Meet Helen Wiens, an artisan jewelry maker who loves downtown Salem like a kid loves a candy store. Wiens uprooted her home studio out from under sippy cups and Legos, moving it into the Salem Arts building’s elevator maintenance room.
The transition from stay-at-home mom by day to trendy silversmith by evening is fun and invigorating for Wiens. “Creative” isn’t usually a word that pops into one’s head when describing someone with a master’s degree in statistics, but Wiens has one. She changed her lucrative profession as a bio statistician into one where order is “made” and raw materials submit to her will like data in a spreadsheet.
Her studio, Calusa Studio, is named after her children, Cali, 4, and her two twin boys, Luke and Sam, 7. “It’s the first two letters of each of their names – it’s kind of fun.”
For Wiens, being an artisan is a growing process. “I really like starting my pieces from the ground up,” Wiens said. “I might come into my studio and start cutting silver wires, bang on it with a hammer, and polish the piece and end up with a cool pendant. I didn’t have a plan, but I enjoyed doing it,” she said. “I am still in the process of defining who I am. I have an eclectic style that is very organic and natural looking, yet polished at the same time.”
Favorite material to work with? Precious metal clay. “It’s like potter’s clay but made with precious metals. You can mold the pendant with your hands and shape it like a bowl being thrown on a wheel. You burn it, polish it and end up with a handmade piece of copper, bronze or silver,” Wiens said.
Going by the seat of her pants is just as satisfying as following a detailed sketch. Either way, it’s going to turn out just how it was supposed to. It’s art. “I think the statistician part of me helps me create. Even in numbers you have to be a problem solver and creative in your thinking. I am a very type A personality, so the focus and creativity really comes in handy when working for a certain look on a piece.” Weins compares herself working on a computer program to “a dog with a bone,” and that tenaciousness translates to the workbench.
Numerous classes at the Bead Trunk, also downtown, got her to this point, where she wasn’t just buying pieces and putting jewelry together. She was creating jewelry from raw material. In fact, the local silversmithing class she took was when she made the transition from crafter to artisan.
Opening up shop in an elevator maintenance room was a leap, but the experience has so far had more ups than downs. “It has quirky corners and it’s tucked away. It’s not the ideal retail location, but it is a great space to sit down and work.”
The time to create versus the time for business has been an adjustment for Wiens. “I knew there was going to be more to it than sitting down and creating my jewelry. It was going to be a process, but the branding and the business plan and the website – it is all kind of exciting and overwhelming,” Wiens said.
Bottom line, the studio brings validation. BitterSweet Boutique is going to start carrying her jewelry. “That was a surreal moment, when someone actually showed up to an appointment, liked my work and at the end of the meeting we shook hands, and that day I felt like a mom, and a professional artist.”
Wiens said that working downtown is great: it’s like a whole community of people who are excited about your dream, and are rooting for you the whole way. “When you are a mother, you are so important and so vital to your family, but no one comes home and says ‘that is the best darn casserole you made for dinner.’ I think there is outside validation missing from some moms’ lives. For me, this is really fun and a great way to get that, yet still be a very active mom. I think I have found what I want to do.”
Wiens’s long term plans are about growing her business locally, and simply put, being in business a year from now. “It’s about the art of doing what I want to do and carving a path for myself. I think that downtown Salem is going to be the perfect place to create, grow and be inspired and inspiring.”