Gallerist Heidi Lowe is known for her annual Earrings Galore pop-up shop, which showcases work from a range of artists at the annual Society of North American Goldsmiths conference. She joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to talk about the event and why she’s dedicated her career to promoting emerging artists. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, I’m pleased to be talking with Heidi Lowe, founder and owner of Heidi Lowe Gallery, an innovative jewelry studio based in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Heidi is a multi-faceted woman and runs a multi-faceted business. She’s a maker, gallerist, entrepreneur, teacher and business consultant, and today she’ll be talking with us about her path and the passions that keep her energized. Heidi, thanks so much for being here.
Heidi: Thanks for having me.
Sharon: You cover a lot of territory. Tell us about your career path and how you got started in jewelry and launched the gallery.
Heidi: I had my first jewelry business when I was 13. My mom had a store on Main Street, and I would spend days and days in there and I would make jewelry. I would go to the local bead stores and I would make jewelry, and then I ended up selling it to a lot of the stores down the street and I just thought, “Well, why would I do anything else?” That was really the start of my jewelry world.
Sharon: How did you segue from there, in terms of studying and then deciding to open a gallery? A lot of makers don’t open galleries. What got you there?
Heidi: I had a teacher in high school who taught me metalsmithing. I begged him for years and years to teach me, and finally my last semester at high school, he let me make a ring. I was already going to Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine, and I just knew that I wanted to be in the jewelry studio. I did other things, but I definitely was driven to be in the jewelry studio. Then I went to State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY New Paltz). After that, I went to study with Myra and Jamie and—
Sharon: Myra and Jamie, who are they?
Heidi: Myra Mimlitsch-Gray and Jamie Bennett were at SUNY at that time. Myra is still there. They are amazing makers and that was definitely a different step. In undergrad, I had Tim McCreight, and then I went to Oregon College of Art and Craft for a semester, and then on to SUNY New Paltz with Myra, and then Myra and Jamie Bennett. From there, I knew I wanted to open a gallery. I didn’t see enough places for people who were doing this work to show and sell their work, so I saw an opening and a need. That was when I told Jamie and Myra that I would definitely be doing this.
Sharon: Sounds like you had fabulous teachers. For those who don’t know, Tim McCreight is the guru in metalsmithing. I’ve done very little, but I know his name. Jamie Bennett, I’ve seen his work; he’s an enamellist, right?
Heidi: Yeah, and Myra Mimlitsch-Gray has a piece in the show at The Met that closed yesterday.
Sharon: Really, wow!
Heidi: Yeah, The Body Transformed . She was there. They’re all amazing makers and I am super lucky to have them.
Sharon: It sounds like it. So, you have a real love of supporting emerging artists. It’s not something that every gallery wants to do. A lot of them want to focus on more established artists. What is it that attracts you to emerging artists, and what do you look for when you decide whose work to sponsor?
Heidi: I look for a spark. There’s something about their work that has energy, and I usually see that they have already learned to work—you can feel that their work has a vocabulary. You can see that they have something they’re working on, and it’s not that everything is different in their series. You can see that they’re really working on an idea. I try and be their first yes, because we need that. We need a yes. Then, once they’re in the gallery, I try and put them in front of as many people within the field and outside of the field as possible so they get some momentum.
Sharon: They must be so excited when they get that “yes.”
Heidi: Yeah, it’s something that I remember longing for. There weren’t a lot of places to even apply. Again, it’s like I saw an opening that I could fill, and it really comes naturally to me, because I like helping them from one place, whether that’s school or a start, this next step.
Sharon: When you say you have an opening to fill, are you saying, “O.K., nobody’s doing 3D printing in my gallery, so maybe that’s something I can show.”? When you say a spot to fill, how do you evaluate that?
Heidi: No, I meant that I looked at the places to show work and there weren’t a lot of them, so I filled that space with another place to show work. Also, with emerging artists, it’s that a lot of other galleries won’t show them, so I saw another spot for me to fit into that world. It’s more—
Heidi: Yeah, positioning, and it really was a natural positioning. I didn’t 100 percent know what I was doing in the beginning, so I didn’t know I was doing it.
Sharon: That’s fascinating, because that’s a big leap, or in a sense, maybe it isn’t. People like me would get caught in the fear before taking that leap. For you, was it just, “I’m going to do it”?
Heidi: I don’t know. I think when you don’t know, you don’t know and I had no idea. All I knew was that other things that I was trying weren’t working. I knew I wanted to do this work, and I saw a space for myself and I jumped. I do think it was an inner-knowing, like I just knew somewhere in me that this would be a good space for me.
Sharon: It sounds like the best way. There is no choice if you’re driven and you don’t even know it.
Heidi: Yeah, you just do. I feel like that’s how I run my world, like, “Well, I have nothing to lose. I’ll just try it,” and that’s how things move forward.
Sharon: And you have a lot of success, so that fosters more success. You’ve gained a lot of visibility through your pop-up shop, Earrings Galore. I’ve attended a couple of them and they’re not only fun, but you’ve also created a real sense of community. Can you tell us what they are and how it came about? When your next one is?
Heidi: Part of my mission with the gallery was to introduce new people to art jewelry. I saw it as, it’s great to talk to people who already know about art jewelry, but we have all these people who don’t even know it exists. So, Earrings Galore is my way to speak to new people and it started at SNAG in Seattle.
Sharon: SNAG being?
Heidi: The Society of North American Goldsmiths, which is a conference I attend every year. It’s a funny story, because I didn’t have enough time before I left to pick out my jewelry, which is important, so I just put the whole box in my bag and I brought it to SNAG. While a whole bunch of friends and colleagues were in my room, I was going through this box of jewelry. Most were earrings, because that’s what you change all the time, and I sold all the earrings out of my own personal jewelry box. I thought, “Well, this is another opening.” These were makers buying other makers’ jewelry. The following year, I opened up in my room. I had seen pop-ups in Dutch Design Week, and I just brought that over to the following SNAG. I did an incognito opening in the gallery, and it was so busy and so fun. It was like all of my dreams came true; all the jewelers were meeting the other jewelers who made the earrings that they just bought, then they were showing other people, “Oh, look at these. This is hers.” It was this wonderful igniting of energy that really spawned people to be excited about it. Ever since then, whether it’s at the conference or at New York City Jewelry Week or at the gallery, it’s something that allows people to get excited about art jewelry in all these different ways.
Sharon: I hadn’t thought about it as a way for people to get to know art jewelry, but it really is, because they don’t know they’re being introduced to art jewelry. They’re just thinking, “What fabulous earrings.” I remember when I was at SNAG in Portland in May, it was like, “Are you going to Heidi’s? Join us. We’re going over to Heidi’s.” It seems like it’s been very successful.
Heidi: It has its own energy now, which is great, because people want it. They’re excited about it and it’s another way to introduce emerging artists. They want to know who got in this year and what are they doing, and some people use it as an every-year exercise. They make a new pair every year and a new set of six, so it’s usually 25 to 40 artists and six pairs per artist.
Sharon: So, the production is six pairs or do they do six different designs?
Heidi: They do six different designs. They usually have a similar theme, like you can tell which ones are theirs, but it’s not all the same.
Sharon: And then people apply to be in the show.
Heidi: Yes, they apply every year we do it. Usually the call for entries goes out in January and we pick by the end of March. The Society of North American Goldsmiths Conference is our opening night. This year it’s in Chicago and we have a little space at the Elephant Room Gallery [She must mean Elephant Room Gallery, which is in Chicago]. We’re really excited about it.
Sharon: Do you have a lot more people apply than you have room for?
Heidi: Oh yeah, we had 187 apply last year. We chose 48, which was way more than we needed, but we can’t help it.
Sharon: Wow, what a great way to gain entrée into that world.
Heidi: And it’s also is a great way to get to know the artist, too. It’s a small, introductory way of seeing are we a good fit for each other? Do we work well together? Is this something that expands? I find a lot of my artists through that show.
Sharon: You’re also a teacher. Tell us what kind of workshops you teach. Are you teaching through your gallery? Are you teaching at schools?
Heidi: I taught for 10 years at Towson University, which is in Baltimore, Maryland. I taught once a week, and I would drive over and teach two classes and drive back. It was a great experience. I loved teaching at the college level, but that became a little bit too much.
Sharon: Was it metalsmithing you were teaching?
Heidi: Yes, jewelry classes and that was great. Now, because I was trying to bring things closer to home and that was a three-hour drive, I teach at the gallery. It’s a way to introduce people to the craft, and it’s also a way to have the public understand what we do, why it’s priced the way it’s priced, what it’s made of, and what goes into it. It really helps people understand our medium. Either they really want to take classes or they don’t want to do that at all and they want to buy jewelry, so it helps the whole understanding.
Sharon: Do you have members of the public who just are interested in crafts and they want to make something? Do they come?
Heidi: Yeah, all the time. We have a four-week class right now that’s a mandala class, so they’re making a pendant. Everybody could do it, so everybody’s welcomed. I’ve taught six-year-olds how to make a ring. I like to get them early.
Sharon: You’re also a business consultant to gallerists and makers. What are the questions they’re asking? How do you work with people and what do you enjoy about it?
Heidi: It started as an easy transition from teaching, because I found that I was teaching private lessons with people who were makers. They were learning about the craft of making, but we were talking mostly about getting to understand the business and how it flows with their visual language and all of those things. I also had my internships, which I do every summer, and that also is a way of coaching people. So, the coaching just made sense and I took a year-long class on coaching. It’s really a way of helping people change their mindset so they can make it in exactly the way they want to make it within this field.
Sharon: Is it mostly gallerists that you’re working with? Are they makers?
Heidi: Some gallerists, some makers, some massage therapists. It’s not all makers, because sometimes it’s nice to work with people outside the field. It’s all in energy work. It’s all about getting yourself in line with what you really want, so you’re heading toward what you want as a choice, not where you think you should go because your teacher was doing that or because that person looked successful. It’s making it real, but doing exactly what you want.
Sharon: And you do this, you said, with people all over the country.
Heidi: Yeah, even in other countries over the phone. It’s so rewarding. I do this only on Mondays. Monday, I spend the entire day in my office just talking to people, and it’s really fun to watch their businesses grow.
Sharon: So, what’s next for the gallery? What shows do you have coming up?
Heidi: We have all kinds of fun stuff. We have the Front of the House, Back of the House exhibition, which is an exhibition based off Questlove, the drummer from The Roots, and his book “Something to Food About.” We’ve already picked the artist, and that opens on April 27th from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M.. I co-created that with Shelly Robinson and that one’s really exciting. This work is so good. I can’t wait to get that up.
Sharon: And how long with it be there?
Heidi: It will be here for a month and then we’re hoping it will travel after that. We have some people we’re talking to, but nothing’s been confirmed yet.
Sharon: That sounds great. For the summer, are there other things coming up?
Heidi: Earrings Galore will come to the gallery, and we always have that up all summer long. That’s one we do in the gallery and it travels. Then, in June, we have Mineral Instincts, which is a show with Anna Johnson and Amy Petkus. That opens on June 1st. It will be up for a month.
Sharon: Anna was just a guest on the podcast.
Heidi: Oh, she’s great.
Sharon: Yeah, she does great work.
Heidi: Then Stacey Lee Webber is going to have a show July 6, and that one is also really exciting because we’ll have some of her wall pieces and a lot of her jewelry.
Sharon: You must get a lot of summer traffic.
Heidi: Yeah, we’re a busy place in the summer. We’re a destination for New York, Philly, Baltimore and Washington.
Sharon: Sounds great. You have a great location. Heidi, thank you so much for being here. To everyone listening, we’ll have Heidi’s contact information and the gallery’s information in the show notes on TheJewelryJourney.com. That wraps up another episode of The Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the jewelry world. Thanks so much for listening.
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