Cassie and I set up this interview last minute; we started talking the day before I left Missoula and shot a few hours before I headed home. It was amazing that it worked out in such a short time frame and I'm so happy it did.
When I arrived at her place, Cassie immediately welcomed me in and showed me to her studio. I spent the next few hours documenting her as she worked on several pieces of jewelry. We immediately bypassed small talk and it felt as if we became instant friends. We joked about how much time she spends finding the tiny parts of jewelry that just disappear, talked genuinely about heartbreak and starting over from scratch and swapped funny stories as small business owners.
Q: I know “how did you get started?” Is a really typical question, but I’d love to know about your creative journey. When did you start creating and when did you decide this was the career path for you?
Cassie: I learned this business and this craft through osmosis! I’m a fourth generation metalsmith, so the history of jewelry making runs deep. My parents owned and operated a jewelry store for 40 years. I was six when my dad taught me how to handle a torch and solder. I spent everyday after school in our family’s store waiting for my parents to finish and close down for the day. During those after school hours I was allowed the freedom to carve waxes, play with fire, and bang on stuff. So long story short, I started creating when I was very young….about six years old, but it wasn’t until after college, working in the corporate world and having my first baby, that I realized this was my career path.
Q: Was anyone a pivotal person/mentor in terms of inspiring how or why you create?
Cassie: Absolutely. Both my mom and dad are the inspirations behind my career choice. My parents opened their jewelry store, The Sunshine Goldmine, in Sandpoint, ID in 1979. I came along in 1982 and was quite literally raised in that store. There was a big “walk in” safe in the back of the store that, as a baby, my mom would feed and nap me in while they worked. My dad is a very accomplished metalsmith. Back in the day, he made custom pieces for Elvis, Liberace, and Sammy Davis Jr.,to name a few. The guy is a genius. I loved watching him work. He can turn any creative idea into reality. I’ve always found the process of making jewelry so fascinating. It requires constant problem solving and creative thinking and for me, that’s the draw. My mom comes from a family of jewelers, as well. Her family owned and operated 15 jewelry stores throughout California. It was in their Lake Tahoe store that my parents met. My mom handled all aspects of running our family business. I learned a hell of a lot from her about what it takes to manage a business. She is also very artistic and has a unique and special eye for beauty. It was her creative touch that made the atmosphere of our store so special.
Q: There is so much background work that goes into becoming successful on your own and it’s not all glamorous. What does a typical work day look like for you?
Cassie: Getting the kids out of bed, fed, and off to school on time is a shit-show every morning, so I usually take the dog for a hike after I drop them off to decompress before heading to the studio. Then it’s organization, prioritizing custom and wholesale projects, answering emails, etc. The rest of the day is spent fabricating. In the evenings I’ll try to give some attention to social media and marketing, but honestly, it’s my least favorite part of the job. Hashtagging is my worst nightmare and I don’t put a lot of thought into Instagram, etc., mostly because I’m pretty shy. I’m trying to be better.
Q: What’s your favorite part of your process?
Cassie: I love creating custom pieces and my favorite part of the process is the collaboration with my customers. People put their faith in me to make their vision a reality and it takes a lot of trust to spend money on something that doesn’t even exist yet. I like to build relationships with those that I work with and I enjoy providing them with an education about my process. I find that open communication makes the custom process go so smoothly and I make a lot of friends along the way.
Q: What's your least favorite part of your day to day work?
Cassie: My least favorite part is managing social media and bookkeeping/financial management . I just want to make shit and have someone else deal with all of that. That’s my goal. I’m almost there!
Q: What’s the most difficult part of working for yourself?
Cassie: The most difficult part is the self doubt. I put a lot of pressure on myself and there are days I feel like giving up on it all. When you are so close to your own art, its difficult to know if what you are producing is cohesive or if your style is recognizable or will be well received.
Q: What inspires your work?
Cassie: I feel most inspired to be creative when my work and personal life is in balance. When the chatter in my mind is quiet I’m able to sit and sketch and come up with new designs.
Q: Tell me about a moment or a job that made you feel amazing or gave you a"wow this is real?" feeling.
Cassie: The first custom engagement ring I was hired to make was pretty memorable. It was such a fun project and the couple was so great to work with. When I delivered the finished ring, they were over the moon excited and I remember thinking that I might actually have a shot at succeeding as an entrepreneur.
That first engagement ring came to me via word of mouth. Missoula is amazing in this way. My customer had a vintage diamond ring from his grandmother that he wanted to use, but he really wanted to incorporate a Montana sapphire in the design. I ended up making 3 rings that could be worn together, on their own, or any other combination. I took the grandmother’s ring apart, melted the metal and reused the metal and diamonds to make a bezel set diamond solitaire and a diamond band. I then sourced a beautiful oval Montana sapphire and made another bezel set solitaire. When I delivered the rings, the couple scooped me up into a big 3 way hug. Their parents where present as well. It was just a very special moment for me and probably my favorite project to date. I loved the way the rings turned out. This particular couple has been very supportive of me and has spread the word and brought me new projects. They stopped by one of my First Friday art shows last year just to tell me that they had tied the knot at the courthouse. It really meant so much to me.
Q: Tell me about work-life balance. What does that mean to you? Do you struggle with it or does it come naturally?
Cassie: Work-life balance is insanely hard. I’m a single mom of two young kids and they come first. There are days when I feel like I’m spread so thin and half assing work and parenting. Those days are hard. However, I’m learning how to take more time for myself. To allow myself the space to breathe and evaluate priorities.
Q: Do you encounter on/off seasons in terms of how much work you’re doing? How do you feel about them and how to you prepare for them?
Cassie: Slow months for me are usually January and February. I get a little nervous when these months roll around, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that business always picks back up. The slow months are a good time to focus on business development and marketing….or go to Hawaii.