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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Local Treasure

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Radioadvertisements touting the flawless merit of diamonds, hallmark holidays urging couples to demonstrate their affections through expensive, timeworn tokens… These are just some of the commercial trappings of the jewelry industry that have robbed it of its greatest asset: the delicious intimacy enwrapping a gorgeous trinket. Luckily, there remain a few jewelers who adhere to the rare qualities of both the trade and the craft. Guy Stoll, owner of Artists’ Friend, is one of them. Behind the quiet facade of his store on Farwell Avenue is a delightful selection of handmade and antique jewelry, ornaments and artwork, much of which is the result of his own deft handiwork. And he greets customers with the same taste and discretion that he applies to his art.

What does being a jeweler mean to you?
I like to look at it as a consciousness-raising experience between two people—to be involved in a meaningful transaction where we both benefit materially and spiritually… I want [people] to gain from what I’ve made or acquired as much as I do.

The other facet is helping people find what they seek, and that might be referring them to other stores. I sell loose stones, too, and occasionally a jeweler will come to me for that.

How did you become interested in making jewelry?
What I started doing first is wrist malas. I was teaching yoga at the time and one of the first things I did was put beads together, making wrist malas for me and my students. And then I started moving on to stone beads and a friend of mine introduced me to cutting and shaping stones … and from then on I learned setting stones.

Tell me the inspiration behind the pieces you make.
The inspiration for me making jewelry is almost an inspiration of simplicity. One of the things I value most about jewelry and art is that it can be done without a lot of resources. And the American Indians have cornered the market in doing things in a really adaptive way; they used coins to make different jewelry…

There’s also something playful about some of your work.
I think it’s really fun to embody and reflect life and childishness, and fun and play, and it kind of brings a smile to your heart and other people’s hearts, too. I enjoy making things that resemble human beings or dolls. I think the American Indians did that quite a lot with their kachinas, and some of my pieces want to go in that direction. I think they embody a lot of spiritual dimensions that are accepted more by skeptics because they’re kind of fun art and they’re native.

Do you have any particular crystals or stones you like working with?
When we look at jewelry, there’s another dimension of stones that a lot of people don’t address, but there’s a population out there that specifically wants stones for healing and other beneficial properties. For me, I’ve chosen stones for that reason. Stones that work well with me are topaz, and I really enjoy working with sugilite; it’s a very spiritually balancing, meditative kind of stone.

What do you think of Milwaukee as an art venue?
I think Milwaukee’s a very hard venue for many artists. The fairs [that] we do have can be very expensive sometimes, compared to what an artist can make. The entry fees are significant, the entry procedure is like a job interview... It’s a real struggle for artists because it’s hard to translate your work and your investment into an income. It’s nice that we have many universities teaching different kinds of art classes, but if you don’t have venues for all those students to translate their art and their knowledge into money, it’s hard for them to keep going. I’d like to see that change.

Where would you like to see your store go from here?
One of my dreams when I started this business was to have a co-op, and I’d love to see something like that happen. That would be one of the venues to support what I and other people need. I don’t know if I can expect that to happen, but it’s my dream.

Artists’ Friend is located on 2207 N. Farwell Ave. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 12 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Photo by Corey Hengen