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.
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 second part of a two-part episode. If you haven’t heard part one, please head to TheJewelryJourney.com.
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. Welcome back.
You’re known for your rings and your wedding bands. Can you read a couple when they come in? Can you tell what they’re looking for?
Heidi: We do it a few different ways. We have a wedding ring class where they can come and make their own wedding rings. That’s just bands. It’s called Lovely Rings by Hand. These are couples from all over. It’s usually the East Coast, but sometimes they come from farther. It’s just me and the couple, and they come into the studio and physically make their rings out of white gold, yellow gold, rose gold. Then they leave with their rings. That is such a special day. It’s lovely. It’s so much fun, and they’re ecstatic when they leave.
We also do a lot of commissions. I’ll meet with somebody, and it’s like a poem. I think of it as poetry. I ask for three words about the meaning of the ring or the person they’re making it for or the next chapter, whatever it is they’re symbolizing. I ask for three words about that, and then I ask for three words about their style, the person who’s either getting it or wearing it themselves. Are you more organic? Are you more straight-lined? Are you delicate? Do you like bold, whatever that is? Then I ask for three words about what they know about the piece, whether this is, “I want a ring, and I want it to have the three sapphires from my mom’s favorite piece of jewelry,” or “I want it to be a piece that symbolizes the journey I went through getting cancer, and we’re making it out of the scientific part of that.” Whatever it is, I’m trying to get to know them in an efficient manner that brings us closer together. I feel like that little poem brings me there right away. Usually, the first drawing is what we go with.
Sharon: Do they bring you a stone, or several stones, if they want a stone?
Heidi: It totally depends. If they have a stone and they know they want to use that, they can bring that. It could be a chip stone they saw their mom wear their whole life and they want to use it. It could be a fancy diamond their grandmother had, or it could be something they purchased. Or they come to us and say, “I know I want a blue stone, but I don’t know exactly what I want. I want you to find it.” Then I go on a little hunt, which can take a week; it could take a month. It just depends, because we want to find the right thing. I have my resources and I go to them, and sometimes they go to their resources.
It’s all about meeting the customer where they are and bringing meaning to the piece they’re looking for, so every time they see this piece, they think, “Oh, my mom,” or “Oh, I have this new chapter of my life.” A lot of times they have raw material from some event or something that happened, and we get to transform that into something they’re looking for.
Sharon: When did you know you wanted to have a gallery? How did you decide you wanted to be a jeweler?
Heidi: I knew I wanted to have a gallery when I was at SUNY New Paltz studying with Myra and Jamie Bennett. I noticed there were very few galleries and very few places to interact with art jewelry, and I have always been a businessperson. When I was 13, I had my own jewelry business. I made earrings. My mom had a kid’s store. When we were there, I would go the bead store and make beads and then I’d grab her. She had screens which I stole from her house, and then I put ribbon around them and made them earrings. Then I would put the name, Cosmic Creations, and a little bio, and then I would sell them to stores in town. I thought, “This is winning in life. I am rich. I just sold 10 pairs of earrings.” That was the start of it.
Then in high school, I made my first ring because my art teacher in school, Mr. Gardowski, let me make jewelry. He had all the tools. In my senior year, after begging him for many years, he sent me in the back with a big piece of silverware and was like, “Go hammer that.” I was making a ring, like the same ring class I teach now, and he thought he could wear me out. He was like, “You go hammer,” and I was like, “I am not going to get sick of this.” I hammered for four days straight, and I made my first ring. I never left the art studio for the rest of the year. I probably made 50 rings that year.
Then, when I was going to Maine College of Art and I studied with Tim McCreight and Alan Perry, I knew where I was going. I didn’t have any questions. I love printmaking, and I mix that with my jewelry sometimes. They were across from each other in the hall, and I was going to be in those two spaces if you wanted to find me. I feel so lucky to have found what I love to do so early, and to have it be so expansive that you can always learn more things to do with it. You are never bored in jewelry because there are so many things, so many techniques, so many ideas. It’s just one of things that has kept me interested for many years now.
Sharon: Did you mix this with one or two business classes? Did you just know how to do that?
Heidi: I think I just had a desire to do it. With my other business when I was 13, I’d walk down the street and ask all the business owners if they wanted lunch. I would go get them lunch, and then I’d come back and they’d give me a dollar or 50 cents or whatever. I was like, “I didn’t expect that, but that was amazing.” It’s a problem, kind of, because you have to be careful. All of a sudden, you have four businesses. I just have four that exist under the same roof.
Sharon: Maine College of Art. I’ve seen ads in magazines, but is it known for its jewelry making?
Heidi: Oh, yeah. Tim McCreight pretty much wrote the textbook for jewelry making class. When you go, you don’t know what you have until you realize what you have. I went to the first Seattle SNAG conference with Tim McCreight. I got there, and everybody was shaking his hand. I was like, “Why are people so interested? Doesn’t everybody write their textbook?” You don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t realize he wrote the textbook for the entire country, so I went there and was like, “Oh, I guess he’s a big deal.” He was a big deal to me, but I didn’t know he was a big deal to everybody.
Sharon Portelance is there. She is an amazing teacher. They have great continuing ed, and they have great BFA and MFA programs. It’s in such a beautiful part of the country. The building overlooks the harbor. It was a dream, and it was a perfect step for me to go from a small town to a small city. I applied to Boston, but that might not have been the best fit for me. Maine College of Art was a great step in the right direction. It felt good.
Sharon: I can’t see you in Boston. That would be limiting. How do you decide what’s going to be in your gallery when they’re not your pieces? How do you decide? What do you look for?
Heidi: It’s funny; before I moved the first time, when I was in Rehoboth, I was doing a lot more solo shows, one-person shows. We’re getting ready to start our exhibition series, which I’m planning on opening for next June. I’m giving myself a little space. I’m going to have a show in September so I can welcome our local community. Then I’m going to have Earrings Galore in November, which will go to New York City Jewelry Week and then come to us. For the following spring, I’m going to start our exhibitions again.
I’m really interested in group shows right now. I’m interested in this conversation between work and how we can help people understand art jewelry through a bigger grouping. I feel like that’s exciting. We’ll probably have a solo show every year, but we’re going to have a few group shows that are talking about a theme or a formal expression. Whatever it is, we’re going to cultivate some group shows that are going to be more of a conversation and are going to get the people coming in to have a conversation. I’m excited about that, I’m excited about the display, and I’m excited about the new artists. We’re starting that conversation now.
Sharon: It’s a lot on your plate at one time.
Heidi: Yes, I gave myself a year. I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to wait until next year to start that.” I didn’t cry and go crazy.
Sharon: You must have pictures come in over the transom a lot and have people saying, “Can I be in your gallery?” What do you look for? Have you ever chosen any of those, or do you only stick with people that you know, that you’ve taught, that you’ve seen their work?
Heidi: We are definitely always looking for new work. We want people. I would love the gallery to be more of a conversation and more of a forum for the artist. When people have ideas, I want them to bring me their ideas and say, “Hey, can I do this thing?” We’re having Lyndsay Rice, who is an amazing curator. She is going to curate a show for next year. She’ll bring her ideas and her expertise and her artist database in her head into the gallery. We like artists to bring in a group that makes sense to them because that’s what they’re interested in. It doesn’t happen as much as I would like it to. I think people feel like there’s this space between the gallery and the artist, but I am really into punching through that space and allowing the artist to have a little more say and be excited about something.
I would welcome people to come with ideas and their own work. We want it to be beneficial for everyone. Sometimes that’s beneficial in that you get to show your work and it does its thing. Sometimes it’s a successful show that sells a lot of work, but I don’t make that the main focus of why we’re showing work. That’s not my main focus. If it’s great work and it needs to be shown, then it needs to be shown. If it’s sold, we’re excited, but if it’s shown and it got that artist to the next place, then that’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Sharon: When you say it has to be shown, is it because you’ve seen something in the work or in the pictures that’s different? What would that be?
Heidi: Yeah, it has energy that’s something new. It has energy that’s talking about something. They’ve got a way with what they’re making. They are filled with something we haven’t seen. If that’s the case, then I want that work to be out there, and it deserves to be out there. So, yes, send me images. If you want to write a proposal for a show, and you’ve got five people you think should be in that show—sometimes we’ll use a curator if it’s actual curation. It’s one of those things where we’re open to a lot of things. We are in Delaware, so people have to come here to see the work, or they’ll see it online. Sometimes things travel, but not everything travels.
Sharon: How did you make it through Covid? You said you had one gallery that you moved out of, but how did you make it through Covid with everything going on?
Heidi: Covid was an amazing experience for us. We were on a dead-end street. It was very much studio based. I had one employee at the time. She and I just decided we were going to be in this together, so we were going to work every day. I think we went from 10 to four, four or five days a week. We enjoyed our lives, but it was a very focused time where I got to do fewer things and really focus on a few things. We made a lot of work and sold a piece a day over Instagram. Almost every day during the lockdown, we sold one piece.
We had people calling us from all over the country like, “We want you to be there when we get back. We want to pay your rent.” I was like, “Are you kidding me? This is the kindest thing I’ve ever heard.” It was one of those very heartwarming moments in my world. I realized how important every single relationship I had over 15 years had been. All of those times where I had probably spent too much time talking to that customer paid off tenfold. That was probably the opposite of what a lot of people were feeling, but I felt very invigorated and was really happy with that movement and that process of, “Well, this is what I’m going to get out of this. I’m going to move through this in a way that feels right for me.”
Again, it’s back to that little bit of financial conservativeness. I hadn’t overextended myself, so I was not really stressed. I was not intensely financially upset about the three months I knew I wouldn’t be able to open. Delaware did a good job being moderate about how they did things. When we could open, we were open, and we just followed some guidelines. In three months, things were back to almost normal for us. We were teaching classes.
Sharon: That’s a pretty short time. That’s good. Did you know when you graduated that you wanted to have a gallery and make all that stuff, or was that something you came to?
Heidi: I knew when I was at SUNY New Paltz that I wanted to have a gallery. I was in grad school, and I wanted to expand the public’s interaction with art jewelry, which I feel is really important and probably one of the most contemporary forms of art out there today. I feel like art jewelers are so special and smart and thoughtful and detail oriented. They deserve to be highlighted, and I felt like there weren’t enough places for them to do that. It was one of those things that was very important to me, to make one more space for that interaction.
Sharon: When you say art jewelry, do you mean gold and platinum or wood and whatever?
Heidi: All those things. I consider it art jewelry when anybody is bringing an idea to a piece of work and using the medium of jewelry to express it. I don’t care if you’re using gold and doing it in a thoughtful way or if you’re using paper or silver or wood. Whatever that is, my main concern is that you’re investigating something. Whether that be formal aspects of a circle—O.K., that’s an interesting investigation—or the ring through history or how plastic bonds or how to mix patterns. I don’t know. All of these things are interesting, but I want to know what your investigation is. As long as there’s an investigation and the end result is something innovative and cool, I’m down.
Sharon: When people submit their work, do they have this philosophy behind them?
Heidi: For sure. They are definitely investigating an idea. 99% of the artists are so deep in an investigation, and most people don’t even know it. That’s how they get to where the piece is, but most people don’t know how. Jewelers by nature are investigating. They’re also anal retentive and detail oriented. They are going deep, the ones I’m friends with and the ones in my gallery. They’re going deep into something. I am always in awe of how smart and thoughtful and amazing these jewelers are. They have gone beyond what people think.
Sharon: Wow! As you’re talking, I’m thinking about all the reasons I’m not a jeweler, especially when you said detail oriented. Do you care what age they are, if they’re 60?
Heidi: No. We have second-career artists. We have artists who started when they were really young. We have artists who are just out of school. We show a wide variety as long as it’s engaging and there’s thought behind it. Those are my two criteria. I don’t even know who would enter into this world without those two things.
Sharon: What do you consider art jewelry? You’re saying art jewelry is made by artists. If a piece is made by an artist, but it’s not what I would consider art jewelry; it’s just a one-off, let’s say, is that art jewelry? Do you have a definition for art jewelry?
Heidi: I think there are varying degrees of art jewelry. There are artists making work, and some of them are investigating an idea or a medium. Then some are taking it to that next level, which is showing in museums and going to that next level of research and development and thought. There’s a continuum, but they may come from there and end up here in their lifespan. When I think of Amy Tavern, she makes the most amazing production jewelry, but she also makes the most amazing art jewelry, and then she makes work that wouldn’t be considered jewelry. There’s this continuum.
I also choose the work out of what they’re making. I don’t want the things that are super-production-y and not as thoughtful and not as one of a kind. I would prefer to have more work that is—maybe it’s in their production line, but it’s one of a kind. I feel like there’s a continuum and it’s broad. I really want to usher people into art jewelry, so I might need to start them there to get them here, to get them through the bridge.
Sharon: Do you have this written somewhere? Do the people who submit know what they’re doing, that they shouldn’t present a ladder, that they should present the earring or the necklace?
Heidi: I think people know what we do. In this new space, I have Sarah Holden, who shows her art jewelry in the gallery, but now we have a space for the first time ever. That’s this wall. This week—it just got to the gallery—she’s going to put this collar she made that goes on the wall. It’s actually totally a combo of art and jewelry. It’s this life-size Elizabethan collar made of steel and pearls, and that’s going to go on the wall. I was like, “Oh my gosh! Look at this piece!” but we never had space for that before. This is a new endeavor, and we’ll see how that goes.
I’m limiting it in a way, but I’m not limiting it in another way. I think people understand when they send their work to us. Maybe they’re trying something one year and that may not get in. They usually know, and then they go further and get it because they’ve expanded what they’re doing into a more interesting realm. They were starting here, but I’m open to things that other galleries wouldn’t be open to because I’m trying to usher people in.
Sharon: Can you give me an example of what you might be interested in that another gallery would pass on?
Heidi: I don’t know exactly what that would be except for Earrings Galore. Earrings are kind of the evil stepchild of art jewelry. I just embrace earrings. I was like, “Here we go. Let’s do this because this is something people can change every day.” People love earrings. They can be big. They can be small. They can be asymmetrical. They may pass on earrings, and I said, “Let’s highlight the earrings.” That’s a prime example of where we’re not going to follow the rules of a gallery. We’re going to expand our idea of what a gallery can be.
Also, those things are all different now than they used to be. There used to be hard rules about these things. Now we can play with what we’re doing and figure out new ways of doing it and new ways of drawing in new collectors who may be interested in this whole new realm that they don’t even know exists, because none of us knew this existed. I started with making rings. I thought that was where jewelry began and where jewelry ended. Now, thank God I was given the standards I was given by Maine College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft and SUNY New Paltz because they allowed me to expand my way of thinking. I really am thankful for that broadened expanse of what jewelry can be, but I also understand the public is not starting there. They are starting at a whole different place, and I want to meet them where they are and move them in.
Sharon: Is that what a collector is to you, that they are just starting out and then gathering stuff?
Heidi: I have one collector that comes from D.C. every summer and buys four or five pieces. She buys things from the Smithsonian and Jewelers’ Werk in D.C. She’s got a jewelry collection to die for. Then I have people who have more traditional work. Maybe they started with my work because they love me, but hopefully they get sick of me and then move on to other artists. I see myself as a thread that brings them along to the more controversial, bigger, more risky work, what we consider art jewelry.
Sharon: Is everything one of a kind in the gallery?
Heidi: 90% of it is. Some artists will make their work multiple times, but it’s in a similar vein. But most of it is one of a kind.
Sharon: If it’s one of a kind, is that with two extra made behind it so you can ship off the second in case the first one sells? Or is it that the first one sells and that’s it?
Heidi: That’s it. You’ve got to buy it while it’s hot. We’re always changing. People come back for things and they won’t be there. This is the work we have, and we have an expanse. You can buy something here or you can buy something here. You can enter at any point. I think that’s just who I am. I want to engage the public in different ways, so we’re welcoming; we’re not, “Well, this is a gallery and you’re not going here.” We’re like, “Come in. Let’s talk about it and let’s get excited.” People will laugh and cry and ask questions. They know they have somebody who will help them or just talk about it.
Sharon: Heidi, thank you very much. When will you open your outpost on the West Coast? That’s what I want to know. We’re a wasteland out here. Thank you very much for telling us about it. Are you near the Rhode Island mansions? You’re in Delaware, but I don’t know the geography at all.
Heidi: Delaware is close to a lot, like three hours from D.C. and New York and Baltimore. That’s great because we have a huge hub that comes here for the summer. Boston and Rhode Island are like seven, eight hours; Maine is 10. We can go for a long way and get a lot of art in this short distance. In the space of California, we can get a lot in there. Jewelers’ Werk is in D.C., and Ellen Riven has an amazing gallery. We can head up to things like the contemporary jewelry galleries in Boston. I try to always work jewelry into my vacations.
Sharon: Thank you very much. On my next vacation, I hope it encompasses your gallery. I want to see this big collar you have on the wall. It sounds really interesting. Thank you very much for being with us. I really appreciate it.
Heidi: Thank you so much for having me. I so appreciate it also. It’s so much fun.
Sharon: We will have photos posted on the website. Please head to TheJewelryJourney.com to check them out. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.