Making a living as an artist of any kind requires as much perspiration as it does inspiration — not to mention a sound budget and clear fiscal goals. “One thing that I think artists can massively neglect is the business side,” says Asheville jeweler Joanna Gollberg. Before she and her business partner, Marthe Le Van, launched Mora, their specialized jewelry store on Walnut Street downtown, the two took classes at Mountain BizWorks, a nonprofit entrepreneur training center.
The concept for the shop, which opened about a year ago, developed somewhat in response to the limited and irregular market of the craft-fair circuit. Despite national recognition of her jewelry, Gollberg “found it really difficult to run a business when you don’t even know if you’re going to get [juried] into the craft show,” she says. “And if you do get in, you may not even make any money.” When reflecting on this, Gollberg concluded, “That uncertainty does not work for me.”
Gollberg’s Prong Series is one of her more distinct collections, incorporating unique, colorful stones in elongated, equally unique settings. Her process for designing jewelry could be called sensory; she intuitively combines the stones to develop her own language of color, shape and texture.
But sometimes work can be too distinct, and it can be helpful to keep the two personas — artist and business owner — separate during the creative process. “Whenever I make stuff that I think will sell, it doesn’t sell as well as when I make stuff that’s just really fun,” Gollberg says.
Some of her newer work presents a strong union of viability and artistry. One collection uses leather and patinated silver. Originally fashioned for male window shoppers, the pieces evolved into unisex designs as their popularity and appeal expanded.
“One thing that we didn’t think about in our business plan was that we’d have a lot of custom orders,” says Gollberg. Visitors who see her jewelry in Mora are often struck by her work and request custom engagement and wedding rings. “It’s more stressful because I want people to be happy with what they get, and often it doesn’t translate in their mind from ideas to metal. Then I started to embrace it, and I’m learning a lot of new techniques and working with different materials.”
The labor of jewelry making can be quite intensive and damaging to the art’s primary tools: hands. “My hands are worn out,” Gollberg says. “I’ve already had three surgeries, and I need more.” Gollberg recently began looking to assistants and contract labor to help with some of the basic production, which also allows her to explore new designs and experiment with materials.
When asked about the value of the handmade object, Gollberg says, “I think people appreciate handmade, but there are so many layers and levels of handmade that it blurs the line for the customer.
“I think what it comes down to [for the customer] is, can you afford it, and do you like it?” Gollberg says. “It helps for them to meet the maker, because then they’re essentially buying a piece of you.”
— Steph Guinan can be reached at email@example.com.