Northern Roots Jewelry: An Interview with Amy Stephens

Have you ever thought about the creators behind the jewelry that we wear? How they work with the precious metals and stones that hang around our necks, ears and on our fingers? I must admit, it wasn’t something I overly thought about until coming across Amy Stephens and her beautiful items at Northern Roots Jewelry. As you’ll come to see, it is an art form that is similar, and yet so very different to other creative disciplines. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Amy Stephens; who is as lovely as her jewelry is!

I would love to know how you got into jewelry making. What was your journey to becoming Northern Roots Jewelry? How did it get its name?

Nine years ago, we were living in Texas and I was teaching 4th grade at a sweet little small town elementary school when I got pregnant with our daughter. I had no idea how hard it would be to leave her when my maternity leave was over. I struggled, hard; and wanted nothing more than to be home with her. I told my husband that I was going to wear black everyday because I was in mourning. Dramatic, I know, but I did it. Poor guy. I made it four months before we took a huge leap of faith and I resigned. We were very worried about our finances and we just had to have faith that God would take care of us, and he sure did. I was always interested in all things art related, and I decided to start making jewelry. I began with these tiny, intricate, hand molded clay flower studs, and it wasn’t two months before I was picked up by my very first store. Suddenly this “fun craft” seemed like it could actually turn into a career. Over the next few years, I baby stepped my way into working with natural stones, and after our move to Pennsylvania I started metalsmithing, which was something that I had always wanted to do. My inspiration has always come from nature, whether it is the awe-inspiring stones that I am using, or a leaf, branch, plant or flower incorporated into the design. We now live in the middle of the woods, and I am completely surrounded by the natural elements that inspire my pieces.

The name Northern Roots came about in the middle of the night, deliriously feeding a newborn baby and desperately trying to come up with that perfect name at 3am. A little background on me, I grew up in a very small town in Pennsylvania and then moved to Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University. I met an amazing man who was my neighbor in college, we got married, and ended up staying in Texas for 11 years. I loved Texas, the people, the warmth, but I missed home always…my family, and childhood friends, the changing of seasons… even snow. Anyway, all of that to say that my roots were still here in PA, the “north”, and it fit in perfectly with my nature inspired aesthetic, and so came about the name “Northern Roots”.

How is making jewelry different to other creative disciplines?

All creative disciplines have their own challenges. Mine seem to come about because my medium is always changing. Different stones, different shapes, different settings and metals all require me to constantly evolve and learn, and that is one of the things that I love most about what I do. I rarely make multiples of the exact same piece. I thrive on making one of a kind pieces; there is something so rewarding about creating something that can’t be replicated exactly.

What are the differences between working with silver and gold? What about the different stones?

To be honest, silver and I are much better friends on my metalsmithing table. I learned on silver, and it just seems to be so much more cooperative. Gold and silver are just two totally different animals, mainly in the temperatures required to heat them in order to melt the solder and the cues to know when they’ve come to that perfect temperature. Overheating the metals is disastrous, I have melted several pieces in trying new methods.

As for the stones, they are also incredibly different. Some are strong and cooperative, others are extremely fragile and not preferable for certain settings because of that. I remember the very first Australian Opal that I snapped in half when I was tightening the prong setting on it. It was one of my priciest stone purchases at the time, and the stone was secure in the setting, but I just had to go around ONE more time and be sure, and I broke that little beauty right in half. I could have cried. One thing that I have learned is that I absolutely have to be able to roll with the punches; some designs just don’t work out for certain stones (and I’m still learning how to accept and move on when that happens, instead of wasting an entire day trying to make it work.)

What are some of your favorite custom orders you’ve done? Any cool stories that you can share with the readers?

I absolutely love getting meaningful custom orders and have had the honor of working with customers all over the world. I recently had a customer give me a pair of emerald earrings that her grandparents had gifted her years ago and she had been holding on to them. I extracted the stones and set them as two rings, one for the customer and one for her twin sister for their birthday. I felt so honored to take this special gift and turn it into something that the two of them will wear and cherish for many years to come.

I also recently had a customer who traveled to Ireland and collected gorgeous, vibrant green sea glass. She had me set the glass into pendants and create matching necklaces for her sister and her to wear in her sisters wedding. I really love being able to create such personalized, one of a kind items and am so humbled that my customers come to me and trust me to help make these incredible gifts.

I have made several pieces to remember a loved one who has passed or a difficult time someone is going through, but also celebration pieces such as engagement rings. To say that I feel blessed to make these special pieces is an understatement. I don’t have the right words to express the gratitude that I have for these customers who have trusted me to create a meaningful piece that has such emotion attached to it. I am reminded daily of why God has led me to this profession, and feel so blessed to have a job that I look forward to doing each day.

I know you’re a mom—is making artwork part of your routine helpful in balancing the busyness of raising young kids?

You struck a cord with that word : balance. It’s something that I am constantly working to achieve. I am so thankful for a profession that combines enjoyable “me time” with productivity, but I am still trying to set boundaries for myself for when to stop working (whether it is answering emails or a direct message or packing up an order.) My 4 year old is home with me most days, so I do struggle with finding the balance between being a small business owner and being a mama…one of the two is very cute and impossible to resist and almost always takes precedence. Both of my little ones will be in school full time (for the first time ever) this coming fall, and while it breaks my heart that my last baby is starting Kindergarten, I will have full work days which I have never had before. Stay tuned…in my head I am envisioning creating so many things!

There seems to be this wonderfully supportive community of artisans on Instagram—what has it been like to connect with so many different artists? What are a few of your favorites?

Oh my gosh, Amen to this statement. Yes, there are such wonderful artisans that inspire and encourage me constantly, and are all so different. Some of my favorites are artisans that I have met through Instagram, others I have met at markets, or known for years, and one in particular I am lucky enough to have been best friends with since 4th grade. There is this whole world of creatives who band together and just provide such encouragement to each other; it’s incredible.

A few of my favorites, in no particular order include Erin of @myprettypeggy , she creates these wonderfully intricate little painted peg dolls, specializing in creating invaluable pieces for families who have had a miscarriage, for them to hold on to as a reminder of this perfect little life. Meghann of @meghannelyse designs incredibly personalized jewelry, whether it be for a happy time, or one of the hardest, she puts her heart and soul into these meaningful pieces and they are beautiful! Alexis of @farmstandsoaps makes amazing, handcrafted, natural soaps in a variety of delicious scents. My daughter has extremely sensitive skin, and Alexis’s products don’t irritate her at all and smell amaaaaazing! Amy of @beachedandrescued makes the BEST face skincare program ever. I literally want to eat her facewash (honey and avocado…so good!). I have never been one to take great care of my skin, but her products make it easy and desirable to do so. And last, but DEFINITELY not least, is the most incredible photographer Jennifer of @jmcneillphoto, who takes the most stunning photos; specializing in three of my favorite things: fauna, flora, and explorations. All of her photos tell a story and evoke such emotion, I am constantly blown away by her work.

Any advice to anyone who wishes to start making their own jewelry but is a little nervous to try? Any helpful hints for those beginners just starting out?

Baby step it. Start with something you think you’d be comfortable with and go from there. And don’t reinvent the wheel. If you have the means, take a course in whatever medium you are interested in. If you don’t have the means to take a course, there are plenty of free tutorials online, and there is no shame in learning methods from someone who has being doing it for many years. And the most important piece of advice is to be original, always put your own voice and personal touch and don’t be afraid to take risks with your creations!

And finally, In creating this beautiful jewelry, what have you learned about its significance as a gift? Why is jewelry still such a special token to receive after all these years?

Jewelry can be so incredibly personal and symbolic. Often the idea behind the design or the stones chosen is a very meaningful one, though not blatantly obvious to an outsider. It’s almost like wearing a little secret around and I love that.

It’s recorded that the earliest piece of jewelry dated back 25,000 years ago. To think that this wearable art has been around for that long is just awesome. A piece of jewelry can represent a favorite place, remind us of a loved one, represent life goals or hurdles, or maybe you just simply love it. I think what makes it so special as a gift is that someone knows the recipient so well, knows their style, and most importantly, took the time to seek out the perfect match that screams their name.

Just as a chef is able to put love into food, Amy Stephens puts the same heartfelt good will into her jewelry. What a gem! 😉

You can follow Amy on Instagram here and Facebook here.

You can also contact her at northernrootsjewelry@gmail.com .