It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We're reviving last year's The Maker Series, a partnership between The Cleveland Flea/Indie Foundry and Suzuran Photography, to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do. All photography by Suzuran Photography.
Q + A with Liza Michelle Jewelry
Liza Michelle Jewelry celebrates the beautiful minutia of the world around us through the artful use of natural materials, handpicked from nature and cast in solid metal to create one-of-a-kind pieces, every time. LMJ sat down with our market manager Sarah Wilt to share her story.
SW: How did you start metalsmithing?
LMJ: Art was always a huge part of my childhood. I was very lucky to attend a high school that had a very extensive art program and I was able to take a jewelry/metals class my sophomore year. I immediately fell in love. I took jewelry 1 and 2, and then begged my art teacher to let me come in during my study halls. It was then I knew that jewelry would be my future. I promptly applied to art school and the rest is history!
SW: What’s the first significant sale that you remember making/being really excited about?
LMJ: In college I had dabbled in making production jewelry, but was skeptical of becoming a commercial jeweler, and usually stuck to my more conceptual art jewelry. My senior year I sold a few significant pieces from my Thesis show and used the money to fund a trip to Portland and a residency in Tennessee. While in Tennessee I had no source of income, and began making jewelry to sell to the students of the workshops I was assisting in. I ended up leaving the program with the knowledge and confidence that I could earn a living doing something I truly loved.
SW: What were you doing professionally before going full time with your business?
LMJ: I was working for a local jewelry manufacturing company as well as my alma mater, the Cleveland Institute of Art. The manufacturing job taught me how a commercial jewelry studio worked, and various aspects of running a business. CIA gave me a studio to work in to develop my designs as I worked to build my own home studio.
SW: How did you decide to go full time?
LMJ: The decision was made for me, when I was laid off in April of this year and decided I was done working for someone else, making someone else’s designs. It was the best thing to ever happen to me, and I haven’t looked back!
SW: What is the one thing that you will always pay full price for?
LMJ: Local, always! Handcrafted, food, goods, services—everything! A healthy local economy is good for everyone!
SW: Who are some of your favorite Cleveland small businesses, Flea vendors or local creatives?
LMJ: I love Ape Made clothing—April and I have been participating in the same shows for years, and when I first moved back to Cleveland I bought two of her shirts and they remain some of my favorite t-shirts to this day! I also love Miotal Jewelry, Mindi is a friend of mine and I love that she sells vintage jewelry as well as her own designs! Lastly, Rural Urban Stuff is a wonderful resource for Cleveland-centric goods all made from upcycled materials! Amy’s got a little bit of everything and it’s all great!
SW: What’s your biggest struggle from an artistic standpoint?
LMJ: My biggest struggle creatively is keeping up with my brain! I constantly have new ideas and designs, and it’s always hard to be patient and see a design through before jumping to the next piece.
SW: What’s your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
LMJ: Taxes! No… really.
SW: Where is the strangest place you’ve found inspiration?
LMJ: In college I drew inspiration from unconventional places. My thesis was about finding beauty in the grotesque, and redefining what we as a society perceive as desirable. This taught me to find beauty in the small things, and to pay attention to the easily forgotten or overlooked. That’s how I started working with found objects, specifically the raccoon teeth and then again with the deer antler and twigs. I took these materials that are typically overlooked and repurposed them in a way that elevated them to beautiful objects.
SW: Where can we find you?
LMJ: During the day: Working in my studio. In the evening: … still working in my studio. On weekends: Working shows, like the Cleveland Flea!
SW: Favorite piece of advice as it relates to art and/or business?
LMJ: Success is relative, and it takes a ridiculous amount of work. The way you know you’re meant to do it—if it doesn’t feel like work.
All photos are courtesy of Suzuran Photography.