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Iowa Artist

Jen Lawler

4/6/2022

Jen Lawler’s studio 437 at Mainframe Studios has provided her with the retail and work space she needs.

In Jen Lawler’s studio 437, display cases and glass shelves sparkle and shimmer with silver rings, stone bracelets and delicate necklaces. Each piece is unique — from a bold aquamarine necklace to a pair of go-with-anything silver earrings. Whatever bling you prefer, be assured, it’s a one-of-a kind, handmade creation.

Lawler has been the silver and goldsmith behind JL Design for the past 26 years. She first created jewelry from her home studio and now works out of her studio at Mainframe Studios.

The new digs offer her the ideal space to both create and sell her jewelry, with convenient hours. 

“It helped me check all the boxes. That’s what elevated my business. I didn’t want a full retail space with set hours,” she explained. “It’s enabled me to cut back on art shows. I was doing 15 art shows a year before coming here.” 

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Lawler originally attended college for a teaching degree. While at the University of Northern Iowa, she also took a metalsmithing class at Drake University and became hooked. 

“That sealed the deal for me. I got my undergrad degree in 3-dimension design and worked with a metalsmith,” she said.

Honing her craft, she began designing jewelry on her own and selling it at art and craft shows, which helped promote her name.

She considers herself a “bench” jeweler — a type of artist who sits at her bench with dozens of intricate and specialized tools. She uses natural gemstones, such as Mexican fire opal, blue topaz and moissanite, set in 14-karat gold or sterling silver. Work consists of wire forming, metal bending, soldering and forging, along with stone setting and stamping on metal. 

“The detailed work is like a welder or ironsmith on a smaller detail,” she said. “I took a blacksmith class once at Living History Farms; it was hard work. This metal is a lot easier to bend.”

The most challenging part of her job is the physical aspect. 

“There’s a lot of wear and tear on your body. The detailed work is tough on your eyes, hands and back,” she said.

Lawler said it is rewarding when she creates custom pieces. Many customers come in with stones they’ve inherited in an estate or request new settings for a “divorce ring” — a way to repurpose the diamond after a breakup.

Popular jewelry is immediately snapped up during Mainframe’s First Friday open house. However, other pieces might have been displayed for years. 

“Some artwork has been unsold and will finally land in the right person’s hands. It’s been around so long it’s like giving up a piece of yourself,” she said. 

One interesting piece was brought in by a woman whose husband had passed away and left a large agate stone. Lawler cut the stone and designed eight different jewelry pieces for each family member. 

“That’s my biggest joy. They’ll each have a memorable piece that they can enjoy every day,” she reflected.

Folks bring in old stones, and she’ll create or combine pieces they no longer wear. 

“The best part of my job is I’m always making people happy. I get to create every day. There’s a great deal of satisfaction and gratification of seeing a completed piece going from a thought to a tangible piece,” she said. ♦

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