The Studio – Jewelry Blog by Rio Grande

Guest Contributors

Bill Fretz

Bill Fretz has been crafting his own custom tools for years. His innovative, award-winning tools are not only the prized possessions of scores of jewelry-makers, they have also been exhibited at trade shows and in galleries. Bill’s passion for making tools is reflected in the pleasure he gets from watching others pick up, heft, handle, and appreciate these finely crafted instruments. He has even branched out into instructional DVDs which have proven to be very popular. If you can't get enough of Bill, you can also find him featured in free how-to videos on Rio's website.

Bill and his wife, Marian, make their home in and run their business from Bucksport, Maine.

Antoinette Matlins

Antoinette Matlins is an internationally respected gem and jewelry expert and well-known author and lecturer whose expertise is sought by clients who retain her to seek fine, rare, or unusual gems and jewels for acquisition. Often seen on CNN, ABC, NBC, and CNBC offering important consumer information, Matlins devotes much of her work to education and consulting within the trade.

Former Gemology Editor for National Jeweler, she is the author of many books on gems and jewelry, and has become a consumer advocate in the field and as a Board Member of the Accredited Gemologists Association (AGA). Antoinette has been influential in raising industry attention to serious issues such as those posed by glass-corundum composites.

Her most popular books include Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide (now in its Seventh edition and published in six languages), Gem Identification Made Easy; Diamonds: The Antoinette Matlins Buying Guide; Colored Gemstones: The Antoinette Matlins Buying Guide; and The Pearl Book, all published by GemStone Press.

Michael Ross

As the safety coach for Rio Grande, my job is to protect our associates and stakeholders from the perils and hazards of jewelry. Well, not jewelry per se, but rather the occupational hazards associated with manufacturing, distribution, ergonomics, and so forth. I find it rewarding to work toward a safe workplace; my co-workers and our customers are near and dear to me, and their safety is paramount.

My personal passion however, does not lie in the jewelry world, but in the outdoors, amidst all that nature has to offer. I embrace her abundant beauty, every season of the year, alongside my wonderful bride. Together, we attend a spiritual life known to us as "Church of the Blue Sky," a phrase I learned from my grandfather. Its cathedral is always open, and it has unlimited seating! I guess you could say that rather than gold or silver, I wear nature as my jewelry.

I'm a native to New Mexico and find its natural beauty breathtaking. Photographing our adventures has become a fun pastime. I almost always have a camera with me; I never know when the southwest will share its perfect moment of enchantment. I look forward to sharing some of those moments with you.

Now turn off your TV and get outside!

Sam Alfano

Sam Alfano began engraving in the early '70's with a set of engraving tools purchased from a mail order catalog. He experimented with engraving on and off for a few years, but didn't get serious about the craft until 1979. The few engravers he'd met were unwilling to share their knowledge of tool sharpening, engraving technique, etc., and learning was a slow process.

In 1982, Stanley Diefenthal, of the famed New Orleans Arms Co., hired Sam to engrave guns in his personal collection. Since engraver Lynton McKenzie had worked there for many years, Diefenthal brought McKenzie in to train Sam. For the first time, Sam was given the opportunity of professional instruction, and he was honored to be studying under one of the world's great engravers. After his training, Sam assumed McKenzie's place at the engraving bench at New Orleans Arms Co.

In 1984, Sam traveled to Brescia, Italy to learn techniques of banknote or "bulino" engraving from the great Firmo Fracassi. He continued to work for New Orleans Arms Co. until 1989 when Diefenthal passed away. Once on his own, Sam focused his attention on handmade knives and high-end jewelry engraving.

Sam has continued to work on custom knives and jewelry, catering to advanced collectors in many countries, and has produced some of the finest engraved pieces made. He is best known for his intricate designs, precise detail, and flawless execution of this demanding art form. His work has been featured in books and magazines throughout the world.

Sam is also an accomplished musician, photographer, graphic artist, member of Mensa, engraving instructor for GRS, and demonstrates hand engraving and diamond setting techniques worldwide. Visit his website to view an extensive gallery of his work, get free engraving tips and tricks, and participate in the world's largest online community of hand engravers. You can find his instructional DVDs on Rio's website.

Anne Hallet

In 1998 I was standing at the stern of a ferry watching the White Cliffs of Dover fade into the distance. I had just spent a week with my mother and was on my way back to Holland where I had lived for three years. I was filled with a mixture of emotions as I was about to embark on a journey that was going to take me to a new life in Albuquerque. I was working for a large electronics company and had been offered the opportunity to move to their plant in New Mexico as a Product Manager.

I have to say, I never thought I would live somewhere where people rush to the window when it rains. After growing up in England, the endless sunny days took some getting used to. My newfound friends had to stage an intervention to help me give up my habit of carrying an umbrella wherever I went.

Four years later the plant closed and I was looking for employment when fate intervened. I was participating in a bicycle ride to benefit the NM Natural History Museum and found myself riding along a road called Bluewater. My companion pointed to a building and said, “I wonder what Rio Grande does and if they have any jobs?” The rest, as they say, is history and I have been a Business Coach here for almost eight years. I'm blessed to have a job I love and the opportunity to work with a talented and generous group of people. I currently share my life with two cats and a rambunctious golden retriever called Larry (Bird).

Sara Jayne Cole

Sara Jayne Cole has two creative passions: metal and the paper-folding art of origami. With PMC paper she has combined her two passions and found dynamic success. She combines the creative folding learned from origami with foldable fine silver in the form of PMC paper to create lyrical shapes and components for her jewelry.

Sara Jayne is a 1966 silversmith graduate of RIT School for American Craftsmen. She has been working in Precious Metal Clay (PMC) since she took a certification class in 2000, and is a member of Origami USA. She is a member of the PMC Guild and a certified instructor.

Sara Jayne has written articles for Studio PMC and Lapidary Journal (March 2005). She was a presenter at the PMC Conference in Albuquerque in 2004, and she has published a how-to CD called Origami from Paper to Silver with PMC and a book, Metal Clay Origami Jewelry. Sara Jayne is listed by the Iowa Arts Council and participates in the council's new marketing initiative: Buy Iowa Art. Sara Jayne maintains a jewelry studio and teaches in local art centers in Waterloo, IA, where she lives with her husband, Phil.

Tim McCreight

Tim McCreight is a metalsmith, designer, author, and teacher. He has been working in metals since 1970 and along the way has published two dozen books and made six videos.

He is a former president of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), and has served on the boards of Haystack, the American Craft Council, and the PMC Guild. He has taught workshops in the U.S., England, Canada, Mexico, Norway, and Japan. He writes for several magazines and runs a publishing company in Maine called Brynmorgen Press.

Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson, a Rio Grande Technical Support Team member, has an MFA from Texas Tech University, 15 years of jewelry-making experience, including nine years of retail bench experience and five years of laser welding experience. He teaches a variety of classes at Rio Grande and at tradeshows and has been featured in dozens of videos on the Rio website. He is also Rio’s television personality presenting over 30 jewelry-making segments for the Beads, Baubles and Jewels program televised across the country.

Nancy Megan Corwin

Nancy Megan Corwin holds an MFA in metals from the University of Wisconsin, Madison where she first came under the spell of chasing and repoussé. She has taught at Cabrillo and Monterey Peninsula Colleges in California, Penland, Pratt Fine Arts Center, and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Her work is included in private collections and in the permanent collections of the Tacoma Art Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She is represented in Seattle at Facere Jewelry Art Gallery. You can find her book, Chasing and Repoussé: Methods Ancient and Modern, on the Rio website.

Howard Rubin

Howard Rubin, highly respected gemstone expert and inventor of the GemDialogue Color description system, died January 17,2012 at age 86. Howard was a good friend to Rio Grande and we are honored that he contributed to The Studio.

Howard began in the jewelry industry 64 years ago as a diamond and color-stone setter. He studied gemology at the GIA, took courses at Columbia University and is a graduate gemologist. Over the course of his career, he has operated a number of companies including a setting shop, a manufacturing business making diamond and color-stone rings, and a business specializing in gemstone dealing. He has traveled to many of the world's gem centers where he bought and sold both rough and cut gem materials for a Hong Kong company. He later became a vice president for Leer Gem Co. in New York, which was the color-stone division of the M. Fabrikant Diamond Company.

The inventor and patent owner of the GemDialogue color descriptive system for color stones and fancy-color diamonds, Howard is the president of GemDialogue Systems, Inc. He is also the author of The Jewelers Guide to Gemstone Handling, a resource that has been published in nearly every major trade publication. Howard has also written numerous other published articles. He currently does appraisal work and represents The National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA) on the appraisal foundation's International Advisory Committee (IAC). He is also the business editor for NAJA's quarterly newsletter.

Richard Paille

Richard Paille began his jewelry career in 1970. After completing his gemology studies with the GIA he opened a small studio/workshop in Seattle, WA, where he did jewelry repair for the public and wholesale trade.

Later, he moved to a prime location in the University District of Seattle and opened Dick Paille Jewelry Inc., a retail store that he operated for many years. During those years he also wrote and published a bimonthly newsletter featuring articles on gems, jewelry tips, and specials. In the mid 1980's Richard began exhibiting his jewelry in art festivals and attending trade events like the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, Jewelers of America and the JCK Shows where he established a wide range of industry contacts and became interested in gem importing.

Eventually Richard's jewelry background merged with several non-jewelry interests. He formed a small film crew and traveled to Australia to shoot a documentary on opal mining entitled "Fire Down Under: The Hunt For Australian Opal." That project led to another documentary about pearl farming called "A Gift From Neptune: The Black Pearls Of Manihiki." Richard's travels in the South Pacific led to him create "South Pacific Pearls International,” a business that specialized in importing Black Pearls from the Cook Islands.

In 2003 Richard started a multimedia marketing venture called Pacific Digital Studio to continue his interest in digital media.

Today Richard works at his jewelry bench as time permits, but focuses on teaching jewelry making and jewelry business practices to people who share his love of working hands-on in the jewelry industry. See

Richard is also a fly fisherman, a builder of things, life long amateur radio operator, wine lover, and writer.

Peggy Jo Donahue

My father ran a small business, and I think that’s why I came to love the jewelry industry so much—the struggles and joys of being an entrepreneur are very familiar to me. Over the years, many jewelers have asked me if my folks were jewelers, and the question always thrills me—because I hope it means that, in my work, I am meeting jewelers' needs. I'm proud to join the ranks of guest bloggers at the Rio blog, because I have visited Rio Grande many times and have always been a huge admirer of the company's values and service to the industry.

Though I've written on just about every industry-related subject over the years, it's only since I joined MJSA that I also began writing in earnest about the actually making of jewelry—it has been an amazing new learning experience for me, and I have to thank my colleagues at MJSA for teaching me the ropes and being patient as I continue to learn!

I have been a writer in the jewelry industry for most of my career, ultimately serving as editor in chief of both JCK and Professional Jeweler magazines. Now, as director of public affairs at MJSA, I spend a lot of my time looking over regulations, legislation, and other complicated documents and translating them from scientific terms and legalese to English! I know how important it is that jewelers understand the laws and regulations that can affect their work and increase consumers' confidence in buying jewelry.

Most recently, I'm proud to also serve as editor of MJSA Custom Jeweler, a new quarterly that the association is publishing to serve the needs of the exploding number of jewelers who are customizing jewelry for the "have-it-my-way" customer.

Be sure and check out; see the benefits and services specifically tailored to jewelry makers. Drop me a line if MJSA can help your business in any way; that’s why we're here.

Phil Poirier

G. Phil Poirier is a master gem cutter and goldsmith residing near Taos, NM. He started designing and creating jewelry in 1971 after having discovered the art of metalsmithing in high school.

His work has been featured in several museums including the national show "200 Rings," the American Craft Museum's "Gold and Silver" exhibition, and was one of five artists invited to the Harwood Museum exhibit titled "Objects, Five Master Craftsmen." His work has been featured in many publications including the recent books titled 1000 Rings, a collection of contemporary rings from around the world, and 500 Wedding Bands, an overview of the latest wedding band designs. He was also recently featured in the Jewellery in Britain magazine article "The U.S. Masters."

Phil designs and develops new innovative techniques and tools for jewelers and metalsmiths. He has taught these new ideas across England, Italy, and the USA (including workshops and classes at Rio). His book, Deep-Drawing for Metalsmiths, has recently been translated into Russian and a CD-ROM of the same name is available on the Rio website.

Gary Dawson

Gary Dawson founded and operated a successful custom jewelry design business for over 35 years which still operates in Eugene, OR, with a new owner. He has been involved with the Pacific Northwest arts and crafts scene both as a former member of the board of directors for the Portland, Oregon, Saturday Market and as former president of the board of directors of the Northwest Arts Alliance, located in the Puget Sound area.

Gary is a four-time presenter at the Santa Fe Symposium, presenter at Clasp, and frequent contributor to MJSA Journal. To take a look at Gary's custom jewelry design, visit his recently launched website, Gary Dawson Designs.

Scott David Plumlee

Scott David Plumlee has been inspiring a new generation of jewelry artisans over the past decade, leading hundreds of workshops nationwide, and authoring four book titles: Handcrafting Chain & Bead Jewelry, Chain & Bead Jewelry Creative Connections, Chain & Bead Jewelry Geometric Connections, and Chain & Bead Jewelry Soldering Connections. Scott has been featured in three DVD educational videos, and is a regularly contributor to numerous magazines including: Art Jewelry, Bead&Button, Wire Jewelry, Wirework, and Jewelry Artist.

A world traveler with incurable curiosity, Scott has studied craft designs all over the globe, and is currently loving life in sunny Taos, New Mexico. For more information, and free chain tutorials, visit his website:

Cathy Contreras

After obtaining a BA in Clothing & Textile design at Bowling Green State University, Cathy found herself working as a police dispatcher in Richmond, VA.

She decided to move west to explore the desert, and once in New Mexico, she worked as a professional embroiderer/digitizer for a small store. Cathy's interest in design led her to jewelry stringing and metal work. She had been a Rio Grande customer for about seven years before she began to work as a Customer Service Representative in our call center.

Cathy’s jewelry-making experience began with PMC, and she found her way to chain mail quite accidentally. She was immediately entranced, and asked a co-worker to teach her the Byzantine weave. Once she learned, she was obsessed with making her own rings from square wire. Cathy’s work is still comprised of mostly square wire rings, and she occasionally mixes in round wire rings in copper and anodized aluminum or niobium for added color and dimension.

While it's not fabric design, it IS creating "fabric" from metal! Cathy loves working here at Rio because there are so many generous and nurturing people who respect each other's passion for art and design. She believes that our passion is conveyed to our customers, and she loves to share all that she learns with each customer she speaks with.

You can view Cathy’s gallery at

Thomas Flores

Thomas Flores has been with Rio Grande for about six years and has been a member of the Rio Grande Technical Support Team for the past year. He has a wide range of experience that spans the company's many departments and he even teaches a jewelry-making class at Rio. He holds a BA in Psychology with a focus on Human Service Management.

Thomas's jewelry-making experience began with PMC and he is PMC Certified. Over the years, he has steadily expanded his knowledge, skills, and experience to include metal fabrication and glass work. Helping Rio Grande customers with their fascinating range of questions and challenges is the most rewarding part of his work.

Marcia Weaver

Raised in New Mexico, I have lived most of my life in California. Now I live in Walnut Creek with my daughter, son-in-law, two college-age granddaughters, a golden retriever, my pug, and a bossy cat. Numerous wildlife tourists also frequent the yard.

I have had two successful careers, raised a family, run my own business, taught in elementary school, business, and college, been a performance coach for soccer teams, and now I am totally devoted to playing with fire and hammers.

When I go to my bench, light my torch, or pick up a hammer, I forget everything else. I love the sense of discovery I find when I work with metal. I make plenty of mistakes and I have much to learn. I love every minute I spend this way and once in awhile there is a moment of joy when a piece comes together. Please visit me at my fused and twisted blog or my fusedntwisted etsy store!


Mike Schelle

Mike Schelle has been writing creatively since high school, including contributions to several humor websites. He is currently planning a non-fiction book on the sport of Ultimate.

Mike lives with his veterinarian wife, who constantly inundates him with stories of rotting abscesses and the things Labradors eat that are not food.

Brian Fox

Brian is a citizen-in-exile of the Free Republic of Oregon who has no complaints regarding the 360 days of sunshine central New Mexico has to offer. He is an amateur metalsmith and a professional writer.

His interests include alpinism, obscure German board games, South American literature, and tools of all kinds. He is a mild technophobe and one of those rare cat and dog people.

His recent unpublished works include Not On Google Maps: The Scenic Ditches of Los Griegos, Jewelry for Cats and Public Bathroom Design for Dummies.

Charles Allenden

Charles Allenden graduated in Metallurgy from Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom over 20 years ago. Since then he has worked continuously with different manufacturers in the silver industry. For the last four years he has been employed by Argentium International as their Quality Assurance Manager, a role which has seen him travel to many different countries to offer technical support and advice to manufacturers using Argentium silver.


Ashli Brooke Taylor

After receiving her MFA in jewelry and metalsmithing from the University of Oregon, Ashli set out for the desert and became a member of Rio Grande's Technical Support Team. Originally from Kentucky, she has had the pleasure of traveling all over this country, studying art and jewelry. Ashli has worked in the jewelry industry for about 11 years now, and she says that she still feels like she just started yesterday; as she says, "There is so much we can learn from one another, whether it's a new material or a new technique, the world of art and jewelry is full of discovery." Fortunately, she's happy to share her expertise at jewelry-making classes at Rio.

MariaElena Baca

MariaElena Baca is an award-winning jewelry designer who has worked for Rio Grande for over five years. She is currently a Customer Representative and Technical Specialist with Rio Grande, and she worked for over three years as a Technical Resource for the Technical Support Team. MariaElena has also represented Rio Grande at various trade shows.

After earning an Associate’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising, she worked in many industries: banking, television commercials and voice overs, being a modeling instructor, and working as a make-up artist. After many years, she settled down to raise her children and teach art and history classes to elementary through middle school-age students. Throughout this time MariaElena wanted to be where she could fulfill her creative dreams. Rio Grande has been an absolute "blessing and joy" and has helped her pursue these dreams.

She has been making and designing jewelry for around 12 years but started working with PMC about 10 years ago and was certified in PMC in 2007. Though metal clay is a main area of expertise, she is knowledgeable in several other areas of jewelry-making. MariaElena loves to learn anything she can about jewelry-making and design. "I never want to stop learning. There’s always something new to learn, and if I can give back by sharing what I've learned, I'm happy to do that. I think it's important to share what I've been given and keep the passion and love for art alive."

Jeffery Herman

I started my business in 1984, and have built this business on a national reputation of quality craftsmanship with a special sensitivity towards the finishing of every piece. I have repaired and reconstructed everything from historically important tankards, tea services, and tureens to disposal-damaged and dishwasher-dulled flatware. 

I consider myself an environmentalist, using the safest, non-toxic, organic products available. My workshop is state-of-the-art in safety and cleanliness.

Before I started my own business, I worked at Gorham as a designer, sample maker, and technical illustrator. Upon leaving Gorham, I took a position at Pilz Ltd. where I learned the fine art of restoration, and fabricated mass-produced ecclesiastical ware. I earned a BFA degree in silversmithing and jewelry making from Maine College of Art in Portland, where I studied under Harold Schremmer and Ernest Thompson—two outstanding designer/craftsmen. I am also the founder of the Society of American Silversmiths.

Teresa Linebaugh

I was born and raised in central New Mexico, and I have always found joy in hiking many of its trails. I enjoy spending my free time with friends and family outside, or doing creative things inside. Five years ago, I found myself feeling stuck working as a massage therapist and not enjoying it, so I decided to start looking for something different.

I found an ad for Rio Grande online and remembered hearing what a nice place it was to work. I applied and started working in the call center five years ago. Almost two years ago, I transferred to the IT department. Since I've been at Rio, I've had the pleasure of demonstrating enameling, glass-fusing, and other skills at various trade shows.

Lauren Tobey

The designs of New Mexico jewelry artist Lauren Tobey have evolved according to her personal experiences and travels. Lauren was born in Chicago but grew up in Baton Rouge, LA. She later moved to Albuquerque, NM, to attend the University of New Mexico, and this is where her passion for jewelry making became her livelihood. She began working as a bench jeweler in 2001 under a local Albuquerque artist. During that time she was exposed to the business aspect of crafting for a living and began her own entrepreneurial endeavors.

Her artistic spirit compelled Lauren toward exploration, and she spent the next years traveling in Spain and Central America. After living in Costa Rica for two years and taking inspiration from natural materials, Lauren was able to incorporate these collected materials and use them in her designs. Her passion for travel continues to be instrumental in the evolution of her work.

In late 2006 Lauren opened Meltdown Studio, a jewelry school/studio which not only offers jewelry classes, but provides an open studio and workspace for other artists to use. The space has created a community of artists who are interested in teaching, learning, and sharing techniques within the field of small metals and jewelry. Lauren hopes to share her passion for jewelry and to provide opportunities for others to explore their own creativity. Check out how she's collaborated with Rio.

Hattie Sanderson

Hattie Sanderson is an artist, instructor, and author working in metal clay. She began her career as an art director in the graphic design field. In 1990 Hattie opened her own studio to explore, create, and teach in the disciplines of fiber and metal. In the mid 1990s Hattie was introduced to metal clay. Since then, her fascination with this material has become her main focus.

Hattie shares her love of metal clay as a speaker and through workshops. She is known for her enthusiastic, thorough, and approachable teaching style. Hattie has taught classes for several years and has earned the credentials of senior instructor for both Art Clay® and PMC® metal clays. She has also earned the International Metal Clay Masters Registry Level II status. Hattie has traveled internationally as a speaker and instructor and enjoys working in all types of settings that range from small groups in local home studios to large groups at an international venue.

Hattie's work has won many national awards, is published in several notable books and publications, and she is the author of the book, Contemporary Metal Clay Rings. She is the creator of  HattieS® brand products including instructional DVD's, HattieS Patties® and many more products that enhance the metal clay creation experience.

Hattie's studio is located on the family farm in northern Illinois where she and her husband raise corn, soybeans, cattle, and hogs.

Darla Alvarez of The Gilded Artisan

The Gilded Artisan was created to foster artistic vision in its Jewelry Craftsmen. Founded by Charles Neugebauer, a GIA Graduate Gemologist, and a second-generation Master Jeweler with over 20 years of hands-on experience, the Gilded Artisan is a full-service jewelry store and studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado specializing in gold, silver, platinum, and palladium jewelry repair and custom design.

The studio features state-of-the-art design software and digital laser technology to create custom pieces to sub-millimeter precision. Walking through every step of the Custom Design Process with our clients ensures each final custom jewelry piece exemplifies the visions of customer's dreams. The team includes Jennifer Farnes who is a GIA Accredited Jewelry Professional and a Master Stone Facetor, Kelly Vaughaun who is GIA certified in Graduate Diamonds, and Darla Alvarez who studied at GIA and received credentials as an Accredited Jewelry Professional as well as a Graduate Jeweler degree.

Marlene Richey

My father was a college art professor and my mother a free-lance writer, neither of them had even a rudimentary knowledge of business. I graduated from Central Washington University with a degree in art and jewelry, without anyone ever suggesting that I might sometime want to make a living at what I had studied for four years. A few years later William Richey and I joined forces and we naively started a jewelry design firm with absolutely no idea of how to run a business. And that was the beginning of a long journey on learning the do's and don'ts, ups and downs, ins and outs of becoming art entrepreneurs.

During my 30+ year-career in jewelry, I have run a wholesale business and a retail gallery, done hundreds of shows—craft and trade, indoors and out, juried and not juried, dreadful and successful. I traveled for nine years to every nook and cranny of America selling our line.  I have served on numerous boards of directors—Society of North American Goldsmiths, Contemporary Jewelry Design Group, and Maine Craft Association. I have consulted with emerging and not-so-emerging artists, taught seminars and classes (professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Maine College of Art), written articles for jewelry/craft publications and have an award-winning book about running a small jewelry design business called Profiting by Design through the MJSA Press. I also have a regular column in Art Jewelry Magazine called “Business Savvy.” The Contemporary Design Group honored me with the "Designer Advocate of 2009."

Matthew Anderson

Rio Grande has been my home since 1999. I'm fascinated by how things are made and how people work together to get things done. Bringing together the creative/strategic and practical/operational aspects of business is a challenge that I live and enjoy each and every day. Fostering and developing a successful collaborative environment fuels my passion for growing people and business.

My education at The University of New Mexico is comprised of equal parts Literature and Fine Arts. Consequently my happy places are bookstores, libraries, museums, and my spare bedroom studio. Books about art make me giddy. Without the pressure of living off my artistic aptitudes I am free to explore painting at my own, leisurely pace.

Along with my professional and artistic pursuits I actively spoil any animal I meet. My current brood consists of two puggles and three cats, making my refillable lint roller a must-have tool. I'm also at once the silly uncle, not-to-be-understood brother and son, loyal friend and devoted, lovable mate to my dear Tara.

My favorite movie is The Muppet Christmas Carol. The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens—pure genius.

Andy Sherwin

I’ve jumped around the Great American Southwest for a few years now, dotting the landscapes of Utah, Colorado, and now, New Mexico. I was lucky to have grown up in a book-friendly house—my asthmatic lungs kept me indoors and on sidelines—and I spent a childhood and adolescence nose-deep in dystopian sci-fi, American renaissance lit, and, perhaps most importantly, Spider-Man comics (which I will one day, mark my words, write professionally).

I love playing music, reorganizing my too-large book collection autobiographically (but always putting James Ellroy first), getting short stories published, watching anything with Orson Welles in it, and drinking green tea. My dog, Hitch (short for "Christopher Hitchens"), follows me just about everywhere, occasionally including the office. I’m a devoted uncle of seven, a proud godfather of three, and I plan to name my first novel Church Bells Ringing in the Middle of a Gunfight, regardless of its subject matter.

And I’ll one day own a melon farm. Weird goal, but hey. There you have it.

Spencer Baum

On my first day at Rio, my training coach said to me, "Most of us didn't expect we'd become so excited about jewelry supplies, but you work here and it just sort of happens."  She was right. I took a supply chain position at Rio Grande because I studied economics in school and supply chain is the sort of career one might pursue with an economics degree. Somewhere between then and now, I became totally stoked about jewelry supplies. It just sort of happened.

Of course, it didn't hurt that I was surrounded by a building full of jewelry nerds, or that my job regularly puts me in touch with the most enthusiastic people I've ever met.

In 2004, I became the buyer on the bench tools line and since then have spent my days working closely with the product manager to find the most exciting new tools out there and bring them to market.

When I'm not shopping for hammers and anvils, I'm a husband, an uncle, a father of three little ones, an avid reader, a Japanese rubber suit monster movie enthusiast, and a weekend writer of novels about giant ants.

I'm excited to blog about our newest finds in tools, and also about this quirky place I work where getting stoked about jewelry-making supplies just sort of happens.



Arien Gessner

Arien Gessner is a member of Rio Grande’s marketing team and has a background in ecommerce, search engine optimization, multi-channel marketing, and analytics. Arien will be contributing to The Studio from time to time with online marketing tactics for the small- to mid-sized jewelry business.

Arien came to Rio from the woodworking industry, where he developed an appreciation for those who make their living with their hands and imagination. In his free time, he enjoys puttering in the garden and the kitchen, and watching college basketball with his family (go Lobos!).



Jason Shanley

A native of Albuquerque, Jason works in sales at Rio Grande, a job he loves for the strong team-based culture and opportunities to pair technical knowledge with creativity. Jason is a certified pharmacy technician and came to Rio Grande with a background in sales and retail management. When he’s not at work, he spends most of his time with his dog, Echo, a super smart healer mix.

Jason is a life-long learner and reads copiously. He’s especially fond of Emily Dickinson and his favorite book is Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre, but he can most often be caught reading horror novels and psychoanalysis textbooks.

Jason also enjoys movies, camping, card and board games, and making home-made gifts.


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Nina Cooper

Nina Cooper is one of those lucky people who discovered her passions early in life. She sold beaded jewelry at her first craft show when she was ten years old and hasn’t looked back since. When she started Nina Designs, Cooper wanted to build a company where art and life could coexist with commerce. Her company designs jewelry supplies that are manufactured in Asia and sold to over 2,000 professional jewelry designers around the world. After 30 fabulous years in the business, she is eager to share her expertise.

Cooper contributes regularly to jewelry-oriented magazines including Jewelry Artist, Ornament, Beadwork, and Stringing. She has also been published in American Cinematographer and Glamour Magazine. Cooper has appeared twice as an expert guest on the PBS show Beads, Baubles & Jewels.



Kate Wolf

The first time Kate sat down at a jeweler's bench she said to herself, "I could explore this field for the rest of my life and not run out of techniques to learn." Decades later, she knows she was absolutely right.

Educator, jeweler and tool maven Kate Wolf has three loves: carving wax, designing tools and teaching. One is meditative and intuitive, the second exhilarating. And teaching? Absolutely "divine." That "student/teacher interaction and enthusiasm is inspiring," she says, especially when she has a classroom full of different skill levels and reasons for embarking on wax-carving and jewelry-making. "It's my job to meet each student at their level with the utmost respect and help them build their skills and inspire their creativity. I have no expectations of where they are," she says. "I just want to help get them where they want to be . . . and beyond!"

Kate has been carving wax and making jewelry for 35 years and teaching for more than 23 years. She teaches in workshops all over the U.S. and Canada and at her school in Portland, Maine. She won MJSA's Innovation Award for her Wolf Tools® and Wolf Wax™ by Ferris® and continues to develop tools for jewelers to love. Kate is a former Director of Production and master model-maker for the Franklin Mint, and she holds a BFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry from Tyler School of Art.

As for Kate's favorite teaching moment? "That 'Aha!' moment. It's the biggest blessing in the world to be a part of the learning process and to help students see things in a new way and master skills that they thought were beyond their reach."



Ricky Frank

For more than 35 years, master enamelist Ricky Frank has put his heart and soul into enameling. Within the enameling world, Ricky always returns to his true love: cloisonne. "It offers an easy way to balance my need for being in control and letting go," he says. And as a teacher, Ricky gets to reconnect with the feeling he had 35 years ago when he started working with enamels as he watches his students struggle between freedom and perfection.

A self-taught artist, Ricky's work is known for incredible depth, clarity and blending of colors. His award-winning jewelry has been exhibited at some of the top national craft shows, including the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Philadelphia Museum Craft Show. His teaching credentials include Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Arizona Craftsman, and the Enamelist Society Conference.

And the piece that Ricky's most proud of? A cloisonne enamel pendant depicting two personal profiles: one flowing (his artistic and free side), the other angular (his rational side). "It was the first time I combined material, technique, and my soul."