Good as gold

Jill Strainic

Jewelry maker opens shop with help from Kent State grad

Brigitte Martin works with a drill in her Murray Hill studio, situated in a former schoolhouse. The tool, capable of drilling at 18,000 RPM, is specifically designed for jewelers and metalworkers.

Credit: Beth Rankin

It’s 5:32 p.m. on Friday, and Brigitte Martin is unlocking the door of her Murray Hill studio. In less than half an hour, she will officially open it to the public.

Martin, 40, a goldsmith who moved to Cleveland from Munich, Germany, 18 months ago, gives the studio a final once over.

Most people would be frazzled, but Martin is ready.

She’s been ready for a long time.

At 5:49, early birds are already showing up. A colorful gemstone bracelet is the first purchase of the night. It’s not one of Martin’s creations, but it’s a start.

Contributions from a Kent graduate

Martin is opening her gallery, The Jewelry Studio, with the help of Ontario College of Art and Design student Colette Zilka and Kent State graduate Michelle Pajak.

Both currently have jewelry on display at Martin’s gallery. Martin and Pajak have plans to collaborate for a fall collection, as well.

Pajak, a 2001 graduate with a degree in crafts, has been a visiting artist at Standing Rocks Cultural Arts in Kent. Her work has been featured in Modern Bride and the Plain Dealer. She works out of her studio in Kent.

Martin says she included Zilka and Pajak because of the quality of their work.

“Both women are able to walk this fine line, and they can deliver something that is art, is beautiful, and people want to touch it and want to wear it,” Martin said.

A dream takes hold

Martin has always known she wanted to do this.

As a 15-year-old girl in Cologne, Germany, Martin was already interested in art and art history. When she saw an art exhibition of silver work from the Renaissance, she was hooked.

“I asked, ‘How do they do that?’” Martin said. “It was, to me, a big mystery and I wanted to get behind it, and I wanted to be able to do it myself.”

Martin’s parents discouraged her from pursuing a career in art. So she earned a degree in hotel management instead.

But she kept returning to the art world, first as a receptionist at a Sotheby’s office in Cologne, then as an assistant to a gallery owner.

At the age of 26, Martin found an apprenticeship with a goldsmith master in Cologne. For three years, she studied goldsmithing during the day and worked as a secretary for a law firm at night to pay for her apprenticeship. It was grueling work, but for Martin it was worth it to become a classically trained goldsmith.

“It’s like a dream job if you can get it,” she said.

While Martin was an apprentice, she had the idea to open her own gallery, but she also met her husband, Paul, an American attorney working in Cologne at the time.

“We were having children or moving about the globe, and it couldn’t be done,” Martin said.

The Martins moved to Paul’s hometown, Pittsburgh, where they were married and had two children, and then Paul was transferred back to Germany, this time to Munich.

In November 2003, the Martins moved to Cleveland.

“We had lived in Pittsburgh and we loved it there and we wanted something similar to that,” Martin said. Cleveland became that place.

“I’ve lived in a number of places and it’s surprising to me that Clevelanders seem to have this mistaken belief that their city is not an interesting city,” Martin said. “I find it very interesting. I think the city has a lot to offer. You have a symphony, you have museums, you have a vibrant gallery scene. It’s a lovely town.”

Now that both of her children, ages 5 and 6, can attend school, Martin knows exactly what to do with her time.

“It was practically marked on the calendar,” Paul said.

Making it happen

And now it’s time. It’s 6 p.m. The gallery has officially opened.

Along the back wall, blue netting — taken from air conditioning filters — serves as the backdrop for a row of chrome chimney vents, their porthole-like circles housing a sampling of Martin’s work.

Martin points out several other things in the studio, including some of the jewelry pieces, that are made of everyday objects.

“I’m a do-it-yourselfer,” Martin says.

Showcases house jewelry collections, including those of Zilka and Pajak.

In the front of the studio, a mannequin torso houses what at first appears to be a loosely-knit scarf. It’s actually woven from fine silver wire, and making it long enough for a woman to wrap it around her neck twice took Martin four weeks.

Martin had been working on the pieces displayed in the gallery since December.

“I’ve waited for this forever,” she says. “I’ve waited to have my own store, selling my own jewelry. I’ve waited for this for so long.”

In the next hours, groups of gallery hoppers, fellow artists and friends pass through Martin’s studio.

By 8:30, the place is hopping, Brigitte is chatting in rapid-fire German with the parents of Zilka, whose mother is from the Alsace-Lorraine region, and visitors are eyeballing pieces on the back wall.

The glass doors of her showcases are open, inviting visitors to touch, pick up and try on the pieces.

And they do.

“Ohhh, look at that.”

“The color in this one!”

By 9:00, things are wrapping up. A woman is wearing one of Martin’s pieces, a rose quartz necklace, trying to decide whether she should buy it. Reluctantly, she takes it off. She decides to think about it.

”I’ll be back,” she says.

Contact copy editor Jill Strainic at [email protected].