Published By the Burlington
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
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
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
Tonkinson's bracelets and necklaces are inspired
West Coast sophistication shaped in the quiet of Iowa's rural
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
And recently, she expanded her interests to include