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Maria Bray

Published:

Maria Bray

Away from the proud evergreens and birch forests of northern Michigan that my heart called home, I felt lost. The year was 2011 and my fiancé, Jake, and I found ourselves shifted south, to a small river town in Kentucky, for his intern- ship. I enrolled in a local college—one I retrieved my books for, but never went to—and began the days of waiting. Waiting for him to return to our apartment after his shifts at the paper mill, with eyes peeled to the horizon for clouds that could grow into tornadoes, waiting for the times I’d have to leave our small apartment to venture out, feeling lost and afraid. Depression quietly became the only companion I had when Jake was gone. Somewhere amongst those shadows, I clawed out; for anything really, other than fear and the flicker of the television on blank walls. I had to do something, anything to give me back to myself.

Maria Bray

Then I opened an Etsy shop, The North Way Studio, which became an oasis for my manic thoughts to grasp onto. I knitted cowls and wire-wrapped beads, constantly listing and then relisting items with new photographs over and over, watching sales trickle in from my only client, my mother. We adopted a dog, our faithful hound Maple, and suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. Occupied with my craft and new companion, the year of his internship came and went. We moved back home to those beloved pines and lakes, and I found myself back in college pursuing another degree without inter- est. After Jake graduated, we moved once more, this time to Wisconsin, and I realized my heart and mind belonged within my shop, tinkering away with hordes of jewels and gold.

Telling the stories I believe in—of the faeries in the woods, sorceresses, dragons, enchanted places that peer into another time and place—has become an obsession.

To this day, I proudly say I am an art school drop-out. School kept me away from my passion, smothering it under the professors’ ideals of what art, and creating art, should be. So, I sought out tutorials on YouTube, letting the beads and wire-wrapping transition naturally to soldering with a tiny torch at our kitchen table. I found beauty in the fire and soot needed to create jewelry. To me, it was magic, a rebirth, an alchemy of every- thing I ever sought. The more I learned, the more it sang to me.

Maria Bray

Reaching out to local shops and inquiring about openings for apprenticeships wasn’t something I was sure even happened anymore. I focused on research, soldering, and my Etsy shop, selling the skills I learned online. Out of the many stores I emailed, only one replied back—becoming an apprentice under two female goldsmiths in an old building in downtown Milwaukee changed everything. Ring after ring I polished, learning over my mentors’ shoulders as they turned sticks of gold into circlets of diamond-encrusted bands. I carved waxes from a bench between them, tacking together pieces that would eventually be melted in a kiln and cast into gold through lost-wax casting. Tiny gemstones I set in earrings, feeling the give of the gold under my pliers, learning how metal could move. I was exhausted, covered in polishing compound, my mind cloaked in gold dust, and blissfully happy.

Maria Bray

My shop on Etsy began to change, the voice of my creations finding their way through the camera and the wax carvings I whittled at my home workbench. A few years later, we moved to Washington, and I pivoted again, gathering more of what I found to be beautiful around me. I stopped giving my energy to things that took away from my art, heading deeper into the folklore I saw in my jewelry. Foraged treasures began lending their stories to the jewels, layers of them steeping into one seamless tale from day- dream to wax carvings, finishing, and polishing, to photography. Between communicating with clients, packaging, photography, social media, and actually creating these tokens of love, the once small haven of The North Way Studio became a full-time profession. A website sprouted soon after, giving me a realm that I could completely call my own.

Our minds are the conduit for that sorcery. It can be as simple as a window with gilded light streaming through and a wooden box propped up against it, a camera, and wax left untouched on a gnarled workbench.

Now, another chapter awaits. I am utterly humbled to create a line of fine jewelry alongside Freeman Jewelry for Harry Potter and the Wizarding World. This opportunity feels like a dream stolen out of my childhood. For those endless thumbed pages of novels held true magic in my younger years, portions of my life that were lived far, far away. I want to thank my mother and father for allowing me to scurry away into the pages, not asking too many questions when I was locked away in bathrooms for hours at a time, simply reading on the floor, or when I spent hours choosing my next adventure at the bookstore. I think those hours lost in words taught me more than any lecture I have ever sat through has.

Maria Bray

Throughout the years, honing my voice within not only each creation, but also my brand and photography, has been the life of The North Way Studio. I crave to spin a new world for my creations, one that isn’t embedded in any one era, or even in our realm. Every single aspect is a page of the story I’m telling, from the prongs positioned at the cardinal points of a gem for those clients that adore how each are one another’s compasses, to the lavender that spills forth from the packaging and smells of soft summer winds.

Maria Bray

An integral part of my brand is conjuring these ephemeral feelings, these illusions, through photography. I’ve found the more I nestle these illusions into the world through my photography, the more they begin to seep into our everyday lives at home. They’re becoming more real, turning back into muses. I’ve come to learn that one doesn’t need a vast studio or hordes of tools to create another world.

That, forged with love, is all that’s needed to weave the magic.

Maria Bray

Away from the proud evergreens and birch forests of northern Michigan that my heart called home, I felt lost. The year was 2011 and my fiancé, Jake, and I found ourselves shifted south, to a small river town in Kentucky, for his intern- ship. I enrolled in a local college—one I retrieved my books for, but never went to—and began the days of waiting. Waiting for him to return to our apartment after his shifts at the paper mill, with eyes peeled to the horizon for clouds that could grow into tornadoes, waiting for the times I’d have to leave our small apartment to venture out, feeling lost and afraid. Depression quietly became the only companion I had when Jake was gone. Somewhere amongst those shadows, I clawed out; for anything really, other than fear and the flicker of the television on blank walls. I had to do something, anything to give me back to myself.

Maria Bray

Then I opened an Etsy shop, The North Way Studio, which became an oasis for my manic thoughts to grasp onto. I knitted cowls and wire-wrapped beads, constantly listing and then relisting items with new photographs over and over, watching sales trickle in from my only client, my mother. We adopted a dog, our faithful hound Maple, and suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. Occupied with my craft and new companion, the year of his internship came and went. We moved back home to those beloved pines and lakes, and I found myself back in college pursuing another degree without inter- est. After Jake graduated, we moved once more, this time to Wisconsin, and I realized my heart and mind belonged within my shop, tinkering away with hordes of jewels and gold.

Telling the stories I believe in—of the faeries in the woods, sorceresses, dragons, enchanted places that peer into another time and place—has become an obsession.

To this day, I proudly say I am an art school drop-out. School kept me away from my passion, smothering it under the professors’ ideals of what art, and creating art, should be. So, I sought out tutorials on YouTube, letting the beads and wire-wrapping transition naturally to soldering with a tiny torch at our kitchen table. I found beauty in the fire and soot needed to create jewelry. To me, it was magic, a rebirth, an alchemy of every- thing I ever sought. The more I learned, the more it sang to me.

Maria Bray

Reaching out to local shops and inquiring about openings for apprenticeships wasn’t something I was sure even happened anymore. I focused on research, soldering, and my Etsy shop, selling the skills I learned online. Out of the many stores I emailed, only one replied back—becoming an apprentice under two female goldsmiths in an old building in downtown Milwaukee changed everything. Ring after ring I polished, learning over my mentors’ shoulders as they turned sticks of gold into circlets of diamond-encrusted bands. I carved waxes from a bench between them, tacking together pieces that would eventually be melted in a kiln and cast into gold through lost-wax casting. Tiny gemstones I set in earrings, feeling the give of the gold under my pliers, learning how metal could move. I was exhausted, covered in polishing compound, my mind cloaked in gold dust, and blissfully happy.

Maria Bray

My shop on Etsy began to change, the voice of my creations finding their way through the camera and the wax carvings I whittled at my home workbench. A few years later, we moved to Washington, and I pivoted again, gathering more of what I found to be beautiful around me. I stopped giving my energy to things that took away from my art, heading deeper into the folklore I saw in my jewelry. Foraged treasures began lending their stories to the jewels, layers of them steeping into one seamless tale from day- dream to wax carvings, finishing, and polishing, to photography. Between communicating with clients, packaging, photography, social media, and actually creating these tokens of love, the once small haven of The North Way Studio became a full-time profession. A website sprouted soon after, giving me a realm that I could completely call my own.

Our minds are the conduit for that sorcery. It can be as simple as a window with gilded light streaming through and a wooden box propped up against it, a camera, and wax left untouched on a gnarled workbench.

Now, another chapter awaits. I am utterly humbled to create a line of fine jewelry alongside Freeman Jewelry for Harry Potter and the Wizarding World. This opportunity feels like a dream stolen out of my childhood. For those endless thumbed pages of novels held true magic in my younger years, portions of my life that were lived far, far away. I want to thank my mother and father for allowing me to scurry away into the pages, not asking too many questions when I was locked away in bathrooms for hours at a time, simply reading on the floor, or when I spent hours choosing my next adventure at the bookstore. I think those hours lost in words taught me more than any lecture I have ever sat through has.

Maria Bray

Throughout the years, honing my voice within not only each creation, but also my brand and photography, has been the life of The North Way Studio. I crave to spin a new world for my creations, one that isn’t embedded in any one era, or even in our realm. Every single aspect is a page of the story I’m telling, from the prongs positioned at the cardinal points of a gem for those clients that adore how each are one another’s compasses, to the lavender that spills forth from the packaging and smells of soft summer winds.

Maria Bray

An integral part of my brand is conjuring these ephemeral feelings, these illusions, through photography. I’ve found the more I nestle these illusions into the world through my photography, the more they begin to seep into our everyday lives at home. They’re becoming more real, turning back into muses. I’ve come to learn that one doesn’t need a vast studio or hordes of tools to create another world.

That, forged with love, is all that’s needed to weave the magic.