Academy alumna Colleen Schwarz has been recognized by the Halstead Grant, an annual competition for emerging artists conducted by jewelry studio supplier Halstead Bead. Established in 2006, the grant supports jewelry designers by helping them develop a strategy for successfully managing a new business.
Schwarz has applied the award to extend her foothold in the field. The award’s cash grant and recognition are helping her set business goals and build on the knowledge she’s gained from attending the Academy’s School of Jewelry & Metal Arts and operating her own venture since earning her BFA in 2014.
A ‘Daunting’ Process
Applicants for the grant submit their design portfolios and answer 15 business questions. “The thought of applying for the Halstead Grant can be very daunting,” says Schwarz. Her reaction was immediate after printing out the application and seeing the questions, which she described as “overwhelming.”
“These questions, though, are some of the most important ones you will ever answer when starting a jewelry business.”
While Schwarz was awarded in the 2019 competition, it wasn’t the first time she had looked at applying. “Since graduating from the Academy, I would print out the application year after year,” she recalls. “I would begin answering the questions, and when I got to the last few I would think, ‘Hmm, I don’t think I’m ready for this.’
“Over time I realized that I was not stopping because I didn’t have an answer. There was just a ton of fear preventing me from writing it all out!”
Having overcome her fears, she’s realized that vying for the grant was “one of the best decisions I’ve made to propel my jewelry career. I highly encourage all jewelers wanting to start a business to begin applying for this grant, even if you never finish it…even if you finish and never submit it.”
Schwarz says the is committed to “creating with intention.” Making jewelry has sustainability implications, she says.
“I hold a great importance to the materials I use. My jewelry is made of recycled silver, botanical findings and scrap acrylic—otherwise known as plastic—that could possibly end up in our oceans, harming the environment and marine life.”
Currently focusing on her own jewelry line, Colleen Elizabeth Designs, Schwarz creates one of a kind custom floral gems. Each gem conveys a personal message to the wearer, using flower symbolism—floriography, the language of flowers.
Dating from the Victorian era, floriography is a time-honored way of communicating, Schwarz says. Traditionally, flowers were arranged into bouquets to send coded messages that conveyed feelings between those who couldn’t express their feelings verbally—sometimes because those feelings were forbidden.
Through time, different flowers have represented different sentiments. For example, baby’s breath was said to express pure love, connecting with lost love, and more. The daisy conveys innocence, purity, new beginnings. Each flower has its own suite of meanings.
“I made my first floral gem piece while attending the Academy,” says Schwarz. “I suddenly found that I enjoyed the endless possibilities of what could be done with acrylic. It was a fun way to create my own gems when I couldn’t afford actual stones.” Time passed, however, and she didn’t revisit this style until later.
Schwarz is convinced that the best time to formulate your style is while you’re in school. “Explore different styles and materials. Once you find that style, stick with it, constantly evolve it.” Applying for the Halstead grant made Schwarz step back and pick the style she felt was strongest. “This grant helped me think of the image and a cohesive style that I wanted as a business,” she says.
Learning the Business
In addition to her Academy experience, building contacts in the jewelry community helped Schwarz find her voice. “I immersed myself in the community. From their responses, I was guided to some great opportunities. I got an apprenticeship before graduating and then found another opportunity as a production assistant.
“While working, I got to see what it was like to own your own jewelry business. This helped me realize how I would want to run my business, and reassured me of my career choice.”
While she writing her application for the grant, she revisited knowledge she’d gained from those businesses. “I was able to be realistic when writing a three-year plan, along with coming up with business strategies and financial outcomes,” she recalls.
Value of Mentorship, Advice
Schwarz advises aspiring jewelry designers to find a mentor who “believes in you and your work. Ask your mentor to hold you accountable for deadlines you set for yourself. This person can be someone you already know, but keep yourself open to new people who come your way.
“Ask questions, ask for advice, and keep at it. Call on this friend when you need reassurance on days that you don’t feel so confident. Having someone reassure me and validate my work gave me the confidence and determination to follow through.
“Lastly, just have fun with it! You’re setting aside time to dream and envision yourself in a successful business that you create, and only good things can come out of that.”
Learn more about Colleen Schwarz and her work at her website, Colleen Elizabeth Designs, https://www.colleenelizabethdesigns.com/
Images courtesy of Colleen Schwarz