June Featured MCA Member: Leah Champagne
Our hands are capable of bringing so much into the world. We heal, create, mend, and repair in our studios, gardens, and homes; and we use those same hands to pick things up and try again (and again) through stages of awe and inspiration, and sometimes failure and frustration, until we hold the final product in our fingertips. MCA Member Leah Champagne uses her careful, meticulous, and healing hands as the framework of her businesses in both her studio as a jeweler; and in her full-time profession as a massage therapist.
A native of Connecticut, Leah came to Maine to attend college, and after a brief period on the west coast in Seattle, she returned. Leah took her first metalsmithing class during her time in Seattle, and like many craft artists will tell you- the first time she picked up her tools, she was hooked. Though growing up the daughter of a welder, Leah had always been fascinated with metal and metalwork, and she knew it was a craft medium she was interested in exploring.
After moving back to Maine, Leah took classes in metalsmithing from Rachel Flaherty at MECA and slowly started to accumulate the tools and materials she needed to create a studio at home. Though most of her working hours must be spent working her day job as a massage therapist, the 2020 pandemic allowed Leah the time and space she needed to grow her jewelry-making hobby into a business as she has long desired the opportunity to do.
Leah’s favorite metal to work with is silver for its overall aesthetic and workability. She is inspired by the outdoors, her connections to the places where she spent time growing up, and the groundedness those memories bring to her jeweler’s bench, enhancing her creativity. She is also inspired by the materials themselves- the colors, textures, and beauty of the stones; and watching her designs come to life.
Leah continues to explore new materials, designs, and aesthetics from her studio in the Greater Portland area while traversing the Maine coastline and surrounding towns with her partner in search of their next adventure.
Q & A with Leah Champagne
Q: What inspired you to learn metalsmithing?
A: There are probably at least a few different things that made me interested in metalsmithing. My dad is a welder and I think growing up seeing metal as a medium had some influence on me. He mostly used the skills of the trade to repair machinery for his business but he also did (and still does) some really cool creative stuff.
I think I was also inspired to learn metalsmithing because the tools are so fun. I love working with torches and all the hammers and little files and stone setting tools etc… In my 20’s I lived on the east end for a long time and I remember walking by Willa Wirth’s studio on congress street with her metalsmithing tools all set up and I would always think that I wanted to do that someday. I’m not sure I’ll ever have a storefront like that but seeing her workspace was really inspiring.
Q: What’s a different media that you wish you knew more about?
A: The top ones are probably printmaking and woodworking.
Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
A: That it’s really important to observe and understand how you function so you can set yourself up to be successful. For me it’s knowing what time of day I’m most productive, what systems help me stay organized, and what tools keep me from procrastinating. Things still don’t always fall into place perfectly but it helps a lot.
Q: Who are some of your greatest mentors and influences?
A: I have a few friends that are small business owners that have mentored me through a lot of the aspects of setting up my jewelry business. I’ve been self-employed as a massage therapist for a long time but it turns out running a product based business is quite a bit more involved than a service based business in my experience. I’ve also reached out to lots of other metalsmiths over the years with questions when I feel stuck trying to tackle a new skill. People are always so incredibly kind and helpful.
Q: Where do you look for inspiration?
A: The outdoors and the changing of the seasons. I never really intend to do this, but I often end up releasing new work in seasonal collections because the pieces are usually inspired by the colors and moods that correspond specifically with that time of year. Also, the stones and metals I work with can be very inspiring. If I’m feeling stuck I usually pull out a few stones and begin to imagine how they can transform into a finished piece of jewelry. It’s almost like they take over the process, or as corny as it sounds, like they know what they want to become.
Q: What is your dream project?
A: There are so many Maine artists that I admire. I would love to do a series of collaborative jewelry collections that combine metals with other elements like wood, fiber, clay, or glass.
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