Lori Blaylock is just getting in her groove after working on commission for 30 years as a drawer, painter, potter, photographer and jewelry maker.
“You can’t count the kid art, but that’s kind of where I started,” Blaylock said.
Blaylock grew up in Billings and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art at Eastern Montana College in 1996 with a concentration in drawing, watercolor and ceramics.
But it’s not the initial doodling or eventual art degree that defined her discipline. Blaylock credits the Montana Arts Council’s Montana Artrepreneur Program for teaching her the business of art and helping her focus on her niche -- jewelry-making.
“That’s where jewelry has taken off,” she said.
After four formal and four informal (field trip) sessions, Blaylock earned her MAP certification last November. She continues to work 40 to 50 hours a week at her day job.
She spends evenings and weekends in her at-home studio, 2Dog Studio. Blaylock rarely takes time off; she’s motivated by the power of her art.
Wearing one’s heart
“I really want to empower women and celebrate their uniqueness,” Blaylock said. “You see a lot of the same pieces (of jewelry) in (department stores).”
Your jewelry should speak to your soul, she said. Blaylock believes in the energetic connection between semiprecious gemstones used in her bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings and rings, and those who wear them.
“I believe stones have power, but like any divine object, they need interaction in order to help,” Blaylock stated on her website. “My recommendation for working with stones is to simply hold them, set your intention for healing, help or collaboration and then express your problem, issue or project.”
According to Blaylock’s website, some stones, like agates, are for protection and strength, others, like carnelian, are for vitality.
“When I see (people) connect with the stones, saying, ‘This one feels like me,’ or ‘This one’s calling to me,’ I want that to be the case,” Blaylock said. “I want the energy to work; I want the design to be pleasing; I want it to be wearable.”
Blaylock’s jewelry is bold for a reason. She wants her pieces to say, “No, I’m not sorry. I am who I am.”
When Blaylock began designing jewelry, it was for personal use. She started selling her jewelry six years ago. The designs are not often what Blaylock could see herself wearing. The ideas come throughout her creative process, which often includes her spilling all of her beads, leather, bones and other material onto a table and discovering what elements might fit together.
“My process is pretty spontaneous,” she said. “I jot down some ideas and they’re usually about the construction.”
Functional and fulfilling
Blaylock creates many of the clasps used on her necklaces. Some are front closures for functionality.
“I thought, it’s going to slide around anyway (and) the clasp in the back can irritate,” she said.
Blaylock wraps wire around some of the gemstones to create a pendant. She doesn’t use many dyed stones, and tries to source materials locally as much as possible, including bones.
“I like to hunt for a lot of things, but that can be pretty scarce,” Blaylock said. “I really would like to work with antler sheds.”
When buying materials from others, she makes sure they are responsibly sourced. Blaylock says even simple river stones can make for a meaningful piece.
“There’s a great metaphor in there,” she said. “That stone has probably been through a lot.”
Blaylock has honored a few requests to develop special pieces, like a wire chrysalis she built around a river stone for a mother who had lost her daughter.
The woman was walking along the river in mourning and found a rock with her daughter’s jersey number. Blaylock surrounded the stone with wire because she didn’t want to drill and risk it cracking.
“That type of stuff is really rewarding,” Blaylock said.
Treasure state of mind
Blaylock has researched ancient jewelry, Mongolian adornments and artifact jewelry for inspiration.
“We all have some tribe or community that we come from and that crossed over time and geography,” she said. “You would see these repeated forms in pottery (in places with no community), and I think jewelry is the same way.”
Blaylock applies those ideas into her world.
“Everything I make is representative of here,” she said.
Blaylock tries to discover new places in Montana every summer weekend. She recalls a time in sixth or seventh grade when she stopped on a hillside in the Pryor Mountains and dug for geodes with her grandfather and a family friend. When Blaylock found an average-looking rock and wondered if anything was inside, her family friend said, “The only way to know is to crack it open.”
“There’s stuff like that all over the state,” Blaylock said.
She often goes to Crystal Lake, where big blankets of moss, yellow-headed grasshoppers and wildflowers are found.
“It’s really about the inspiration of the place,” she said. “There’s a lot of strength and quietness you can find out in the woods.”
Blaylock understands that her work has an environmental impact; the copper she uses requires mining, for example.
“It’s part of why I don’t want to make a thousand pieces,” she said. “Handmade—the impact is less.”
Each of Blaylock’s artistic disciplines impact her current work.
“I like to light things on fire,” she said. “I think that comes from my pottery days.”
Blaylock is working on a raven collar to be submitted to multiple competitions across the country. She torches its copper leaves over charcoal blocks. Once the metal is heated, it’s soft enough to be bent and textured. Blaylock feeds the leaves through a rolling mill mounted to a table, compressing the metal.
“I don’t really work in a conventional way,” she said. “Most jewelers don’t really handle things like this. As long as it’s not my hair (on fire), I’m OK with it.”
Aside from the collar, Blaylock is putting impressions of leaves she finds in her garden and on walks into copper.
Polishing stones and owning a rock cutter is on her wish list, as is selling rings. Her art is found online at loriblaylock.com and at various galleries across Montana, including Magpie Jewelry Gallery and Barjon’s Books in Billings.
Blaylock admits she has a lot of fun.
“All of a sudden you find yourself, and it’s this rapid evolution.”