Ellen Ball cannot imagine life without art and creativity.
“As jazz great Miles Davis once said, ‘I would just wanna be dead if I couldn’t create,’” Ball said. “For me, it is as intrinsically necessary to being as breathing.”
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.
“There was no way I could not be an artist,” she said. “One of my first drawings was on the living room wall.”
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.
“I made a cloisonné pendant and began restringing broken necklaces to make new ones,” 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.
“Most artists have a day job,” she said with a smile. “My day job is my own marketing company, Creative Sense Marketing.”
Her days are spent as a consultant, designing websites, prepress design and more.
“I am on my own job list, but I don’t pay myself,” she laughed. “I do a lot of artist’s websites and give artists discounts because we are poor — most artists don’t make money.”
Ball finds creativity in most everything she does — from writing and cooking to parenting and problem-solving. However, she continued to be drawn to making jewelry.
“Every artist is on a creative journey, and mine encompasses a lot of different mediums, especially three-dimensional art forms,” Ball said. “After 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.
“Who would have thought that there is a Zen aspect to moving molten steel?” 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.
“He asked me if I wanted to make anything, and I said, ‘no’,” she said.
Ball’s 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.
“I took a basic jewelry fabrication from Patricia Rhodes and dove headfirst into metalsmithing,” she said. “I’ve not looked back since, and I got really fired up.
“I knew, I knew it was time and I was ready,” 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 Ball’s jewelry.
“Then, I got a call from Julia Rush who asked me to come talk to her and Lana, her store manager,” Ball said. “These guys have done more for local artists.”
Ball hasn’t 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.
“I was looking at the jewelry in the gift shops and got the idea of fusing color to metal,” she said. “I started talking to the manager, and she wanted to see my ‘quote’ pendants.”
Ball had some to show, the manager was impressed and added Ball’s 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.
“My skills continue to improve, and I add new techniques to my creative tool box,” Ball said. “I’ve not looked back. For the most part, I’m self taught and continue to read books, go online, visit museums and gift shops.
Ball said she’s always been an artist and still enjoys painting, but she’s finally found “IT.”
“It’s almost as if I went through a self-renaissance about 10 years ago,” she said, “and it (creativity and ideas) continues to come out of me faster than I can produce. Finally.”
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.
“My goal this year is to double my retailers,” she said. “With those three I will.”
With the exception of the occasional use of commercial findings, the majority of Ball’s pieces are completely handmade including jump rings, toggles, hooks, eyes and earring wires. 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. Positive energy, strength, empowerment and a little bit of mysticism are combined to offer a fresh perspective on personal adornment.
“For years, I have been interested in ancient totems, armor and metalwork,” she said. “There always is some pearl of insight or inspiration that is gleaned from a book or museum exhibition that ultimately influences my work.”
Her interests include Pre-Columbian, Native American, African, Byzantine and Celtic.
Using the symbolism of protective shields and armor, confident empowerment becomes a statement. 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.
“Often 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,” Ball said.
The organic nature of the process is evident in the collection’s designs.
This collection was Ball’s first collection, with inspiration coming from two of her favorite abstract artists, Piet Mondrian and Mark Rothko.
“Although Mondrian was 30 years older than Rothko, both were instrumental in advancing modern art with unmistakable use of bold shapes and colors,” she said. “Geometrics 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.”
Junk Drawer Karma
“Junk Drawer Karma’s symbolism is much more whimsical than my other collections,” 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. Many pieces in this collection can be customized to take on highly individual meanings with personal messages and materials.
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.
“These are made from paperback books, rusted tin or copper,” Ball said. “These 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. 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.
“I use twigs from native trees found in western North Carolina,” she said. “These bound clusters of twigs are symbolic.”
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
“Who knew rusted tin would look so good?” Ball asked. “Each piece is imprinted with paint, cut, filed and sealed with lacquer. Often they are paired with found and reused beads.”
And, where does she see herself headed?
“No where but up,” she laughed. “Blowing Rock, Hilton Head and Atlanta. I want to be in Buckhead, baby.”