA, I was faced with some pretty big obstacles. Firstly, it was 2009 the height of the recession and no one was hiring.  I actually went on an interview where the designer wanted me to work for free. Secondly, my fiancé, now husband, had lived in Northern Virginia for five years and had already purchased a condo in Manassas. The commute would have been lengthy since most design firms are located in Arlington, Alexandria or DC. I began searching for a way to solve the problem. However, in the interim, I settled for a dead end job at a call center that I absolutely hated.

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During the first few months of living in Northern Virginia I went shopping for wedding bands with my then fiancé, now husband, at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria VA.  I was intrigued by the handmade jewelry offered in the artist’s studios there.  I have always loved making things and loved jewelry.  I had been making jewelry with pre-made components and beads to satisfy my desire to make for a few years at this point. The jeweler who made our wedding bands told me about a jewelry class offered at The Art League by artists at the Torpedo Factory. I decided that once we got married I would quit my job and take a jewelry class just to see what happened. Honestly, the first day of class, I knew that I had found what I was meant to do. I have never looked back. I think about jewelry constantly, which I think is probably abnormal. I took classes for the entire year between 2010-2011, wherein I learned the fundamentals of jewelry making. In the summer of 2011, I opened my Etsy shop and the Metallist was open for business.

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I noticed your pieces have unique sculptural qualities? How did you develop this aesthetic?

I think that my training and time as an interior designer heavily influence my designs.  I have a strong background in Art and Architecture history from college that I am able to draw from when conceptualizing a piece.  I look at each piece of jewelry as a piece of art.  I think about the details and how it will look from all angles.

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Since joining Etsy, what has been the response to Metallist? Online shops are such a presence now. What is the difference between online markets and in-person markets like DC Meet Market?

Etsy has been a good fit for me. I had my first two sales within the first week of activating my shop and I was overjoyed. I still find it exciting every time I get a sale on Etsy and it has never been a burden or overwhelming. I have also gotten a lot of positive feedback through favorites and the sales that I have made. At the same time I am definitely not the largest shop on Etsy. It’s a big marketplace and it’s hard to compete in categories such as jewelry where there is immense competition. With that said, I enjoy getting to sell my jewelry in person even more. It is so rewarding to see people try on my pieces and get excited over something that I have poured myself into. I think that connection with the buyer is the ultimate reward for the maker.

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What is your process?

Every piece starts as raw material, sheet or wire in various gauges and forms.  Like many other artists, inspiration strikes anywhere, everywhere, or nowhere.  I am usually operating on "I have so many ideas running through my head that I don’t have time or energy to make them all" or "I can’t think of a great idea."  I am most often inspired by architectural forms, nature, or the present materials I have to work with in my studio. I usually start with a vision in my head. I don’t often do complete sketches of jewelry, but I do make paper models to figure out scale and do some preliminary problem solving.

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You are also a wife and a mother among other roles. How do you balance home life with your work?

I have had to realize that work and motherhood is a balancing act.  It feels like even more of a struggle since I work from home.  I face a lot of scrutiny, whether real or imagined, about my job being viable. If I am in my studio, then I am usually missing out on time with my little girl. If a day goes by that I don’t make it into my studio, then I feel like I’m falling behind. I never feel 100% prepared for markets. I was naïve before I had my daughter and thought that I would be able to easily work while I took care of her, but it’s just not that easy. I’ve had to learn to work in smaller chunks of time and although I prefer working in the early hours of the morning, there are many days that I don’t get into my studio until mid-afternoon.

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What is the best part of what you do? What is the most challenging part?

Hands down, the best part of making jewelry is when it is complete. Metal-smithing is physical. It’s sawing, hammering, filing, etc. My hands are usually cracked and black from metal dust. My shoulders and hands ache after a long day in the studio, but at the end of all the hard work I have a beautiful three dimensional object that I have transformed from sheet metal with my two hands and a few hand tools. This makes the connection that a person has with my work that much stronger. Although they may not know how much work went into the making process, I do, and to see them excited about the piece helps me to know that it is going to the right owner.

I think the most challenging part for me is pricing. I don’t think any artist ever really gets paid enough, sometimes at all, for his work. In our culture so many things are mass produced that people just think things appear. They think everything is manufactured.  This is of course not the case with a lot of handmade products. Many times I don’t charge anything for the actual time it takes me to make something.

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Any advice for fellow artists who are starting their own businesses or thinking of going into business?

I think some things go without saying, like stand behind your product, be prepared to work harder than maybe you’ve ever worked before. (There are times I feel like I’m working as hard as I did in college). But I think above all you have to believe in your business and want it more than anyone else. No one is going to do that part for you. You don’t have to wait to have everything just so to start, there is a little growing room, but have a plan in mind. I have an ultimate goal and I set personal goals which build towards that ultimate goal. For instance, the first step was starting my Etsy shop, and now it is applying and gaining acceptance into more juried shows. One of my ultimate goals is to get into the Smithsonian Craft Show.

My thanks to Ashley for sharing her heart and craft with Fashion & Philosophers. Her pieces are truly one of a kind designs. I went home with the fine silver woodgrain wrap ring and I am obsessed with it. The wrap is weighty and sturdy and the woodgrain etching onto the silver gives it a natural texture. Check out her Etsy shop and learn more about the Metallist.