Jewelry Designer Jamie Hollier of Balefire Goods
Our new series CULTURED features tastemakers who are shaping the cultural and social landscape of the city. In this issue, Culture & Style Editor ANNIE BLOJ interviews Jamie Hollier at Balefire Goods.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ESTHER LEE LEACH
Annie Bloj: Jamie, I have to say,I had a blast hanging out with you and Esther for the photoshoot. It was so amazing to spend time in the gallery, really looking at all the jewelry you have on display and get a sense of the passion you have for metalsmithing. I was particularly struck by the diversity of the designers that you carry and the price points that you offer, it’s amazing that everyone can find a beautiful piece of art to wear!
Jamie Hollier: It was great hanging out with you two! It was so fun.
AB: Let’s start from the beginning. You have an incredible eye for great design, artistry, and technique. Have you always been drawn to jewelry in particular, or has the creative process always been a part of your life?
JH: I was lucky to be raised with an appreciation for both art and jewelry instilled in me from early on. For one, my mom has always had a strong interest in the arts and I can remember going to art shows and museums from an early age. In fact, I even remember earrings she bought from one artist at the Bayou City Arts Festival in Houston, when I was maybe 9 that featured a woman’s face and hair in an art nouveau style. In addition, I had a ton of antique dealers in my family and spent a lot of time around decorative arts pieces, like glassware and pottery, as well as antique jewelry pieces. My Great Aunt Tettie had a shop in Lake Charles, Louisiana that was just dripping in colorful costume and fine jewelry and I have fond memories of walking through her tiny shop and picking out my favorites and then sitting on her lap as she told me about each one.
AB: Metalsmithing is a very particular art form, seeing you with the torch in your studio in the back of the shop was so cool! How did you get started?
JH: An interest in metalworking specifically started with my grandfather, who I called Papal. He and I were pretty close to inseparable and he was a great machinist and metalworker himself. I spent a lot of my childhood out in his shop in the backyard where he taught me to weld and do a little forging. He always had some project or idea brewing and I loved creating with him. I didn’t connect the dots between my interest in working with metal and making jewelry until college, though. I had thought for a long time that being an artist meant graphic arts or painting, etc. When I was getting my undergrad in art history, I took a metalsmithing and jewelry class and I was hooked. I knew immediately that this was my primary format for expression.
AB: One of the things that I came to realize after spending some time with you is that you seem to possess the unique duality of being incredibly creative but also business-minded. What led you from learning metalsmithing to starting two very successful businesses in tech?
JH: After I finished my degree, I decided I wanted to work in the arts, so I ended up working as an art buyer for a local educational publishing company where I was managing photoshoots, illustrators, negotiating rights, doing research, etc. That was the job I was in when I decided to get a Master’s and I ended up getting a degree in Library Science with a focus on Specialized Information Centers as that made the most sense for where I was at the time. I was still making jewelry here and there but it was more of a hobby than anything. Then my husband, Tynan, and I did a crazy thing and decided to move to the mountains for a while. While living in Paonia I learned a lot more about tech working with my husband’s software development company and my Master’s made me a great fit as a library manager so I ended up managing a couple of library branches and working in tech on the Western Slope. I was so busy with the rest of the things happening in my life at the time, metalsmithing fell to the wayside. Eventually, Tynan and I decided we were not meant to be in a town of 1500 and I got a job offer to manage a federal grant to set up almost 90 public computer centers across Colorado for the Colorado State Library so we headed back to Denver.
By the time the grant funding was coming to a close, I had a lot of different directions I could go in but decided to start my own company with a friend, so we started Anneal. CKD Tech and Anneal worked well together as one does custom software development and the other did technology product ownership. Those companies did well and I was even lucky enough to get an award from Obama’s White House in 2013 for my work with digital literacy at Anneal. However, tech is where my background of experiences had landed me, though it wasn’t really my passion. I was getting burnt out and was having a hard time staying motivated so in 2017 I decided I wanted to get back into metalsmithing and art and approached my business partners at both companies (who also happen to be my husband and my best friend) and told them I wanted to do something new. They both gave me their support and Balefire opened about two months later.
AB: From the amazing caged collars of designer Jesse Mathes, the leather cuffs and bowls of Alexa Allen to the stunningly sophisticated work from Oblik Atelier, the variety of designers and objects that you carry is so varied, there is always something new to discover. How do you vet new designers for the shop?
JH: There are a few things I look at, such as the experience level and craftsmanship of the artist, the aesthetic and price point of their work and how it fits into the gallery as a whole, where and how they source their materials (as we focus on ethically sourced and made pieces) and if they currently have representation in the region, state, or area. At the end of the day, however, it is also about gut. If I took in everyone that could be a fit I would have too much work so I have to be thoughtful when I curate the collection. Because of this, though, we also change out some of our artists regularly.
AB: One of the things I love the most about Balefire is the community that you have created through your classes and open houses. A few of my readers have commented that they’ve taken different classes you have on offer and have enjoyed them. Was that always your intention with the design of the shop?
JH: I always knew that I wanted the gallery to be community-focused but I wasn’t sure how that would manifest at first. We started to get questions from customers about their desire to learn and I realized that furthering our customer’s understanding of jewelry as an art form was very much tied to some level of helping them understand the techniques and processes behind the jewelry. That helped me to have a direction for our classes and we have been offering jewelry and gemstone education opportunities ever since.
AB: How do you balance the stresses of owning a business with your creative spirit?
JH: I think entrepreneurship is all about creativity, so in a way, it is a great fit. Creating, whether it is a piece of jewelry or a business, is all about understanding your constraints, your opportunities, etc. and then finding a creative way to make it all work together for the desired outcome. Metalsmithing is one of the more process-oriented and structured forms of art out there, I think, and it fits well with the skills and approaches you need in business. That being said, being a business owner will always be stressful and hard. The amount of self-doubt and anxiety that comes with entrepreneurship is something I think we should all take more openly about. Owning a business means feeling like a certain amount of your life is out of your control, so when I get super stressed about work I find that I enjoy doing things that make me feel like I have a handle on at least some aspect of the work like reconciling books or cleaning out my email. I also love having a day on my jeweler’s bench to just focus on creating and letting my materials speak to me about what they want to become, those creative times allow me to turn off the stresses of work as I get caught up in my immediate task list of creating.