By Isabella Patta, Staff Writer —
Local art jeweler and metalsmith, Meredith Middleton Burns, creates jewelry primarily with precious metals, sterling silver and gold.
As a child, she was intrigued by metals when building tractors with her father but did not pursue it because of her age.
“In the back of my mind, I had always thought that if I had ever the chance, I’d like to learn how to work with silver, it just intrigued me,” Middleton Burns said. “I liked looking at jewelry and how it was made.”
Middleton Burns has been a letter carrier for USPS for 20 years. While on the job, she saw a catalog for the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. When she was 35 years old, she looked up the school’s website to see if they had metal welding classes, and she took her first class there in 2011.
Molly Sharp, a metalsmith and jeweler from North Carolina, was her teacher in the first class she took. After her first class, she went to Sharp’s home studio for following workshops.
They covered basic metalsmithing and construction, which is a more craft approach, concentrating on the skill and the craft of the artist. Then Middleton Burns went to the New Approach School for Jewelers in Nashville, which focuses more on the technical approach of it, to work in a jewelry store.
At Sharp’s classes, they would cover a different topic in every class.
“We had studied fold forming metal and I had to pieces of metal laying on my desk, that were two triangles, Middleton Burns said. “I wondered what would happen if I put them together this way and then folded it.” That’s how she came up with her signature piece, ‘the signature basket’. Middleton Burns has sold many pieces of it. “Apparently it was original enough that they awarded me the [design] copyright for it,” she said.
Depending on the item, she spends hours in her studio. Middleton Burns said, “Sometimes really elaborate pieces, when inspiration strikes, you can make it in about an hour—sometimes something that should be incredible simple, may take two to three hours, simply because it doesn’t want to come together correctly.” Usually, her signature pieces take her a few hours. “Sometimes I build the piece in my head before I physically sit down to make it,” she said.
Middleton Burns sells her work at the Gallery at Flatrock, North Carolina, on her website meredithmiddletonjewlery.com, on etsy.com, msilverdesign, and at the Chattanooga workspace with pop up shops.
The prices range from $45 to infinite. “I just finished a wedding band that appraised for $20,000,” Middleton Burns said. “It was a rebuild for a couple, but it was a custom piece.” Her signature pieces that she designs are $45 to $200.
She creates earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and sometimes pins. “Earrings and necklaces always sell,” Middleton Burns said. “I’ve had requests for toe rings, I would have never thought of that.”
Middleton Burns has a home studio, where she does most of her work, but she has also been at the Chattanooga Workspace since 2014.
Besides her full-time job and creating jewelry, Middleton Burns teaches at three places within the country. She teaches Sterling Foundations and A Touch of Sterling Foundations at John C. Campbell Folk School, she teaches beginnings of metalsmithing and silversmithing at Oak Ridge Art Center, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and she teaches Pebble and Sterling Silver jewelry at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota.
To expand her knowledge of metals, Middleton Burns tries to learn new things. “I’m going to Florence, Italy in May to study gold alloy; going from 24 to 18 karat gold,” Middleton Burns said. “I’m always trying to enhance my craft and I’m trying to marry the art/craft side with the more technical side of jewelry.”
Middleton Burns designs jewelry mostly for herself. “If somebody else appreciates it, then it’s a thrill,” she said. “The challenge of building something new [is great]; something that has never been seen before. I love the construction and the design phase; it’s like giving birth.”
Middleton Burns stated that Chattanooga is in an Appalachian county and there are several art guilds artists can apply for. “We are included in the Southern Highland Craft Guild, it’s out of Asheville, North Carolina. They have a craft shop on the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Middleton Burn said. “It’s somewhat of a distinction that you are a top craftsperson. That’s one of my goals to get into the Southern Highland Craft Guild.”
She usually spends six to seven hours on her off days working on her jewelry, and then an hour every day during the week. “I’ve had to wrestle with the desire to pursue my craft full time and the practicalities of earning a living,” Middleton Burns said. “It’s something many professional artists struggle with. I’m slowly but surely building a second career and it will be worth it in the end because my goal is to build quality pieces that reflect my skill and craftsmanship and that will last generations.”
For more information, visit meredithmiddletonjewlery.com or emmemeredith on Instagram.