Episode 200 Part 1: Why Heidi Lowe Doesn’t Follow the Gallery Owner Rulebook

Episode 200

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • How Heidi helps jewelry artists take the next step in their career and create the life they want
  • Why Heidi’s business includes multiple components, including making, teaching and running a gallery
  • How the Earrings Galore pop-up sale got started
  • Why Heidi takes risks and breaks the traditional gallery rules when selecting artists
  • How a bit of financial intelligence can help artists and gallery owners have long-lasting careers

About Heidi Lowe

Heidi Lowe owns and operates her own gallery, Heidi Lowe Gallery, where she teaches, makes jewelry and shows her work and other artists. She received her BFA in Metals and Jewelry from Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. A year later she went to graduate school at the State University of New York, New Paltz where she earned her MFA. Her next steps lead her to NYC where her gallery experience began as an assistant to the director at a prominent contemporary art gallery in Chelsea. 

After her time in New York, Lowe moved back to Delaware 2006 and opened Heidi Lowe Gallery which exhibits contemporary art jewelry. The gallery also functions as a teaching and studio space. The jewelry that she creates draws on intuition, nature and the history of metalsmithing. Her work is shown within her gallery as well as in numerous exhibitions at other galleries in the United States. Lowe also taught jewelry design as an adjunct professor at Towson University for eight years and currently teaches workshops at colleges and craft centers around the country. She is also a certified business and life coach for creative entrepreneurs and students throughout the US and Canada.

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Heidi Lowe may be the owner of a jewelry gallery, but that doesn’t mean she’s your average gallerist. Known for her traveling pop-up sale Earrings Galore, Heidi is passionate about introducing collectors to art jewelry and pushing artists to the next level—and she’s willing to take risks to do it. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the inspiration behind Earrings Galore; how she balances managing Heidi Lowe Gallery with making her own jewelry; and what she looks for when choosing new artists. Read the episode transcript here. 

Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is the first part of a two-part episode. Please make sure you subscribe so you can hear part two as soon as it’s released later this week. 

My guest today is Heidi Lowe, founder of Heidi Lowe Gallery. If you ever thought you needed a guide to show you the ropes, either for making a piece of jewelry or helping with your own jewelry business, you’ve come to the right place with Heidi Lowe and her gallery. She teaches classes in jewelry making, but she’s also known for her earring pop-ups and her wedding bands, which she has gained a lot of notoriety for. People know her for her wedding bands and the jewelry by other designers that her gallery carries. She consults with designers on their jewelry businesses. She has learned through the school of hard knocks what works and what doesn’t. 

She recently moved her gallery from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to Lewes, Delaware. Her gallery captures summer tourists and couples looking for that special wedding band. She’s going to tell us about that today, including when it’s the right time to open a new gallery and all the changes that entails. Heidi, welcome to the podcast.

Heidi: Thank you so much for having me.

Sharon: How did you decide to have a combination of selling your work and consulting? What made you decide to do that?

Heidi: I had always had interns and people I mentored. I realized I could get better at that, so I did iPEC coaching, which is the Institute for Professional Coaching Excellence. From there, I was able to gain knowledge about how to mentor people more efficiently and correctly, which led to me offering it as a service. I also have a class called Abundance for Creatives, which helps artists change their mindset from starving artist to abundance. They can see how much information they have and how equipped they are to run a business because they’re problem solvers. They think outside the box and have a great skillset to do something like this, but they’ve been always told they can’t engage that part of their brain. 

Sharon: That’s interesting. I like the word “abundance.” Is that something you learned in your coaching class?

Heidi: Abundance is what we all strive for. We want abundant lives, whether that’s abundance in love or abundance in creativity or abundance in financial gain. We want to have the life we want, and everybody’s looks different. Being able to help people identify what that is and then move through that, that is what I love about coaching and the Abundance for Creatives class. 

Sharon: Do you find that you get the same the same feeling of abundance if you’re helping somebody make jewelry?

Heidi: Yes. Also helping somebody understand their business or understand their skillset in business. I love to see an artist succeed, and like I said, success looks different for everyone. I want them to succeed in the way they want to succeed, whether that’s making one piece a year that goes in a museum, whether that’s making hundreds of pieces and traveling across the country, or whether that’s being in galleries all around the world. Whatever that is for them, I want that to be where they’re heading.

Sharon: Is that something you ask them at the outset?

Heidi: Yeah, we talk about that in the beginning, “What would you like your lifestyle to be, and what is your ideal for your life?” We really home in on that so it’s not society’s idea of a good life; it’s your idea of a good life.

Sharon: From everybody I’ve talked to, I presume they don’t normally teach this in jewelry making school. How did you learn the business aspect of jewelry making and having a gallery?

Heidi: My dad was a business owner, so a few things I gathered from him. Tim McCreight of Maine College of Art was very good at giving us the basics, like keep your receipts, have a different bank account, make sure you’re paying attention. I really heard that and listened to that. Then a lot was from owning a gallery and going, “O.K., what is a business? How does this work? I need to make more than I spend.” The first year I didn’t do that because I gave away too many things at a discounted price. I learned that year. 

When I did iPEC, it was for myself. I didn’t think I was going to be coaching after that. I was doing it as help for my own business. It was a way of understanding what I wanted, how to run a business, and how to come from your core values and let them shine in your business, which is why people like you. You don’t need everyone to like you; you just need your people to like you. 

Sharon: Do you think you have learned through the school of hard knocks in jewelry making? 

Heidi: Yes. Of course, I’ve made lots of mistakes and I’ve learned from them, but I never consider them mistakes. I always consider it as, “Oh, that didn’t work. O.K., let’s move on.” I don’t home in like, “Oh, I’ve got to wallow in this thing that didn’t work.” I’m like, “Done and done. Got to get through it. Over to the next thing.” I’ve learned things that work and things that don’t and things I needed to add. 

A big thing was I have a lot of parts of my business, and that’s not by accident. In order to make this whole world go, I had to have multiple parts. That’s what I teach, and that is a form of advertising. My teaching lets people understand why jewelry costs money and what they can get from jewelry. Within 15 minutes of every class, they go, “I’ll spend more on my jewelry now,” and I’m like, “Oh, great. I’ve won.” They’re paying for the cost and understanding jewelry better. It’s great for all the parts. They either decide, “I want to take more classes,” or they decide, “I never want to do this again, but I’ll buy more jewelry.”

Sharon: I’m in the part that says, “I’ll buy more jewelry,” as opposed to having to make it, which is great if you know how to do it. Why did you think it was necessary to have a new studio? What was wrong with the old one?

Heidi: Nothing was wrong with my old one. I just outgrew it. My old studio was a cottage from the 1950s that was 500 square feet. I would pretend it was much bigger, but it was 500 square feet, and that included the studio, the office, the bathroom and the gallery. I have no idea how we did the things we did there. 

I had investigated rebuilding that place. We were taking steps to rebuild it, but as I was going to get permitting, I had a feeling it wasn’t the right thing to do. I listened to those feelings, and then three months later, Covid hit. I had moved my space to a dead-end street in the middle of the highway, which I was planning on staying in for one year. All of a sudden, I was in the best spot ever for going through Covid. I didn’t have to deal with the general public; they had to come to me at specific times. We could really limit things. It was great because that space was more studio than gallery. It was perfect for the time period. 

I was there for three years. About two months before I left, I had that feeling like, “I’m done here. I’m ready for the next step. I don’t know where that is.” Then this space became available in Lewes, which is walking distance to my house. It’s almost like a dream. During the iPEC coaching, we envision a lot of things, like if we could have everything we want, what would that look like? I closed my eyes and did the exercise, and I was like, “Where will you be in a year?” I envisioned this brick building. It was near the water; I could walk to it and it was old. I was like, “This doesn’t even exist in my town.” We have industrial buildings. We don’t have those sorts of things. So, I was like, “Well, that’s terrible because I’m going to have to move,” but I was like, “Whatever, the universe is doing its thing. I’ll just let it do its thing.” The building I’m in is brick. It has things like archways. It’s from 1868. It looks over the water. It’s in walking distance. It couldn’t be better. I have a studio downstairs and a gallery space upstairs. I’m one block from the main street. I’m like, “Oh my, gosh, I found it!”

It was in the works seven or eight years ago. I hadn’t found it yet. Once I found it, I called the people. I have a lot of connections, so I’m very lucky. I knew it was becoming available, so I asked if I could have it and they said yes. Then I just waited to see what the universe was going to do, and they were like, “Yeah, it’s yours. Do you want it?” and I said, “O.K., it can happen. It was ready for me, and I was ready for it. 

Sharon: Wow, it sounds fabulous! The industrial look and being able to walk to work and overlooking the water. Who could say that?

Heidi: I feel like, “Pinch me. I can’t even believe it.” It’s such a great space for other people’s work in the gallery, and it’s a great space for my work. Then there’s the fact that downstairs there’s a little more space so we can do two things at one time, which was the problem at the last space. It facilitates all my needs. It was great.

Sharon: Having moved twice now, what would be the biggest piece of advice if a jewelry designer was saying, “I’m thinking about moving the gallery,” or “I’ve been working from my house and I’m going to open a gallery”? What would you say?

Heidi: Mine is very energy-based. I just let my radar find it and listened to my gut. I would say listen to your gut. Where is your space? Put out there exactly what you want and then let it find you. It will find you. Allow yourself to expand your thinking and allow things to be better than you expected, and make smart choices. 

I’ve always lived within my means. I don’t go too far outside out of what I can handle financially. I made a big splurge on the display cases this time, but it was still a splurge within my means. Even though it felt like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m getting these custom-made cabinets,” I said, “This is really special. They’ve got these drawers and my cabinetmaker made them beautifully.” I also was still working within my means, and that is huge. You don’t want to put yourself in the stress that you’re so extended that you can’t focus on the good parts of your business, like meeting people and all of that. I think that shows. I think people feel that.

Sharon: They feel the stress.

Heidi: They feel the stress. In our space, we cultivate positive, really good, engaged energy because that’s not a huge stress. Even though this is a much bigger space and it’s a much bigger risk, it’s still within the means of what I think I can realistically do, yet it’s extending me in a different way.

Sharon: Was it a big challenge? Was it stressful to have new promotion done or to expand your promotion to let people know you moved?

Heidi: I live in a small town, so they all knew before I knew. They all knew. We put it out there. Social media is great for that, and people were very excited. I don’t know how I’m so lucky. People come in and they’re so happy for me. I feel very lucky. People come here from all the cities around us like New York and Baltimore and Philly and D.C. During the pandemic, they were calling and saying, “Can we pay your rent? We want to make sure you’re there. It’s important to us.” It’s a miracle.

Sharon: Wow! How do they hear about you if they come from New York or big cities? I imagine they have a lot of choice already.

Heidi: Yeah, they have lots of choice, but it’s hard to find that jewelry. If they’re interested in the arts, our name comes up quickly. If they’re coming to my shop, I’m telling them about other galleries, like Peninsula Gallery. It’s not hard to find your people in this town, and when you do, they’ll send you to other people right down the street. We’re not working with such a large area, so we can really home in on the people.

Sharon: That’s great, but it seems like somebody who comes from a big city already has so much choice by the time they get to you. I first knew you by your earring pop-ups. Tell us about the backstory to that. I kept smiling when I was reading it.

Heidi: Earrings Galore. It’s funny you say they have lots of options, but a lot of my pop-up clients came to that show. A lot of New York City comes to Rehoboth because of that show. The real impetus was I couldn’t decide what jewelry to bring with me to the SNAG conference because I didn’t have enough time to make those decisions before I left.

Sharon: The SNAG conference being?

Heidi: It’s the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference, which I go to nearly every year. You have to bring the jewelry. You can’t show up there without jewelry. So, I brought a box with all my earrings because I was like, “Well, as long as I’ve got good earrings, I’ll be fine.” I put that in my jewelry case with my clothes and zipped off to wherever I was going that year. When I got there, my friends came into the room and all of a sudden—and I know all the jewelers I carry, or most of them, and I know the earrings; I knew how much they were. It’s just one of the weird things I can keep in my brain. 

So, I was at the SNAG conference and I was like, “Oh yeah, those are this artist and they’re $340. Those are made by Harriete Estel Berman and they’re this much money, and those are this much money.” It was my jewelry, but I, being a business owner and O.K. with letting go of things, sold like 20 pieces of my jewelry out of my collection that I had bought from the gallery. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this. I guess this is an untapped marketplace, and I’m going to do something about this.” We want to buy other artists’ work, and it really wasn’t something the SNAG conference was doing. It wasn’t part of their mission, and it wasn’t what they were doing. So, I was like, “Well, next year I’m going to have a pop-up. This is so exciting.” 

The following year, I transformed the hotel room in Seattle, I believe it was, into a gallery space. I put these heads on the wall, and it was all covert because you can’t be doing this in a hotel, but I had it looking really great. I moved the bed and put things up, and it was thoughtful and respectful. I put little pins in there and had one earring on the head, and it was gangbusters. People were so excited. People were sharing a pair of earrings. People were buying a pair for their friends. They were buying high end, low end, all the in between. They were so excited to support one another. It was great. It was such a fun experience.

The following year, I didn’t do it, but then the following year, I did do it. I didn’t want it to be too much. I wanted to let it do its organic thing. This show happens at my gallery. It happens at whatever conference I’m going to that year that’s jewelry oriented. Now it usually travels to another gallery during the year. It’s become a really fun thing that people look forward to. It’s almost like a starter show for jewelry enthusiasts and a way to collect one another’s work for jewelry makers.

Sharon: Starter show is a good way to describe it because it is. You can go and pick a few things and know you haven’t spent a fortune.

Heidi: Yeah, and you can start your collection there. Many people in the different arenas I work with, whether it’s a local person here or somebody who knows about art jewelry or a docent from the Smithsonian who’s on vacation, they are like, “Oh, this is so exciting.” They might buy this pair this year, but then next year, they buy this pair, and then the next year they buy this more adventurous pair. It allows people to get into collecting art jewelry. 

That is how I see myself as a gallery owner. I want to be the bridge between spaces. I want to be the bridge between traditional jewelry and a more meaningful piece that then leads to a more artistic piece. I want to be the person who’s showing the exhibition and gets them thinking about it, but also helps them find something they feel comfortable wearing that brings them where they’re going. It’s understanding that art jewelry is a whole thing, and it’s working with the medium of jewelry as a form of expression. 

I could do different things, but I love being the bridge between not knowing what art jewelry is and then having an art jewelry collection. Then I talk to them about, “Oh, you could give it to the Smithsonian. You have a collection. You have five pieces. You’re working on a collection. This is what I think about your pieces, and this is where these could go.” Then they start bringing in their grandchildren, and then their grandchildren understand making and maybe they make a piece. It becomes a building upon a building, and it really is special.

Sharon: Did it expand into necklaces or anything else? It seems like a wonderful way to do it, a wonderful bridge like you’re talking about.

Heidi: Yes. The earring show is its own thing and it’s something people look forward to, but of course we carry 25 artists or more all year round, and they have their collections. They’ll have two beautiful pairs of earrings, and then they’ll have two stellar necklaces and a few pendants and some rings. We want to highlight their work, so whatever it is they’re working on that fully shows the breadth of what they do is what we want to show. The earring show is just a way to get them to buy into what we’re doing.

Sharon: How do you find the makers for the earrings and the other art jewelry aside from that? There are so many at your pop-ups. How do you find the makers?

Heidi: We have a call for entries that goes out. It used to be in January, but now it’s in the August or September time period. We are planning for New York City Jewelry Week. We do a call for entries worldwide. We usually have about 200 applicants, and we pick between 40 and 60, depending on what our space can do that year. It is so hard to decide because they’re so good. 

That is a way I get to know artists. Then they may end up in the gallery from that show because we get to know are we good at working together, do we collaborate well, is the work working with my audience? Sometimes I don’t care if it’s working; I just want to bring the work so people can expand. Sometimes if it’s going to be a longer-term thing, you want it to be beneficial on both sides.

Sharon: How many pieces do you usually get? You have 200 applicants, and you pick 40 to 60. Do they bring multiples of each?

Heidi: No, it’s six pairs to begin with. Some artists, we’ve sold six pairs before they even hit the wall and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh!” which is awesome. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s amazing. We’ll do an unwrapping on Instagram, and people will get excited and they’re like, “Oh, I want those, and I want those.” I’m like, “I don’t even have them in the inventory yet. Hold on.” But it’s an excitement. They don’t necessarily have production. It’s all one of a kind, but they can send six more or they can send four more. If halfway through we’ve sold half of them, we’ll send them an email and say, “Hey, can you provide us with a few more? They’ve been selling.” 

Sharon: Do you find that they come from a particular area in the world? I presume that most of them come from the States, but do they come from France or Germany?

Heidi: Yeah, all over. We sometimes will get Metalwerx from Massachusetts. I think one year they made an effort to push their students and their employees and people they know, so we got like 25 applicants from Metalwerx in Massachusetts, which is so cool. Usually, it’s somebody who has seen it a few times and they want to be part of it. It’s a great show to highlight emerging artists and a great way to get your first yes. I love to be the first yes. 

Sharon: It’s a good point, the first yes. 

Heidi: It’s an honor to be someone’s first yes on both sides. I have tons of artists who have been with me for a long time, but I was their first yes. A lot of galleries will say, “We only work with artists who have been in the field for five years.” Well, you’ve got to start somewhere. You’re going to end up as a banker otherwise, and most of us don’t want to end up as a banker. I really take that seriously. I will take a risk, which is not that much of a risk for either of us. We’re just trying to show work that’s cool and innovative and fun and thoughtful. It’s a way to get to know new artists and a way to push people, to get them to know that their work is worth making. Sometimes people struggle with that if there aren’t some yeses, because you need those.

Sharon: Do people come to you during the year and say, “How do I become part of this?”

Heidi: Yeah.

Sharon: Are there some that you consider art jewelry and some that you don’t out of the earrings or jewelry that is submitted?

Heidi: Well, they’re all made by artists. We want them all to be one of a kind, made by artists, and we want there to be a variety. There are some that appeal to someone who’s a little more conservative in their dress, and there are some that are really out there in the way they’re speaking about a current event, or they are asking a lot of the wearer. So, we like to have a wide grouping, and we really do think about the grouping. One year I felt like we had all oxidized black jewelry, and I was like, “How did we end up with this?” You want there to be a lovely variety for people to choose from and see. 

We realized we overdid that variety one year when we decided to change our display a little bit. We used to put jewelry everywhere. Every head was a different pair, and then we made every row a different person. So, there are five pairs on display in each row. It gives people a little space in their heads to say, “Oh, this is this person’s work. I understand it better because I’ve seen five pieces,” and “Oh, this is what I have to choose from.” Sometimes things take a long time. I think it took us seven years to get to that, but that’s what it takes.

Sharon: We will have photos posted on the website. Please head to The JewelryJourney.com to check them out.

Sharon Berman