If I had to write a recipe for my life story, it would go something like this:
Looking for a colorful, ever-changing, cultural-friendly dish? You’ve come to the right place!
In a mixing bowl, add some Croatian, Polish and Argentinean cultures. Sprinkle in a sense of adventure, a zest for life, restless hands, a pinch of humor and an insatiable thirst for learning. Be sure to cook at a warm sunny temperature.
My life has been a melting pot of cultures and continents, war and love, dreams and opportunities. I embrace new beginnings and find myself enthralled by the way the universe drops pleasant surprises into my life with each new day. Born in the United States and raised in Argentina, I carry a unique blend of sentiments within me — an almost dreamy attitude that everything is possible if I set my mind to it and a resilience that sings an ode to the journey my immigrant grandparents used to fuel their own dreams. It is their visions that push me to honor who I can become and what I can create in this beautiful gift of life. Their power of hope and fortitude of creativity have become my greatest inheritance.
Sharing the middle spot with my twin amongst four siblings, I was immersed in a strong community of love, passion and imagination. I was blessed to have parents who taught me the power of courage and reminded me that adversity was no match for a brave heart. I inherited the eye for design and aesthetics from my mom, who, as an architect, beautified the world around her. My dad, an inquisitive engineer, inspired my love for tools and my curiosity for how things are made.
I wish I could say I had a lightbulb go off when I was younger that told me quite clearly that I was meant to be an artist. But, as life would have it, I explored various callings before following my heart’s longing for a life devoted completely to creativity. When I immigrated to the United States two decades ago, I began my career as an educator. Eventually, I transitioned to counseling, then I became an administrative assistant. In each role, I found myself gravitating towards the world of art and design.
Enamored by the excitement of colors and textures, I found myself re-purposing furniture, sewing home accessories, or taking local arts & crafts classes on weekends. My soul was like a restless hummingbird: flittering around, always looking to transform something with my bare hands.
It wasn’t until a serendipitous trip to visit my family in Argentina that the lightbulb finally went off. My childhood best friend and I reminisced about the tiny jewelry kiosk her family owned when we were younger. There, we spent countless hours of our youth dreaming and pretending it was our little boutique filled with the most beautiful jewelry. I rediscovered the dreams that lay dormant within me. I knew I wanted to become an artist, but I needed to silence my self-doubt and take the leap of faith.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
— Paulo Coelho
While still working my full-time job, I opened Terra Nostra Jewelry, a jewelry boutique in the quaint town of Arlington, Massachusetts. I continued to advance my beading and wire wrapping techniques in order to sell my own pieces. I treasured the path of artistic explorations and rewarding results even as I was challenged with holding my job and owning a store.
In 2017, I married my wonderful husband, quit my job, closed my boutique and relocated to my present home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here, I finally took the plunge into a full-time career as an artist, shifting my focus from beading to the alchemy of metalsmithing.
Three years ago, I founded Alex a Mano (Spanish for “Alex by hand”). Much like a winding river, I discovered my passion for metalsmithing and the flow that would take me to where I am today.
“The key to success is to start before you are ready.”
— Marie Forleo
My Process: Where the Magic Happens
My process of creating starts the minute I step into my studio. Surrounded by plants, old tools and motivational phrases on my walls, it is a place of learning, development and exploration, but mostly it is a place of joy. It’s where the magic happens.
I learn better when I push my limits and leave my comfort zone. When I first started learning to manipulate metal, I created a series of challenges that I called “marathons.” I would dedicate one to two weeks to creating as many products in one category as I could (namely earrings, rings, necklaces and bracelets). They were all hand-fabricated, applying techniques I’ve learned on my own. This set of exercises set the foundation for the way I create today.
I start by gaining inspiration from elements around me. I never know what will spark my imagination. Sometimes, it starts with a little twig I pick up from my daily walks, other times by choosing a stone from my little collection.
I find it helpful when I sketch my ideas first on my sketchbook, giving me a chance to think about repetition and how to incorporate common elements into different pieces.
Once I know what I’d like to create, I gather the materials and start fabricating my pieces. If I need to create some samples beforehand, I experiment on paper or copper before moving on to more expensive materials. This way of planning has also helped me to create step-by-step processes for my production pieces, where I can follow “a recipe” to recreate the same piece of jewelry. But not all of my pieces require a recipe. My one-of-a-kind creations are born from a more playful exploration of materials and an unknown sense of the final destination.
One of my earliest collections was the Square Pods Collection. It focuses on the delicate balance and rhythm created by combining playful concave and convex shapes, and mixing copper and sterling silver to create movement and depth.
Each piece starts with a flat sheet of metal that I form into the shape I want. For instance, I form the little copper square pods in a dapping block supported over a leather sandbag.
Next, I solder the components, pierce the design with my jeweler’s saw and create ear wires that match the design of the earrings. Finally, I sand and refine each piece, apply a patina and give it a final polish before before it is introduced to the world.
Never. Stop. Learning.
A craft is a calling, a way of being, a commitment to yourself, the world and to a process of becoming and excelling. We breathe it, embrace it, and work hard every single day to honor that calling. Every once in a while, we have an off day or a week of trials and errors. But it’s all part of the learning process and part of that commitment.
My initial play-like approach to jewelry making has allowed me to create collections and a cohesive body of work that are emblematic of nature’s free spirit. I believe that every piece of jewelry has a soul: a personal journey of growth and exploration, the integration of my story with the lives and stories of the people who wear it. While my jewelry aims to elevate the look of a casual outfit, my biggest satisfaction is bringing joy and confidence to the lives of others through each piece that leaves my hands. I will never tire of the challenge that each creation poses. Every challenge is a new opportunity for my artistic journey and personal development. I am always ready with my eyes wide open and an alert and playful heart.
“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”
— Zig Ziglar
The mantra that fuels my daily practice is “never stop learning” — especially in my field of jewelry making, where there are hundreds of ways to do one thing with the same results, and there is no right or wrong way. I find immense value in learning from many teachers and artists. If you are a beginner, soak up the knowledge around you and give it a try. Ask for help when you are stuck; read books or research your questions online — someone in the world has been there before!
I am so grateful for the gift of hope I inherited; without it, I would not be here today. If you find yourself gravitating toward a dream that seems out of reach, allow the wings of hope to carry you to your wildest imaginings of abundance. You will find that it has always been yours to own.
A customer once told me: “What is for you will come to you.” I don’t know where the saying originally came from, but it stuck with me and my personal journey. It cannot be any more revealing and true as I look back and wonder how I got here … and it keeps coming back to me every day I face adversity, fear or doubt.
On my studio wall, there are 20 little squares displayed on a magnetic board. They are part of an online metalsmith challenge I participated in this past February. It consisted of creating sample squares, each following a theme as inspiration. I learned a lot, not only about pushing my own limits but also about problem-solving and new techniques. But mainly, I discovered that when you allow yourself some time to “play,” you give your creativity wings. (To my surprise, I also won the contest!)