Published in the October 2010 Boom! Magazine
by Whitney L.J. Howell
As a child, Betty McKim enjoyed making crafts with her hands. It was a passion she carried with her to Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C., but she didn’t have a specific focus until a professor said she reminded him of a jewelry maker. His suggestion launched her career.
“I was greatly influenced by my professor,” McKim said. “I went on to East Carolina University for a master’s in fine arts, took my first class in jewelry making, and have never looked back.”
McKim, who surprised me by revealing that she doesn’t wear much jewelry herself, said she enjoys the problem-solving aspects of jewelry making. It’s the attention to details and the intricacies of the tools used to make jewelry that have kept her attention for 35 years.
The repeating shapes and textures found in nature are her biggest inspiration, she said. The result is jewelry that can be playful, restrained, indulgent, or sensuous. McKim, 56, predominantly uses silver, but she occasionally accents pieces with gold or gemstones, giving each item a unique flair. Understandably, she hopes that the jewelry will be worn for many years.
The jewelry frequently reflects McKim’s mental state or what she sees around her at any given time. The memory of using a sprig of rosemary from her dinner plate as a springboard for a popular earring design makes her chuckle.
“When you look at my work, you see where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing,” she said. “The jewelry is all about the relationships in my life, and hopefully, the person buying it can relate to it as well.”
Each year, McKim exhibits her jewelry at three or four crafts fairs. She will participate in the Carolina Designer Craftsmen show in Raleigh November 26-28 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds Exposition Center. Throughout the year, she also shows her jewelry at Art in the Park in Blowing Rock, as well as in Raleigh’s Boylan Heights Art Walk and the Larkspur Garden Show.
In addition to producing jewelry for sale, McKim also teaches others to design and create their own artworks. Shortly after completing her master’s degree, she taught pre-teen children at Buck’s Rock Camp in Connecticut. For the past 15 years, however, she has worked full time at the Pullen Arts Center in Raleigh. Today, she is the center’s assistant director, and she teaches both beginning and advanced adult students.
“I thoroughly enjoy what I do,” she said. “When it comes to teaching, I want to entertain and excite people with what’s possible in making jewelry. These classes are an environment where people can share a sincere interest in making something beautiful.”
But creating jewelry isn’t for everyone, she said. I found it interesting that she can usually tell within a few classes which students have the mentality to make jewelry. The process requires a great amount of patience and heavy concentration. Anyone interested in making jewelry shouldn’t expect instant gratification, she said-learning to use the right tools takes extensive practice, and the necessary detail work is very intricate. It is an excellent endeavor for someone who enjoys solo projects, she added, because “few people will sit and watch you create a piece of jewelry.”
For McKim, working alone is the perfect method. It allows her to make each piece an individual time investment-a project designed for one, specific, unknown person.
“I often think about how someone has each piece of jewelry I’ve made. Running into someone who’s wearing one of my creations completes the process for me,” she said. “It’s worth the time investment to specialize each piece and create something that is meaningful.”
To read the article online: http://www.boomnc.com/2010/10/articles_fiftyfab_triangle_201010.html