Mark Nelson is one of Rio Grande’s most recognizable faces. Beyond being an extraordinary jeweler in his own right, he is one of our most sought-after instructors, the star of many of Rio Grande’s instructional videos (including the top-rated soldering series), and an all around great guy to work with.
We caught up with him to ask a few questions about creating, teaching and what keeps him moving forward.
Heather Apodaca: Tell us a little about how you got your start in the jewelry industry.
Mark Nelson: In college while pursuing a degree in Art Ed, I worked for the jewelry professor maintaining the studio. Eventually I took a casting class, and well, I haven’t looked back since.
HA: And how did you find your way to Rio?
MN: I’d been a Rio customer for many years and I’d always wondered what it would be like to work here. My wife’s family is from Albuquerque, and when we decided to move here, I knew I had to find a way to work at Rio. There was an opening on the Tech Team. I applied and landed the job!
HA: What is your favorite part of making jewelry?
MN: Right before I finish the piece. It’s that point in time when you’ve gone through all the stages and can begin to see what the finished product will be. It’s like that last few yards before the finish line—exhilarating.
HA: What do you most enjoy about your job on the Tech Team?
MN: I love helping people, solving problems, and making jewelry. The Tech Team allows me to do all three.
HA: Is there a new tool/finding/process you are currently excited about? Tell us a little about it.
MN: There are quite a few new tools and processes coming out almost every day, but what really fascinates me is that initial moment when the idea popped into someone’s head to pour molten metal into an empty cavity to make the first casting. What was the motivation that drove them to find the means to do that? I find it extraordinary how ancient metalsmiths and jewelers were able to do the things that they did with so little.
HA: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve made? Tell us about it.
MN: I do, it’s a Light Saber Chuck Key I made for my old professor Robly Glover at Texas Tech University. It was the last thing I made in graduate school. Robly is a huge Star Wars fan, and I wanted to make him something that he would enjoy. It’s a chuck key in the shape of a Light Saber made of turned wood and sterling. It’s completely functional (not as a light saber, unfortunately), with the capability to replace the chuck key. It even has a ring you can use to fasten to your utility belt.
HA: You teach a lot of classes here at Rio Grande, what do you most enjoy about teaching? What do you find most challenging about teaching?
MN: The best part of teaching is watching the students’ fear and apprehension evaporate and seeing them come to realize that they actually can do it. The most challenging thing is to not sit and make stuff right along with them. Their energy is so infectious that it’s hard to stay focused on teaching and not making.
HA: What’s the topic you get asked about most as a member of the Tech Team?
MN: We get a lot of people calling in about soldering and how to do it, what equipment is necessary and of course occasionally we get calls to help with why their soldering isn’t working out right and so we try to troubleshoot the situation.
HA: Do you have a secret talent? Is there something no one on your team knows about you?
MN: Not really we are pretty close and I’m rather transparent, but I can walk two dogs while riding my bicycle … talk about a wild ride.
HA: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
MN: I would be impervious to heat, that way I wouldn’t have to use tweezers when soldering.
HA: Favorite quote?
MN: It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. Albert Einstein.
HA: Mark, you have a huge following on Rio Grande’s Facebook page. We asked our followers what they would like us to ask in this interview. Here are a couple of their questions!
Boni Linnemeyer: How do you stay motivated and inspired?
MN: By watching, listening and talking to those who are passionate about their work.
Chula Maiz: What is your most prized tool?
MN: The callouses on my hands, I find that they can be quite useful.
Got something you’re dying to ask Mark? Post your questions below in the comments field!