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Becki Lee

Published:

I get my backbone from my father, who has always made me feel cherished and ten feet tall. My artistic side came from my beautiful mother, who showed me how to experience the world with an endearing, flippant levity that helps me breathe. I am honored to be loved by both of them. I was born in the vibrant city of Philadelphia, PA to these two hardworking Korean immigrants. My parents came to America with absolutely nothing; they learned the language, studied those hectic city streets, and opened a business. Both of my siblings are crazy smart; my younger brother will always be eight years old in my mind, and all of us growing older in different cities is truly a foreign concept to me still.

I have a tiny home studio in the foothills of Colorado, not far from those big old Rocky Mountains where I can recharge in nature when I need to. Salt Fox Designs is named after my thirteen-year-old Pomeranian, Teto. We used to live by the sea, and remembering him covered in sand and salt and dripping with unconditional love like a salt fox—I’m so thankful for that.

I am a metalsmith. I create handmade one-of-a-kind pieces, limited runs of certain designs and heirloom-quality pieces that you cannot find anywhere else. I have been an artist pretty much my entire life, but definitely struggled to find a medium that truly resonated with me. I had an eye for design and like many humans (and magpies), I always had an affinity for sparkly trinkets; so, on a whim, I decided to take a short course on metalsmithing. It was collectively about three hours of instruction, and as a visual learner, I retained only about twenty percent of the information.

At this time I used to work a seasonal job in a resort town on the water. I would work eighty hours a week bartending, then travel during the winters to magical places. One year I took a month-long hiatus to one of my favorite sleepy surf towns—Rincon, Puerto Rico. I spent the remainder of the winter trying to teach myself the fundamentals of the silversmithing I loved there. Many moons, tons of scrap silver, exasperated screams into the sky, superficial burns, and failed design attempts later— Salt Fox Designs was born.

Being an artist has instilled a delicate discipline in my day-to-day living. Some days I hit the ground running with inspiration and some days my brain gets foggy so I don’t even touch the metals. I have an obsession with hands that comes from once hearing that the eyes were the windows to the soul. Until I was fourteen or so, I never even noticed that people had different colored eyes. What I did notice was their hands. I exclusively made rings for the first couple years of my craft. I started out being a one-trick pony, really only creating adornments for fingers. Now I dabble in all facets of the ancient art of self-decoration.

I feel really blessed to live an unrestrained life, to have a flexible trade, to make a living that allows me to bend without breaking.

I work exclusively with fine and sterling silver. I chose silver because I developed an allergy to cheap metals at a young age, so growing up, precious metals were actually the only option for me. Silver is a medium that continues to test me. Maybe it’s because I am largely self-taught and lack a formal education in the trade. Like a sponge, I soak up tutorials, as well as YouTube and Facebook group chats.

I appreciate the resiliency of silver, how it melts and bends and flows. Maybe I fell in love with it because I grew up coveting my grandmother and mother’s heirloom pieces or because silver stays for generations to be scratched, worshipped and craved. Maybe I chose silver for the malleability; if I mess up, I can melt it down and start anew. To me, it’s a medium that instills forgiveness.

The market for jewelers is jam-packed with amazing metalsmiths as well as cheap machine-producing jewelry corporations, and both are flourishing. When I first started out in my trade, I felt really overwhelmed with the talent in the metalsmithing world. Over time, my artistry and style has really evolved and I’ve realized that I was looking at it completely backwards— there’s a rare kind of crazy that drives someone to forge precious metals with fire.

I really believe that there is true value in handmade things. There’s heart there.

Now, I look at my metalsmithing peers as a community that gently nudges me to keep growing and unfurling. I try to be pretty transparent in my work, and I think not trying to prove anything (to myself and others) with my art has really been kind of a beautiful process for me. If I look back at some of my previous finished work, or any of the unfinished projects, I can revisit exactly what I was feeling when I created them. No machine could ever do that.

1. To start a project, I design, solder and clean the silver, then saw out the intricate setting.

Pickle Pot Cleaning
Cleaning the piece in the pickle pot.

2. A gentle pickling acid solution is used in my pickle pot (a little crockpot) to clean my piece, which removes oxidation and flux from the precious metals. I use copper tongs to remove a finished setting from the pickle pot; copper tongs are safe to use with the acid. Over the years, my copper tongs have developed this beautiful Big Sur-esque ombre blue from the collected oxidation and use. I just love the look of lived-in tools. I’ll keep these for as long as they last me. They’ve served me so well!

Jewelry Sawing
My favorite jeweler’s saw.

3. Sawing is a tedious task but also very satisfying, as it’s a process that is akin to many experiences in life. I use tiny razor-thin blades to navigate my settings—my favorite being the 2/0 blade (with 56 tiny teeth). If I find myself applying too much pressure, the blade will break, and if I put the blade in too snug, the blade will snap. If the blade is too loose, it’ll warp and be unusable, so I have learned to go by feel. My jeweler’s saw is my favorite item in my studio. It was $13 and has sawn through countless sheets of silver and has encapsulated and broken many delicate saw blades (I’ve literally broken hundreds of saw blades). My crappy saw has taught me how to use a primitive basic tool to create deliberate slow art. It’s almost like a little steel license that allows my dreams to come to fruition—it allows me to saw out minute details in my work. With it on my bench, my capabilities are infinite.

Soldering Jewelry
Soldering

4. So much of my work is methodical. If the silver I am using has a speck of dust, a fingerprint, an off-kilter bend—the solder will not flow and the piece cannot come to life.

Becki Lee Hammering
Hammering

5. I carefully hammer the silver sheet flat so that I can securely set the fine silver bezel.

Stones from Becki Lee
Picking out stones and matching them with the silver castings.

6. Picking out stones and matching them with the silver castings is one of my favorite parts of the process. The variations of turquoise cabochons from different mines never cease to amaze me.

“The Alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.”

—Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

My workbench is always a hot mess. As a true blue Virgo, clutter and disorganization are basically natural disasters in my own eyes. Oddly enough, when my workbench is chaotic, it doesn’t bother me so much. Maybe it’s because I know that I’m making beautiful things—for you.

Not sticking to a strict schedule is paramount to my success. Many times I meander around my apartment for hours, repot- ting plants, planning a lavish meal, playing with the dogs before even thinking about creating. When I finally do sit down, I am intentional with my work. I’m not afraid to put down a piece and start working on something else if the process isn’t working for me. I have a lot of unfinished pieces in various stages on my bench at all times. I can’t create feeling forced—I don’t think that honors the piece or my work or the person who it will one day adorn.

I started with zero working knowledge of my craft and stepped outside of my comfort zone to build my business. Creating and showing off one’s art, to me, is one of the most vulnerable things someone can do. It’s like cracking open your ribs and spilling all of your thoughts and secrets. It won’t be easy, but I hope this inspires those women who are too scared to start. Starting is the hardest part of being an artist!

I get my backbone from my father, who has always made me feel cherished and ten feet tall. My artistic side came from my beautiful mother, who showed me how to experience the world with an endearing, flippant levity that helps me breathe. I am honored to be loved by both of them. I was born in the vibrant city of Philadelphia, PA to these two hardworking Korean immigrants. My parents came to America with absolutely nothing; they learned the language, studied those hectic city streets, and opened a business. Both of my siblings are crazy smart; my younger brother will always be eight years old in my mind, and all of us growing older in different cities is truly a foreign concept to me still.

I have a tiny home studio in the foothills of Colorado, not far from those big old Rocky Mountains where I can recharge in nature when I need to. Salt Fox Designs is named after my thirteen-year-old Pomeranian, Teto. We used to live by the sea, and remembering him covered in sand and salt and dripping with unconditional love like a salt fox—I’m so thankful for that.

I am a metalsmith. I create handmade one-of-a-kind pieces, limited runs of certain designs and heirloom-quality pieces that you cannot find anywhere else. I have been an artist pretty much my entire life, but definitely struggled to find a medium that truly resonated with me. I had an eye for design and like many humans (and magpies), I always had an affinity for sparkly trinkets; so, on a whim, I decided to take a short course on metalsmithing. It was collectively about three hours of instruction, and as a visual learner, I retained only about twenty percent of the information.

At this time I used to work a seasonal job in a resort town on the water. I would work eighty hours a week bartending, then travel during the winters to magical places. One year I took a month-long hiatus to one of my favorite sleepy surf towns—Rincon, Puerto Rico. I spent the remainder of the winter trying to teach myself the fundamentals of the silversmithing I loved there. Many moons, tons of scrap silver, exasperated screams into the sky, superficial burns, and failed design attempts later— Salt Fox Designs was born.

Being an artist has instilled a delicate discipline in my day-to-day living. Some days I hit the ground running with inspiration and some days my brain gets foggy so I don’t even touch the metals. I have an obsession with hands that comes from once hearing that the eyes were the windows to the soul. Until I was fourteen or so, I never even noticed that people had different colored eyes. What I did notice was their hands. I exclusively made rings for the first couple years of my craft. I started out being a one-trick pony, really only creating adornments for fingers. Now I dabble in all facets of the ancient art of self-decoration.

I feel really blessed to live an unrestrained life, to have a flexible trade, to make a living that allows me to bend without breaking.

I work exclusively with fine and sterling silver. I chose silver because I developed an allergy to cheap metals at a young age, so growing up, precious metals were actually the only option for me. Silver is a medium that continues to test me. Maybe it’s because I am largely self-taught and lack a formal education in the trade. Like a sponge, I soak up tutorials, as well as YouTube and Facebook group chats.

I appreciate the resiliency of silver, how it melts and bends and flows. Maybe I fell in love with it because I grew up coveting my grandmother and mother’s heirloom pieces or because silver stays for generations to be scratched, worshipped and craved. Maybe I chose silver for the malleability; if I mess up, I can melt it down and start anew. To me, it’s a medium that instills forgiveness.

The market for jewelers is jam-packed with amazing metalsmiths as well as cheap machine-producing jewelry corporations, and both are flourishing. When I first started out in my trade, I felt really overwhelmed with the talent in the metalsmithing world. Over time, my artistry and style has really evolved and I’ve realized that I was looking at it completely backwards— there’s a rare kind of crazy that drives someone to forge precious metals with fire.

I really believe that there is true value in handmade things. There’s heart there.

Now, I look at my metalsmithing peers as a community that gently nudges me to keep growing and unfurling. I try to be pretty transparent in my work, and I think not trying to prove anything (to myself and others) with my art has really been kind of a beautiful process for me. If I look back at some of my previous finished work, or any of the unfinished projects, I can revisit exactly what I was feeling when I created them. No machine could ever do that.

1. To start a project, I design, solder and clean the silver, then saw out the intricate setting.

Pickle Pot Cleaning
Cleaning the piece in the pickle pot.

2. A gentle pickling acid solution is used in my pickle pot (a little crockpot) to clean my piece, which removes oxidation and flux from the precious metals. I use copper tongs to remove a finished setting from the pickle pot; copper tongs are safe to use with the acid. Over the years, my copper tongs have developed this beautiful Big Sur-esque ombre blue from the collected oxidation and use. I just love the look of lived-in tools. I’ll keep these for as long as they last me. They’ve served me so well!

Jewelry Sawing
My favorite jeweler’s saw.

3. Sawing is a tedious task but also very satisfying, as it’s a process that is akin to many experiences in life. I use tiny razor-thin blades to navigate my settings—my favorite being the 2/0 blade (with 56 tiny teeth). If I find myself applying too much pressure, the blade will break, and if I put the blade in too snug, the blade will snap. If the blade is too loose, it’ll warp and be unusable, so I have learned to go by feel. My jeweler’s saw is my favorite item in my studio. It was $13 and has sawn through countless sheets of silver and has encapsulated and broken many delicate saw blades (I’ve literally broken hundreds of saw blades). My crappy saw has taught me how to use a primitive basic tool to create deliberate slow art. It’s almost like a little steel license that allows my dreams to come to fruition—it allows me to saw out minute details in my work. With it on my bench, my capabilities are infinite.

Soldering Jewelry
Soldering

4. So much of my work is methodical. If the silver I am using has a speck of dust, a fingerprint, an off-kilter bend—the solder will not flow and the piece cannot come to life.

Becki Lee Hammering
Hammering

5. I carefully hammer the silver sheet flat so that I can securely set the fine silver bezel.

Stones from Becki Lee
Picking out stones and matching them with the silver castings.

6. Picking out stones and matching them with the silver castings is one of my favorite parts of the process. The variations of turquoise cabochons from different mines never cease to amaze me.

“The Alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.”

—Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

My workbench is always a hot mess. As a true blue Virgo, clutter and disorganization are basically natural disasters in my own eyes. Oddly enough, when my workbench is chaotic, it doesn’t bother me so much. Maybe it’s because I know that I’m making beautiful things—for you.

Not sticking to a strict schedule is paramount to my success. Many times I meander around my apartment for hours, repot- ting plants, planning a lavish meal, playing with the dogs before even thinking about creating. When I finally do sit down, I am intentional with my work. I’m not afraid to put down a piece and start working on something else if the process isn’t working for me. I have a lot of unfinished pieces in various stages on my bench at all times. I can’t create feeling forced—I don’t think that honors the piece or my work or the person who it will one day adorn.

I started with zero working knowledge of my craft and stepped outside of my comfort zone to build my business. Creating and showing off one’s art, to me, is one of the most vulnerable things someone can do. It’s like cracking open your ribs and spilling all of your thoughts and secrets. It won’t be easy, but I hope this inspires those women who are too scared to start. Starting is the hardest part of being an artist!