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Ellen Ball cannot imagine life without art and creativity.
âAs jazz great Miles Davis once said, âI would just wanna be dead if I couldnât create,ââ Ball said. âFor me, it is as intrinsically necessary to being as breathing.â
Ball, 50, grew up in HIckory with creative parents in a household that included a painting studio, sewing room, workshop full of tools, art, music and books.
âThere was no way I could not be an artist,â she said. âOne of my first drawings was on the living room wall.â
Several years later, though, Ball began to take formalized art lessons, which offered her the opportunity to explore new mediums such as watercolor, clay, sculpture, murals, printmaking and weaving.
Her first experience with jewelry-making was in high school.
âI made a cloisonnĂ© pendant and began restringing broken necklaces to make new ones,â Ball said.
At this point, Ball never went anywhere without pencils, pastels and a sketchpad. She headed to East Carolina University to study art, returned to Hickory, attended Catawba Valley Community College and earned a degree as a horticulturist.
In 1982, Ball began a 12-year stint for MDI in advertising and marketing. She left MDI in 1994 and spent the next 30 years working in various marketing venues. However, she never lost sight of her passion for art.
âMost artists have a day job,â she said with a smile. âMy day job is my own marketing company, Creative Sense Marketing.â
Her days are spent as a consultant, designing websites, prepress design and more.
âI am on my own job list, but I donât pay myself,â she laughed. âI do a lot of artistâs websites and give artists discounts because we are poor â most artists donât make money.â
Ball finds creativity in most everything she does â from writing and cooking to parenting and problem-solving. However, she continued to be drawn to making jewelry.
âEvery artist is on a creative journey, and mine encompasses a lot of different mediums, especially three-dimensional art forms,â Ball said. âAfter I cold-forged copper birdbaths, I enrolled in a semester of welding at our local community college and absolutely loved it. I knew I was getting close.
âWho would have thought that there is a Zen aspect to moving molten steel?âÂ she added.
Ball spent the entire semester working on technique in welding steel. Her instructor told her that once in a while he got someone like Ball that wants to be an artist.
âHe asked me if I wanted to make anything, and I said, ânoâ,â she said.
Ballâs original idea was to weld sculpture pieces, and, in fact, she created several pieces.
She dabbled in all mediums, and took pottery classes from John Post and John Saunders.
Yet Ball kept returning to jewelry, and for the last 15 years, she moved strongly into 3-D jewelry.
âI took a basic jewelry fabrication from Patricia Rhodes and dove headfirst into metalsmithing,â she said. âIâve not looked back since, and I got really fired up.
âI knew, I knew it was time and I was ready,â she said.
Ball said she knows who to thank for getting her out of her box. D.W. Bentley and Edgar Hernandez, owners of Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse, and committed supporter of the arts and artists, offered to show Ballâs jewelry.
âThen, I got a call from Julia Rush who asked me to come talk to her and Lana, her store manager,â Ball said. âThese guys have done more for local artists.â
Ball hasnât looked back.
Her first big break came with the privately owned National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C. Ball was on vacation and visited the Museum.
âI was looking at the jewelry in the gift shops and got the idea of fusing color to metal,â she said. âI started talking to the manager, and she wanted to see my âquoteâ pendants.â
Ball had some to show, the manager was impressed and added Ballâs work to the museum gift shops.
While most pieces are made of copper, brass and aluminum are also used. Metals are cut, forged and sometimes they are soldered, riveted and patinated.
âMy skills continue to improve, and I add new techniques to my creative tool box,â Ball said. âIâve not looked back. For the most part, Iâm self taught and continue to read books, go online, visit museums and gift shops.
Ball said sheâs always been an artist and still enjoys painting, but sheâs finally found âIT.â
âItâs almost as if I went through a self-renaissance about 10 years ago,â she said, âand it (creativity and ideas) continues to come out of me faster than I can produce. Finally.â
Her work is displayed in area galleries and shops and in other cities. Currently, she is in negotiations with shops and galleries in Selywn (Charlotte), NoDa (Charlotte) and Bristol, Tenn.
âMy goal this year is to double my retailers,â she said. âWith those three I will.â
With the exception of the occasional use of commercial findings, the majority of Ballâs pieces are completely handmade including jump rings, toggles, hooks, eyes and earring wires.Â The result is the evolution of collections that include chains, brass neck wires, pendants, earrings, bracelets and cuffs.
Ball believes that when artists create, their energy and intent is ultimately embodied in their art. This is the underlying foundation for her jewelry designs.Â Positive energy, strength, empowerment and a little bit of mysticism are combined to offer a fresh perspective on personal adornment.
âFor years, I have been interested in ancient totems, armor and metalwork,â she said. âThere always is some pearl of insight or inspiration that is gleaned from a book or museum exhibition that ultimately influences my work.â
Her interests include Pre-Columbian, Native American, African, Byzantine and Celtic.Â
Using the symbolism of protective shields and armor, confident empowerment becomes a statement.Â There is nothing better than meeting a woman who says,
FreeFold forms are unique pieces that are made using similar techniques used to create talismans.Â
âOften they are a result of delving into an idea or walking into the studio with no agenda and allowing the metal to take me somewhere,â Ball said.
The organic nature of the process is evident in the collectionâs designs.
This collection was Ballâs first collection, with inspiration coming from two of her favorite abstract artists, Piet Mondrian and Mark Rothko.
âAlthough Mondrian was 30 years older than Rothko, both were instrumental in advancing modern art with unmistakable use of bold shapes and colors,â she said. âGeometrics pulls line and color, and then adds texture either by altering the metal or by the use of patinas to create a unique look and feel.â
Junk Drawer Karma
âJunk Drawer Karmaâs symbolism is much more whimsical than my other collections,â Ball said.
Meanings of unsuspecting items are changed by simply shifting focus.
Suddenly a twig becomes a totem for new beginnings, and a plain piece of PVC becomes a vessel for messages, mantras and prayers.
Even rusted tin is transformed with paint and beads.Â Many pieces in this collection can be customized to take on highly individual meanings with personal messages and materials.Â
Prayer pendants are made from PVC, copper or tin, paper and beads and are strung on ribbon, satin cord or leather cord with hook closures.
Messages are enclosed in a tube and sealed. They can be personalized.
âThese are made from paperback books, rusted tin or copper,â Ball said. âThese are also strung on ribbon, satin cord or leather cord with hook closures.
These mini-book pendants are put together using old paperbacks that are falling apart.Â Pages are cut, glued and then bound with riveted metal.
Ball makes twig pendants from twigs, wire and beads and strings them on ribbon, satin cord or leather cord with hook closures.
âI use twigs from native trees found in western North Carolina,â she said. âThese bound clusters of twigs are symbolic.â
Birch symbolizes new beginnings and cleansing of the past; oak, strength and courage; cedar, healing, cleansing and protection; maple, balance and promise
Rusted tin jewelry
âWho knew rusted tin would look so good?â Ball asked. âEach piece is imprinted with paint, cut, filed and sealed with lacquer.Â Often they are paired with found and reused beads.â
And, where does she see herself headed?
âNo where but up,â she laughed. âBlowing Rock, Hilton Head and Atlanta. I want to be in Buckhead, baby.â