Ocean Sage in the News





Published By the Burlington
HAWKEYE

published online: 8/30/2009

Ocean and field combine to create beauty

Jorie Tonkinson, a maker of wearable art, finds rural living to her muse's liking.
By Bob Hansen

for The Hawk Eye


Yarmouth -- Shards of sea glass, polished and shaped in a distant ocean, are joined to fresh water pearls, fluorite pebbles and silver strands to become "wearable art" by an unconventional artist working in an improbable location.

Jorie Tonkinson, a native of Michigan and a one-time resident of California, works in a quiet workshop near the north Des Moines County village of Yarmouth, where the jewelry she creates captures the warmth of sun-drenched beaches and endless summers.

Tonkinson's bracelets and necklaces are inspired West Coast sophistication shaped in the quiet of Iowa's rural byways.

Tonkinson comes to Yarmouth and the quiet Iowa countryside by way of a Michigan childhood where she showed signs of an artistic temperament at an early age. She recalls her fascination with taking simple items, combining them and creating things of beauty.

"It seems I have always been interested in expressing myself in this manner," Tonkinson said. "But I think that the first item I truly created was kind of unusual. My dad had broken his rosary, and I felt I could make him another one. I did, and that was the start of the process."

Tonkinson's path from Michigan to her Iowa workshop was not a straight line. It included many side trips, and each divergence fed into her creative process. They included stints working in the gambling industry in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas, where she met her husband, Charles, a Yarmouth native. The attractions of the brightly lit cities soon paled, and the Tonkinsons opted for a quieter, albeit more unusual lifestyle, in Ventura, Calif.

There the couple lived aboard a 50-foot, ocean-going sloop that was both home and an on-going project. Tonkinson remembers the long hours restoring the boat.

"I learned you could do wonderful things with fiberglass," she said, "and there was a lot of satisfaction of simply bringing back a piece of teak so it again looked beautiful. I think that same way of thinking led me to my art."

The Tonkinsons eventually were called back to Iowa and the family farm, and the sailboat followed them. For months it stood on blocks in a Burlington marina, garnering the envious stares of passersby. But eventually the boat moved on to the Gulf Coast while its owners stayed behind.

The quiet pleasures of an Iowa farm had worked their charm on Tonkinson, and she turned to fashioning her unique jewelry with a renewed energy.

"You are, I have to admit, away from where a lot of art is being created, but an Iowa farm has a lot of advantages. The isolation has allowed me to really focus on what I am creating. In California, there may have been all sorts of distractions to pull you away from what you are creating, but here -- especially during the winter -- I can really concentrate," she said. "Another advantage is that I am not following popular trends of California because back here I find I am my own trendsetter."

Some of Tonkinson's ideas are provided by customers. One man buying a bracelet could not decide on what it should be like, but the problem was solved when the couple's 4-year-old daughter made the decision.

Although Iowa may offer an ideal venue for artistic endeavors, it is woefully short on the raw materials Tonkinson uses in much of her wearable art.

She now relies on beach-combing friends and family in California and Hawaii to keep her supplied with the colorful glass fragments that have been smoothed by the waves.

Tonkinson takes the fragments and clads them in delicate silver braid, marries them to small pearls and smatterings of colorful minerals and then fashions ornate silver clasps to finish the jewelry that has become art.

But while her art occupies a sizeable part of her free time, Tonkinson still finds a host of other activities to provide her a break from the creative process. She and her husband are avid bike riders, and she rides herd on a collection of dogs and barn cats.

And recently, she expanded her interests to include beekeeping.

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