For jewelry maker Joanne Marracci of Marracci Designs, the natural world of the Methow Valley serves as inspiration for the unique pendants, rings, and earrings she creates in her Twisp studio. Using sterling silver, gold, and gemstones, Marracci looks to the landscape, the weather patterns, and the ever-changing colors of the skies and the seasons of the valley to fabricate jewelry that “brings a little sparkle and shine to everyday life.”
“If you look closely at most natural stones,” Marracci says, “there is a tiny world happening in the depths. I mostly prefer stones that have inclusions and weird/cool color play, flash, tiny rainbows, or bits of dust and mystery-matter embedded in them.”
When creating a design, Marracci says “I begin with the stone, then create the setting or piece using metal wire and sheet in various thicknesses. I’ll draw around the stone itself and sort of wait until it speaks to me. I try to let the stone be the star of the show.”
Inspiration also comes from customers, says Marracci. “I love to work with people on custom orders because they usually have a backstory or a history that I can incorporate into their piece to make it meaningful and uniquely theirs.”
Marracci’s Metal Menagerie animal series showcases various critters’ essence or character, such as her Jack Rabbit with moveable ears and feet, or her Elephant earrings that stand forehead-to-forehead when put together, just as real elephants do with each other to show affection.
“Usually I try to challenge myself with a technique or engineering idea I haven’t done yet,” Marracci says. “It keeps things fresh for me and, I hope, interesting to my collectors.”
Making art in a remote place like the Methow Valley has its challenges, says Marracci. Sourcing sterling silver sheet and wire online is simple, but selecting stones is really best done in person. Stones like Labradorite and Opal, says Marracci “have certain properties I look for when held at certain angles. Or they need to be a certain size; I can’t get that from a vendor’s photo.” And given the distance and expense involved in attending gem shows, “it’s not financially practical.”
Also, Marracci points out, “When working with a client [on a custom piece] who I need to get a ring size from, or talk about which stone they want and what type of setting,” it’s not usually feasible to meet in person, so there is a lot of “tedious back-and-forth through Messenger and email.”
As any small business owner knows,–particularly those who create products—a significant amount of time is spent away from the workbench: sourcing materials, taking and uploading photos, shipping, accounting, paying taxes, and responding to messages. “I find it a bit disheartening to have to be typing when I’d rather be making stuff,” says Marracci.
But despite the obstacles, says Marracci, “I’d rather deal with these challenges than live anywhere else.”
Like many artisans in the Methow Valley, Marracci feels a strong sense of support from the local community. “There are so many ways to sell your art here,” says Marracci, citing Confluence Gallery, the Winthrop Gallery, the Mazama Store, and the Methow Valley Farmer’s Market. “These places allow the money made to remain in the valley by supporting those makers who live here. The artists are then free to make more art! It’s a beautiful cycle, being self-sustaining.”
Marracci acknowledges the “tremendous amount of support and sharing” among local artists. “I love hearing from first-time visitors how they are amazed that so many different kinds of artists can co-exist in such a small community,” she says. “This is not a cutthroat, super-competitive art scene. Yes, there are many artists in the valley, many jewelers, but each one brings their own flavor and aesthetic to their work. No pair of hands or eyes is alike.”
In the Methow Valley, says Marracci, patronage of for the arts in general and collaboration within the artisan community “lifts us all up.”
Marracci believes that art forges connections—within communities as vendors support the makers who live here, among individuals as customers purchase from an artisan, and between people and places like the Methow Valley, as customers select paintings or jewelry or pottery that reflects the natural beauty of this place. And, says Marracci, in the Methow Valley “We are open to be ourselves, which makes those connections much more meaningful and genuine.”
Learn more about Joanne Marracci at www.methowarts.org/artists/joanne-marracci/.