The designers of
Michael Thee Studio, Michael Thee and Mary Wohlgemuth, met at an art
show in Green Bay. Wohlgemuth, who at the time was an editor at
Kalmbach Publishing Co. in Waukesha, was scouting artists for one of
her jewelry books, and the two bonded over their shared backgrounds in
as a graphic artist for 20 years, and somebody gave me a ring ó
sterling silver ó that was too large," Thee says. "I took
it to a jewelry store, and they wouldnít size it. They gave me the
name of a local silversmith. We got to talking, and he gave me
lessons," he explains of his transition into jewelry making.
Marquette grad in journalism but always had my hands in layout or
design," Wohlgemuth says, adding that she went back to school at
MIAD and took classes in jewelry design at MATC before working at
couple of years ago she decided to make jewelry full time, and now she
and Thee live together and work together in their Milwaukee studio.
That meant consolidating equipment ó and figuring out how they would
collaborate on projects.
"I had an
industrial/techno thing going, and then I had the nature influence,
and then there was the stuff that I considered more Ďjewelry storeí
jewelry," Thee says of the studioís past work. "Now those
have fallen away. Weíre making it a more unified line."
have an otherworldly feel. For example, in their simple yet elegant
constellation ring, Thee drilled holes in the sterling silver, and
Wohlgemuth suggested they cut out star shapes with a jewelry saw.
Their rising moon pendant, which they developed as a project for their
class at the last Bead&Button Show, includes a bezel-set Norwegian
moonstone surrounded by an ethereal bluish patina. The top layer,
which acts as a frame, features drilled holes and blue topaz.
boxes or layers is pretty typical of a lot of our work,"
with the boxes, with three-dimensional, was sort of a rebellion
against being stuck in 2-D for 20 years. I like to explore that whole
depth thing," Thee says, adding that his depth perception is
affected by partial blindness in his left eye.
tube-setting stones is another one of the studioís signature
and Wohlgemuth also cut their own stones, enabling them to incorporate
different shapes and to start with a design and conform the stone to
two ways to go about design," Thee explains. "One is to take
a stone and work a design around the stone. Another way is, for
instance, this piece," Thee says as he points out an
"alarm" pendant. "(It) was inspired by antique fire
(alarm) boxes, and to go from that as a departure point and
The work, which
includes the phrases "Alarm may sound" and "Hard to
say," showcases the soft-spoken Theeís sense of humor, and such
pieces often appeal to people at art shows.
points out that they are serious about designing jewelry that women
want to wear. "Our jewelry is not costume jewelry," she
says. "I want it to be pretty and beautiful and wearable. I want
to design for someone who likes to look fresh and cool and have
something that her friends might say, ĎWhere did you get that?í"
are the two working on next? More enameling to start. "Enameling
is a really good way that weíre able to collaborate,"
Wohlgemuth says, adding that she created the enameled surface for a
recent piece and Thee fabricated the silver. They plan to focus on
neutrals, including gemstones in taupe, creamy white, black and gray
on black, and theyíre eager to put to use skills they honed in a
class with master porcelain ceramic artist Sandra Byers.
"We hope to
carve our own porcelain and bring it all down to jewelry scale and be
able to incorporate it in our work," Wohlgemuth says.
continue to teach and offer their students and other jewelry artists
an affordable, Milwaukee-made tool set they developed. And theyíll
continue to display their work on the art show circuit as well as stay
active in their leadership roles on the Wisconsin Designer Crafts
describe themselves as introverts. "I can connect with people at
shows," Wohlgemuth says, "but at heart Iím much more of an
introvert. I like working in a fairly solitary way, and I like working
with my hands. Iíd much rather be working quietly with Michael, with
my best friend sitting next to me."
Where to Find
Sept. 3-4: Third
Ward Art Festival
Sept. 10: Bay View Art in the Park
Nov. 18-19: Winter Glory Fine Craft Show, Franklin
Museum of Wisconsin Art shop, West Bend
minimalist by nature, and thatís reflected in the design of the
jewelry," says Sarah Mann, a jewelry artist on the North Shore
who dresses in gray and favors silver accessories. "Itís
certainly the way I live but also in the things I create."
Mann grew up in
Shorewood and studied at Washington University in St. Louis, where
master metalsmith Heikki Seppš taught. After school, she managed a
jewelerís studio in New Orleans. Thatís where the seed to run her
own business was planted, and so she did in Brooklyn, where she lived
for 10 years. When she needed to find a new home, she decided to head
back to the Milwaukee area, where she could have more space with her
daughter and be near family.
That was 10
years ago, and the move only helped her career.
resonates with Midwesterners in a way that I didnít find to be the
case in the Northeast," she says. "People (in the Midwest)
understand what it means to work with your hands, whether itís
farming or whether itís carpentry ó whatever it is ó they get
exclusively in sterling silver and describes her work as generally
drifting from big, bold and geometric pieces earlier in her career to
incorporating much more delicate, organic elements. Her timeless style
is reminiscent of black and white photography in that, absent of other
colors, you begin to notice other design elements ó texture, finish,
something really subtle about it, but if you look closely you can see
all thatís going on there," she says, adding that while she
took a range of art classes, she majored in photography.
She likes to
texturize pieces and adds a patina to all her work. Patina, as opposed
to a high polish, shows off subtle variations in texture, she says. To
create texture, sheís employed a rolling mill, a sanding disc and a
Mizzy Wheel, which she explains is a rotating stone thatís drawn
across the surface of a piece. Sheís also imprinted a texture with
screening and added visual interest with a jewelry hammer.
lot of (my pieces) are technical challenges. (For) this one," she
says, pointing to a necklace, "I wanted to try doing a series
that used all cold connection, which means no soldering in the links,
so that was the technical challenge. And I really like mechanics, so
this series all had hinges in them," she says, indicating several
While Mann has
worked with nickel, brass, copper, bronze and gold, she prefers
sterling silver largely because itís what she likes and what
complements her coloring. "I donít make anything that I donít
wear," she says. Plus, gold in particular is more expensive to
work with. "It feels like I can take more chances with
silver," she says. "It feels a little more playful, a little
less conservative and precious."
And even though
she designs first for herself, her jewelry resonates with people in a
way that transforms her solitary hours in the studio into a genuine
bond with her clients. "Itís a part of me that I put out
there," she says of her work. "Itís a little vulnerable.
When someone says I really like that, and I want to show it off
because it feels like itís a part of me too, thatís incredibly
rewarding. I love that connection. It feels like youíre speaking the
jewelry making also feels like itís part of a family tradition of
creating ó whether it be writing, painting, illustrating or weaving
ó even as her studio is a retreat for the busy single mom.
"Thereís no place in my home that feels more like home than my
studio. I feel like Iím channeling my grandpa, because he had his
own studio," she explains of the woodworker in the family.
"It just feels like Iím reaching down into my DNA and
connecting with something thatís really at my core and my family
Where to Find
Nov. 18-19: Winter Glory Fine Craft Show, Franklin
Magpie Jewelry and Metals Studio LLC, Wauwatosa
I first met Ann
Kathryn Kehoe at the Lakefront Festival of Art in June, and it was at
a similar venue in her native St. Louis that she fell in love with the
idea of jewelry design.
interested in making jewelry when I was 12, because my mom would take
me to the art shows around town. There was one particular jeweler
whose work I just loved, and I asked him a million questions,"
she says and laughs.
Each year, she
saved her own money to buy jewelry from her favorite designer, and
they developed a rapport. "When I was in high school, he invited
me to his studio, and so he taught me how to forge and how to
manipulate metal and just some basics with metals and stones. I was
hooked," she says.
Missouri State University in Springfield and graduated with a Bachelor
of Fine Arts in metals and jewelry design. After school, a Kansas City
company hired her to create artisan jewelry that could be attached to
medical ID tags. As part of her job, she built a jewelry studio for
the company, a process that would help her later when she would set up
a studio at home.
transition happened when my husband got the job here," she says.
So after five years in her position, she transitioned into a freelance
role with her employer in early 2013 and began to ramp up her own
business. Last year she and her husband, a motorcycle designer, bought
a Tudor house on the northwest side, and Kehoe turned a second-floor
bedroom into her studio.
There she loves
to work with gemstones. Her gemstone pendants, which come with a card
about the healing properties of the featured stone, are best-sellers.
"I really feel like (gemstones) can heal and they can offer
support. Thatís what has propelled me to work with stones more over
time," she says.
believes that people are drawn to particular stones for a reason.
"Itís interesting for me to look back, because there are
periods in my life when I was very drawn to certain gemstones,"
she says. "And connecting them with what was going on in my life
ó itís always intertwined."
A meditator, she
oftentimes finds that when she is stuck on a project, the solution to
the design will come to her in a dream, as if her mind had been
continually working on the problem even as she focused on other
feminine designs are inspired by nature ó for example, her line
includes moon-shaped earrings and a songbird ring. She also cites
Indian textiles as an influence. "I use a lot of symbols, and I
call them empowerments in my work. So (I include) hidden words or
hidden symbols that can encourage the wearer," she says.
She works in
sterling silver, brass and 14-karat gold, depending on the stone.
"If I see a stone, and I think, ĎIíd really love to see this
with a warm tone,í Iím going to set it in brass," she says.
"A lot of times Iíll use mixed metals, so Iíll use both
sterling silver and brass when I create a piece, and I love the look
Her clients seem
to not only like the look of her pieces but also to connect with her
philosophy. She says that while each fine art show brings a different
crowd, she knows her online customers tend to be health-conscious and
freethinkers and yogis.
are popular with that market, and Kehoe designs essential oil
necklaces too. "Iím so excited by them, because I use essential
oils and I believe they can offer natural healing as well," she
says. "So itís fun to create these little vessels that hold
something special and sacred and natural."
is Kehoeís passion, but it challenged her early on. "When I was
younger, I used to paint all the time, and it was easy. As soon as I
met the jeweler, and he started showing me how to work with metals, it
was the one medium that I didnít succeed in right away. And that
made me mad and also fueled me, like, ĎI have to learn this.í
"I love the
idea that Iím creating a piece of art that is meant to be worn and
meant to be touched," she adds. "It has sentimental value.
Itís a really special form of art." m
Where to Find
Forget Me Not
Flower Market, Walworth