My jewelry collection is like a memory book. A pair of garnet earrings once worn by my long-passed grandmother takes me back to afternoons of Scrabble in San Francisco. A paintbrush jasper necklace makes me think fondly of my 28th birthday. Good-luck charm earrings made of silver-plated goathead thorns I wear to ward off the suckers as I train for my first triathlon. The memories attached to the pieces are (in some ways) more precious than the jewelry itself. And when I travel, I’m always eager to add a memento or two.
Austin, Texas, first and foremost is an awesome city—live music on nearly every corner, killer southwestern barbecue, friendly faces, historical buildings, Longhorn fans. I have close family in Austin, so my husband and I decided to visit the Lone Star State’s capital to celebrate our anniversary. I made sure Austin’s 23rd Street Renaissance Artists’ Market was on our agenda.
The 23rd Street Renaissance Artists’ Market has provided an outlet for local artisans to share their wares since the 1970s. Everything sold within the open-air venue must be handmade, and the creators apply for a City of Austin license to prove it. Each artisan “rents” a spot in the market, but it’s first-come, first-served when it comes to space selection. This means the treasures to be discovered vary from day-to-day.
On the Friday afternoon I visited, I was immediately drawn to a booth with sleek displays covered in crisp, polished coin pendants and earrings.
Full disclosure: I love coinage as jewelry. I adore the design of currency and often find myself wishing I could display (on myself) the intricate beauty of metal coins. Jim Baggett and I clearly share this particular aesthetic. Jim’s collection is part fashion-jewelry perfection, part museum of foreign currency. Labels for pendants from Russia, the Vatican, Germany and Poland clearly mapped out the display, while a closer inspection also revealed earrings from Korea, The Bahamas, Japan and countless other countries. Ask for a country, and he likely has at least once piece from it, Jim told me with a big Texan smile. It was love at first sight.
Jim’s skill with metal forming was clear by the way he finished each coin with a slight doming to better show off the detail and add sheen. The coin jewelry collection is only part of Jim’s repertoire—he has been in the business for more than 30 years, having begun at age 14 and worked his way to master jeweler. Bench work, carving, casting, fabricating, gem setting, custom work—you name it, he does it. And, wouldn’t you know it, he’s also been an enthusiastic Rio customer just as long. The coin line he does for fun, something to merge his love of jewelry and his art history degree.
I couldn’t resist adding two pairs of earrings to my jewelry memory collection. One pair featured coins from Korea with long-oar boats and Hangul lettering (an incredibly beautiful alphabet), and the other from The Bahamas with simple, detailed starfish filling the entire coin face. I wish I had taken home more.
Another piece I regret not snatching up is what Austin’s Pamela Franks has deemed “geekpunk”—a more modern-tech take on steampunk. This resin-based jewelry features components from various broken down electrical equipment Pamela acquired in her former job as an electrical hardware tech. Pamela arranges wires and doodads into resin molds and uses copper wire to mount them into rings and pendants.
The result is nerdtastic, wearable art. Pamela also displayed a wide variety of other wearables including strung beads, delicate handmade lace, hemp bracelets and recycled denim cuffs. As a child, she loved to do craft projects with her grandmother. When Pamela’s grandmother passed away, she bequeathed her entire stock of creative supplies to her granddaughter with one caveat: Pamela must do something productive with them. Pamela took it as a sign and began to make jewelry. It wasn’t long before she quit her day job and instead spent her time at the 23rd Street Renaissance Artists’ Market selling her “fun handcrafted randomness” to make a living.
Discovering lavish spots like Austin’s 23rd Street Renaissance Artists’ Market is one of the joys of travel.
In this “Rio on the Road” series, we look forward to sharing some of our favorite places and the jewelry (and jewelers) we find there. Share some of your special finds or destinations by posting or sending us a comment so we can add them to our must-see lists!