I used to get jealous when I saw artists with their studios, fully equipped with the latest tools and the most expensive matching furniture for storage, in a big and airy room dedicated exclusively to their art. Don’t get me wrong; I still feel tremendous admiration for them! But thinking back, it was exactly the lack of those perfect conditions that got me excited to step into the beautiful, creative path I am on today.
As an immigrant, I was faced with new unfamiliar cultures, new homes, new friends and multiple jobs. Having to start from ground zero several times has helped me become resourceful, grateful for what I have, and focused on where I’m heading. Many times, in the process of building my new life, I also learned who I am and what makes my heart beat with joy.
During a trip back to Argentina, my childhood best friend, Leti, introduced me to the art of jewelry making. Fascinated by the power of transforming a bunch of components into beautiful pieces of jewelry, I bought my first set of pliers, a few beads and supplies. For the next year, I used my free time to teach myself the art of beading and wire-wrapping.
“Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.”
—William Arthur Ward
In 2008, while still working my full-time job, I found a small vacant storefront. I talked to the landlord who, after seeing my passion and drive to have my own brick-and-mortar shop, believed in my dream and discounted the rent to what I could afford then. A few weeks later, I opened my first store, Terra Nostra Jewelry, and what started as “a trial” ended up being the focus of my creative energy for the next eight years. Every afternoon after my regular job, I couldn’t wait to get to my little boutique! I continued to advance my jewelry-making skills and treasured the rewarding results even as I was challenged holding my full-time job while owning a store.
My studio then consisted of a 4-by-4 area at the back of the store. I was able to fit a small bench, a chair and a little storage cabinet for my supplies. With the vision of expanding my skills, and eventually my studio space, I kept my eyes open for second-hand tools. Occasionally, I would find retiring artists selling their tools as a package deal, and I would jump at the opportunity.
I had no idea at the time that I would end up pursuing a career as a metalsmith. Many times, I didn’t even know what some of the tools were used for! I just trusted my instincts, and opportunities manifested themselves, just like sunrises.
In 2017, my husband and I relocated to our present home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here, I finally took the plunge into a full-time career as a jewelry artist, transforming what used to be the piano room of our new home into my first “real” studio, shifting my focus from beading to the alchemy of metalsmithing. The journey has picked up pace but really stayed the same course, with a dream, determination and continued learning that has brought me to the opening of my new online store, Alex a Mano (Spanish for “Alex by Hand”).
A Place of Perfect Imperfections.
Populated with repurposed furniture pieces, old tools and unique vintage finds, my studio is the physical embodiment of my journey thus far as an artist. My creative space reflects the wonderful world of design possibilities when I open my eyes to the beauty that exists all around me. My workspace reminds me that it’s not just about the destination but about the process. The joy I feel every time I step into my studio propels me forward, and I can appreciate the blessing of having a space in my home solely dedicated to imagination, creativity and inspiration.
I must admit, it took some time for me to build intimacy with each tool in my studio. Soon after moving to Charlotte, I received a regional grant that provided me with the chance to take intensive metals training at the Penland School of Craft. This catalyzed my discovery of jewelry fabrication, adding fire, metal forming and stone-setting techniques. Utilizing my newfound knowledge, I could begin experiencing my old tools in a fresh way. This dialogue materialized as countless hours spent in my studio, building muscle memory and leaving room for innovation to appear.
“We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving, and we all have the power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing.”
— Louisa May Alcott
My studio is not just about the tools. It is about the things that inspire me, that make me happy, that allow me to be myself. I surround myself with things I love: plants, inspirational quotes, a collection of small vintage oil cans, good lighting, my favorite tea (yerba mate), candles and music. My creative space has allowed me to connect with a sense of deeper purpose, a place that has seen me at my best and also at my worst, stressed out over deadlines or messing something up in the very last steps of fabrication. But it grounds me and lets me know that the path is more important than the destination.
When I enter my studio, I step into a world of history, inspiration and endless possibilities. Just like my jewelry creations, every inch of my space has experienced a transformative journey. From the paint on the walls to the smallest items of décor, everything has a function, an intentional place and a purpose.
A big mirror on the main wall makes the space look bigger and brighter over my main workbench. White shelves, teal metal cubbies and tons of little drawers help me stay organized while adding texture and rhythm to my natural-lighted space. I find it both soothing and inspiring.
I have created areas where I can perform different processes in the making of my pieces. My jeweler’s bench sits in front of the main window. That’s where I do most of my sawing, filing and fabrication. Next to it is my soldering station, equipped with a torch, a fireproof surface and a ventilation system. This is where I do my soldering and fusing.
In the middle of the room, there is a small kitchen island I found in the marketplace. One of my many weekend projects was painting it and adding some stenciled accents for a touch of personality. I named her “La Isla Bonita” (Spanish for “the beautiful island”). It stores all my metal-shaping tools and provides an extra surface for my metal-forming station.
Next to my island, there is an old wooden coffee table made out of a tree stump. Here, I do all my stamping and texturing. The wood helps absorb the hammer blows and makes it easier to work the metal. I added a leather strip around it that holds some of my most-used hammers. Next to it, there is an old magazine rack that I converted into a hammer rack, housing my collection of used chasing hammers.
One of my favorite finds is my beautiful hand-powered rolling mill. I found it neglected and rusty at a garage sale. For a tenth of its real cost, I brought it home, dismantled it, removed all of the rust, cleaned every piece and reassembled and recalibrated it. I get such satisfaction every time I turn the crank to roll a piece of metal. With it, I can make my own metal sheets or wire after fusing my silver scraps into ingots, allowing me to recycle every leftover piece of silver from previous projects. My latest addition is a beautiful farrier anvil that my husband gave me for Christmas. I absolutely love it!
Last but not least is my polishing station, an old but fabulous arbor motor that I use to buff and polish my pieces during the very last stages of fabrication.
My mind is constantly looking for ways of transforming tools that fit my needs, such as vintage railroad spikes used for forming stakes or old irons used as bench blocks for flattening metals. Given the choice, I prefer an experienced tool over a new one. When a tool has history, it gives me inspiration and courage to push myself over boundaries. I draw from those who have used it before me, whose hands have polished the handles and whose ears have rung with thousands of hammer strikes. Each tool becomes part of my journey and part of the story of every piece I create.
Creativity stems from creativity — the more we use, the more we have! The creation of art in any capacity is always a sensual experience, one that involves all five senses and requires presence and gratitude for each step forward. I receive this sensory satisfaction from knowing where everything came from and appreciating how I was able to transform each item into something new. When I step into my studio, I am stepping into a renaissance of self, the ability to birth into reality a new source of joy through every piece of jewelry I create.
“Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.”
— Rabindranath Tagore
I never had “formal” training in art, let alone training for running a business! As I look back, I realize that the real-life experiences are the best teachers, and taking (calculated) risks can bring tremendous growth and satisfaction to our lives. We don’t become artists by buying expensive tools and equipment. We become artists by holding pliers and daring to try, one day at a time. The beautiful part about it is that it doesn’t require a lot of money to get started. It takes passion, determination, practice and trust that what is for you will come to you.
From the products to the packaging to the space of work, there are evident traces of handcrafted elements everywhere. I am currently collaborating with a fellow artisan, Lynn Aultman of Aultman Woodworks, to create my own jewelry displays that reflect the aesthetics of my brand. Each piece is mindfully created, like a piece of jewelry, and they will be offered to vendors that carry my products. I was also selected as the recipient of a grant in recognition of my artistic accomplishments. These funds will allow me to take more advanced metalsmithing classes that will take me to my next destination. I am thrilled and honored by this award, and I can’t wait to see what the future unfolds!
My products can also be found in person at:
The Indigo Pearl, Waxhaw, North Carolina.
North Carolina Crafts Gallery, Carrboro, North Carolina.
Visual Index, Winston-Salem, North Carolina