Standish native’s metalcrafts wins award at Tawas art show

Kevin Bunch
Laura Hepworth of Standish shows off some of the chain mail jewelry she's created. Hepworth has won awards at the Tawas Bay Waterfront Fine Arts Festival three years in a row.
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            STANDISH — Laura Hepworth’s jewelry, created through the medieval art of metal crafting, has won her awards in the Tawas Bay Waterfront Fine Arts Festival three years running.

            The Standish native said she has been working on artistic crafts since the age of 6, when her parents gave her bead kits to try her hand at.

            “They were trying to find some kind of hobby that I’d enjoy,” Hepworth said. “It eventually morphed into a business I’m now working on.”

            After trying out making bead art and working with thread, about eight years ago the 26-year-old Hepworth said she tried out metalworking and making chain mail — linked metal rings once used by European knights in their armor — and found it to be a lot of fun. Soon, she was learning new ring-making techniques and combining them with her love of history by using pieces from damaged antique objects to create pieces of wearable art.

            “That’s another way to get history into my design,” she said. “It took me a while to realize — I started just making what I liked, and I realized a common theme in all of them.”

            Hepworth started showing her jewelry at local art shows and midrange art shows, but saw little success until she decided to try fine art shows out, such as the Tawas waterfront one. Her first year at Tawas, Hepworth won an honorable mention in the jewelry category, and took first place in jewelry last year and this year. She was also judged best of show this year, as well.

            “It went great, so now I’ve just been looking for more,” Hepworth said. “This was my third year at Tawas, and I did the Ark in the Park Fine Art Show in Petoskey this year, which was another great one.”

            She added she is still looking around to try and find other art shows in the state that she thinks would be good fits. Hepworth said the price to get a booth at shows tend to be higher the more tourism that show brings in, and next year she intends on looking into shows that are in the $300 entry fee range.

             In 2012, Hepworth also finally was able to complete a lengthy process of starting her own small business, Handmaden Designs. She said it took her about a year of researching how to form a small business and another year and a half to get all the paperwork properly filled out.

            Hepworth said she enjoys all kinds of metalwork used in jewelry, and has tried working with a variety of metals — from types she has not enjoyed like aluminum and brass, to copper, sterling and stainless steel.

            “One of my favorites is working tantalum,” she said. “It’s a naturally gray-violet, and is the only naturally purplish metal. They use it usually in rocket engines — it’s very strong, doesn’t corrode, and it starts off really malleable, but once you bend it, you better make sure that’s where you want it because it’s hard to bend back.”

            She added tantalum is a reactive metal much like titanium, so when exposed to an electric current it will change color based on the voltage put through it. Unlike titanium, she said the colors are “way nicer.” However, the metal itself is more difficult to get ahold of since it is used primarily in medical and scientific endeavors.

            Hepworth said she has several online sources for a variety of metals that she uses in her jewelry. She buys the metals in wire form, wraps the wire around a solid base, and then cuts it with a jeweler’s saw.

            Craftiness and artistic pursuits run in the family. Hepworth said her dad carves antlers and wood, repurposes antiques and is interested in basket weaving, her mother sews and crochets, her brother does book binding and her sister does leatherwork.

            “I joke that we have all the medieval arts in the family,” she said.

            Looking forward, Hepworth said she just picked up equipment to start doing lapidary arts such as gem cutting and fastening, and wants to get an anodizer to run electrical current through metals to change their colors. Additionally, she set up her own website this year: www.handmadendesigns.com. Eventually, she wants to even set up her own storefront.

            For now, however, she is enjoying what she does, and finds time for other artistic pursuits such as painting and digital photography, and is constantly looking to expand her horizons further.

            “Mosaics and stained glass look like a lot of fun too,” Hepworth said. “There’s a long list of things I’d like to learn, but only when I’d have the time.”

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