Joan Michlin’s wrist feels naked.
Under normal circumstances, the jewelry designer and goldsmith would be wearing a link bracelet. It would be tight and colorful because tight bracelets, as Michlin likes to point out, help slim your arms.
But she purposely left home less accessorized than usual knowing she would be modeling pieces from her new collection — a mix of art jewelry titled, “Garland,” which Michlin crafted out of blackened silver, gold and pearls.
“Everything I create, I take from the world around me,” Michlin says. “I carry a sketchbook in my purse. If I’m inspired, I start drawing. When it’s time to work, I pull out all these little drawings from the different corners of my world.”
She produces 50 to 100 new designs each year. A sketchpad is the only way she can keep them straight.
“This one,” Michlin says, fiddling with the pearls on her “Garland” necklace, “came out of left field.”
Actually, it came out of her backyard.
A South Sarasota resident, Michlin says she’s spent a lot of time lately gazing at the live oak behind her home. It was only a matter of time before its twisted branches crept into her work.
Maybe that’s why she and her husband, Skip Ennis, chose to meet under a canopy of banyans at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
“You’re catching me in one of my black moments,” Michlin says referring to her dark dress and jacket. “Down here, I’m really into major color. When we moved to Sarasota from New York, I was blacked-out so to speak. I went color crazy.”
For 29 years Michlin and Ennis ran a jewelry store in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood before relocating the business in 2001 to St. Armands Circle.
In 2008, they ended their retail run to spend more time with their 14-year-old daughter, Samantha, an eighth-grader at Pine View student.
Now Ennis, who met Michlin in 1976 when they were both undergrads at Memphis College of Art, sells the family jewelry at juried craft shows and festivals all over the country.
In three days he’ll head to New York for the American Craft Show NYC at the Jacob Javits Center, one of 25 shows Ennis travels to each year.
The couple has been feverishly working on finalizing designs and sprucing up displays in preparation for the trip.
When Ennis returns, he’ll set up a similar booth at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Convention Center for the 19th annual American Craft Show Sarasota.
The three-day juried show, which features work by more than 90 of the country’s top craft artists, is where many local collectors now go to browse the designer’s work.
“I definitely have a faithful following,” says Michlin, whose New York jewelry gallery was one of the earliest retail establishments in SoHo before the neighborhood became a commercial hotspot.
Her database of clients, which hovers around 31,000 names, includes its share of celebrities, from Madonna to Steve Winwood to Susan Sarandon.
Michlin remembers the first time actor Christopher Lloyd walked into her New York store. She had no idea who he was until a customer mumbled, “‘Back to the Future.’”
“To tell you the truth, I got started in this industry because there was nothing out there that I would wear,” Michlin says. “I would go to every jewelry store on the planet and come home empty-handed.”
Michlin grew up in Michigan, the daughter of a jewelry addict.
Her mother used to wear dozens of necklaces and bracelets at once, layering the strands on top of the other. She even wore a toe ring before toe rings were en vogue.
“I was in jewelry stores before I could walk,” Michlin says. “The best thing that could have happened to my mother was that I became a jewelry maker. She had a lifetime supply.”
When Michlin turned 16 years old, her mother gave her a clunky gold ring with an opal in the center. It was her first piece of gold jewelry; an oversized bauble many teenage girls would have fawned over.
But Michlin wasn’t most girls. One day she wore the ring to school and melted it down in art class.
“For a long time it was a standing joke between me and my mother,” Michlin says. “She was always afraid to give me jewelry because she thought I would melt it down.”
As destructive as it may have seemed, the melted ring was a sign of things to come. That summer Michlin exhibited at her first craft show — The Ann Arbor Art Fair.
A goldsmith revered for her angular lines and modern, sculptural details, Michlin has produced roughly 350 limited-edition earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces and brooches.
Like a lot of artists, she goes through phases.
There was the lace phase, marked by intense periods of patterning sheet metal after antique lace. There was the origami phase, which resulted in folding sheets of gold around precious gemstones.
There was also the cosmos phase, the mimosa phase and the sunshine phase.
And, of course, the pasta phase.
“About 12 years ago, we got into making pasta,” Ennis says. “If you look at what Joan created then, you’ll see a penne noodle with a pearl going through the middle.”
Michlin laughs, pinching her earlobes with her shimmering gold fingernails.
“Picture fusilli and rotini earrings,” she says. “Hey, it’s like they say: Everything is art.”
IF YOU GO
The 19th annual American Craft Show runs Dec. 2 to Dec. 4, at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Convention Center. The show features works in ceramics, decorative fiber, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, paper, clothing and woodworks. For more information, call 355-9161 or visit sarasotacraftshow.com. For more on Michlin, visit joanmichlin.com.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Joan Michlin was one of the first jewelry designers to copyright her work.
• Michlin’s daughter designed her first brooch when she was 3 years old. The design is priced at $1,299.
• Michlin was asked to sell her work on QVC but turned down the opportunity because she didn’t want to design mass-market jewelry.
• When Michlin was a teenager, she started a jewelry-making workshop at her summer camp in upstate Michigan. The program is still flourishing with the artist’s original equipment.
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