Press: Jerry Spaulding Design

Article on Jerry Spaulding from Page 4 of the Marin Scope
Week of October 21st through 27th, 1975

Of the dozen or so Goldsmiths working out of Sausalito and Mill Valley, either from their own studios or the workshops of retail stores, 24-year old Jerry Spaulding is both typical and atypical.

He’s typical in that he’s young and in the manner of his age group, has become a goldsmith almost by accident, simply testing and then following his natural interests. An early passion for experimenting with tools and metals has simply evolved into a “way of making a living at what I enjoy most.”

He’s atypical because, unlike most members of the local art community, he didn’t come here from someplace else. He was born in Sausalito. So were his mother and his grandmother before him. This makes Jerry one of that rare breed, a fourth generation Sausalitan, descendent of one Portuguese family that came from the Azores as early as the 1880’s and another which joined the local dairying community soon after the turn of the century.

In the years after that followed, his grand father, Jose’ Rodrigues, drove the limousine of the Bank of America’s Giannini family, worked on the Golden Gate Bridge, and owned and managed the old Del Monte Hotel and Saloon. Jerry (although half Norwegian on his father’s side) has all the ritual memories of a child growing up in Sausalito’s close knit Portuguese colony – the annual Chama Rita celebration, the gathering of friends and relatives from around the county, the marathon feasts at the I.D.E.S.S.T. Hall.

Today Jerry works out of a home studio on the top floor of a building, which his grandfather owns in downtown Sausalito. His workshop is lined with several thousand dollars worth of specialized equipment assembled since he made his initial commitment to the goldsmith’s trade three years ago.

At this point in his career, he’s producing jewelry for the commercial market, although at some point in the future he hopes to move more in the direction of the fine arts. His main retail outlets, Shelby Galleries at 673 Bridgeway, and David Hurley at 30 Princess Court, sell his rings, bracelets, and pendants for from $100 to $1000.

But, as is usual in the local fraternity of goldsmiths, Jerry says, “everyone I work for is a close friend of mine.” Hurley, a family friend from Jerry’s teenage years, was probably the single greatest influence in his decision to become a goldsmith. Shelly and Betty Jacknowitz of Shelby Galleries also take obvious pride in Jerry’s growing reputation.

In addition, these shop owners have a strong economic stake in Jerry’s success because they supply him with the gold and gems he needs in his work. Then, when he has produced finished pieces, they buy them outright, taking their chances on being able to sell them.

“Jerry’s Jewelry is so good that we don’t carry anything by other goldsmiths because it tends to look second rate,” says Jacknowitz

Although they are the stock in trade of a competitive custom jewelry business, Jerry’s pieces are anything but routinely produced. They evolve from his original designs and personal work methods, and the crucial difference between them and jewelry produced in a large workshop of competent artisans working from somebody else’s designs is that the original artist is in control at each stage of their development.

In fact, jerry has even moved away from doing pieces from his customers’ own designs. He still recalls with amusement a $1000 made-to-order bracelet, which turned out to be a bizarre assemblage of $20 gold pieces and elaborate scrolls encircling the owner’s last name and weighing at least a pound.

Instead, he prefers to work from his own designs, some of them beginning from sketches but most emerging as he works with his materials. Asked to describe a distinguishing quality of his work, he says there’s bound to be some similarity between goldsmiths working with the same materials with common techniques. But he uses words like “sculptural”, “complete”, and “dimensional” to describe his most distinctive work. “A kind of refined free form, conceived and produced as a whole. I seldom use textures or surface treatment.”

Of course, in order to produce the less expensive pieces, he must regularly repeat certain designs from existing molds, but always with some variations. “My designs are always in the process of change and I’m always having to make new decisions. That’s what I like about working the way I do. It’s almost never boring.”

For instance, if an emerging design seems to be the kind that a stone would interfere with, then he leaves it as an unadorned gold piece. If the stone seems right in the setting, he uses it. The semi-precious gems he most often works with are turquoise, lapis, coral, jasper, garnet, and members of the quartz family. Precious stones that most often appear on his pieces are rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.

Jerry’s evolution as a goldsmith follows this same instinctual pattern. He remembers beginning to draw at about the age of five. He passed through the Sausalito school system finding opportunities for creative expression more in spite of than because of the formal curriculum. He recalls himself as a behind-the-textbook doodler. “Most of what I managed to do in those years I wasn’t supposed to be doing.”

Art classes at Tam High never produced much of a spark. But outside of school he was always tinkering around with machinist and carpenter’s tools his father had around the house. He also picked up on goldsmithing talk he was hearing between his father and David Hurley, who had once worked together as carpenters. Hurley had begun taking goldsmith classes about that time, and Fred Spaulding was already moving in the direction of his present retirement hobby of working in gold.

When Jerry received his discharge from the US navy in 1972 and was casting about for something to do, it occurred to him that what he always most enjoyed was working with his hands. He started noting that ordinary mass produced items with some design potential were often left unfinished and incomplete. He began reworking certain items, stylizing and personalizing them, putting different finishes on them.

Focusing on hand tools and cutlery, he began producing hand wrought items, cutlery fashioned out of steel, brass, or ivory, which he sold through Scrimshaw in Sausalito.

(More recently, purely as a personal challenge, he has taken on the extremely difficult hobby of making primitive firearms. Studying the totally hand crafted weaponry made between the 17th century and the mid-19th century, he likes to “test” himself by simulating the working conditions of artisans of that period – no electric power, “just sculpting in metal, carving and chiseling.”)

But back in the days when what he made had to provide him with a living, he found that handmade cutlery required too much time and effort to be sold competitively. Forced to support himself with distracting outside jobs like driving a tow truck, pumping gas, working as a baker’s helper at Ole’s, and even building coffins for a San Francisco casket company, he began looking for ways to make a living at what he liked to do best.

When asked about how he actually got into goldsmithing, Jerry says he honestly cant say how or when. “I was getting more and more of a feeling for working with materials. But then all my life I’d been sketching or making something. As long as I’d known David Hurley, for instance, one or the other of us was saying, ‘hey, look what I just made’.”

But at one point he decided, after always having confined himself to carving and forging, to begin learning all he could about waxwork. He spent about three months at this; then, with Hurley’s help, he joined the workshop of Don Eaton, regarded as the “pioneer” of Sausalito’s goldsmiths and early mentor to many smiths now working professionally in this area. After about a month’s probation period, during which Eaton assessed his potential, he was given a permanent apprentice status and his work began to be sold in the shop.

A little over a year ago, he set up his present studio. For most of his work, he uses what is known as the “lost wax” method, but on occasion he will use other techniques in the goldsmith’s repertoire – fabrication or hand wrought, sand casting, or pure carving.

His work schedule is that of most creative people – unconventional, erratic, and often exhausting. He frequently sits down at his workbench in the early evening, a Vivaldi or Handel record on the stereo, and stays there until 4 in the morning, then sleeps until noon the next day.

In his moments of leisure, he plays the classical guitar from studies he’s assembled by ear, an accomplishment he taught himself several years ago.

He’s been riding motorcycles since he was 14 years old, when he built his first one from old parts. He used to compete in Marin County Motorcycle Association events out at China Camp – “hare and hound scrambles” and flat track races – but he doesn’t race anymore. His main mode of transportation remains, however, a Dunstal Honda prototype.

“I still like almost any fast sport,” he says, “but nowadays there are so many other things to do.” Having said that, he turns back to one of the three “work stations” in his studio, switches on an intensely focused light, and bends over a half finished ring which is beginning to take on a graceful, curvilinear form in his hands.

By Doris Berdahl / Editor, Marin Scope newspaper