Once a month, we feature local small business owners and artists who are using their creativity to make the homes and businesses of Roanoke beautiful.
This month, our spotlight is on local artist Sarah EK Muse. As a jeweler and metalsmith, Sarah creates one-of-a-kind jewelry and large copper architectural tiles.
Helping People Celebrate Themselves: Sarah’s Story
Sarah Muse is passionate about using her creativity as a way to bring joy into the lives of others.
Whether that’s in crafting or redesigning jewelry into a piece that someone will feel beautiful wearing, in hammering out a design on an architectural tile that will make a house feel more like a home, or in teaching a jewelry-making workshop to others, she uses various outlets to translate her passion for her craft to those who see and experience it.
For her entire life, art in many forms has brought joy to Sarah. From a young age, she recalls experimenting with just about any arts and crafts related activity that she could. “It ranged from making mud pies to creating jewelry out of shells to pottery to drawing to painting to sewing to crocheting to weaving,” she said. “You name it, and I was all over it.”
She developed a love for textiles in her childhood as well, sewing all her own clothes and working in a fabric shop as her first job. That passion led her to pursue fashion design at VCU. There, she stumbled upon jewelry making by accident. “I hadn’t really considered jewelry, but when I was taking the required first year studio courses, I discovered that I really wanted to make, not just design,” Sarah said.
So she switched to the crafts department with a specific interest in focusing on textiles. However, one of the first courses she took after the switch as a requirement for the major was a Metalsmithing/Beginning Jewelry course. “I took that class, and I was hooked.”
The rest is history. She graduated from VCU with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalsmithing/Jewelry and Textile Design and has been working as a jeweler ever since.
Sarah began as an intern with a jeweler in Blacksburg after graduation, then several years later, she returned to her hometown of Roanoke to begin her own business crafting and selling jewelry. She worked at various studio spaces in Roanoke before she, her husband, and her son moved to a large mountainside homestead, also in Roanoke, in 2009.
There they converted a two-stall barn into Sarah’s current studio, Studio 12. This gives her plenty of work space while allowing her to take in the area’s stunning mountain views from which she draws much of the inspiration for her work. “I think nature is deeply rooted within us, and I think a lot of people have also lost touch with it,” she said. “So I think when we as artists can create using nature as an inspiration, it creates a connection that people don’t have in every day life necessarily.”
Sarah specializes in uniques, collectible rings, necklaces, bracelets and hand formed copper architectural tiles, which are all beautiful as statement pieces. For her jewelry, she uses a variety of materials, including rocks, gemstones, different metals, and other gathered materials to create these pieces. Inspired by nature, her designs play off of the distinctive lines, textures, and forms in the materials, ensuring that no two pieces are alike.
“I’m not necessarily a symmetrical person—I love asymmetry,” she said. “That’s where nature is one of my biggest inspirations. I know it’s kind of cliche, but it is. With my jewelry, it’s typically more literal—I’m taking from shapes I see in nature. Organic shapes and forms speak to me.”
Examples of some of Sarah’s jewelry. She designs and sells pieces through her website but also works on custom designed jewelry, such as the necklace pictured on the right.
In addition to the jewelry collections Sarah creates and sells, she loves working with others on custom jewelry pieces. Recently, she has been passionate about jewelry redesigns.
“People bring me their sentimental jewelry that they will never wear, but that they knew their mother or aunt or grandma loved and would have wanted to be worn,” Sarah said. “I can take it and recreate it into something totally different.”
Sarah said there are several different options for these redesigns. She can completely melt down the metal and re-alloy it, or for those who prefer to preserve more of the original piece, she can take existing elements and incorporate those into a new piece. “I’m typically building a completely new piece and incorporating the gold or the stones or both into a brand new piece so it’s something they want to wear,” she said. “And then it becomes something that’s a new heirloom that they can pass down and the new generation can wear too.”
For these redesigns, Sarah draws her inspiration from the clients she works with—the stories and sentiment behind each piece and what they want for the end result. “I want them to see that I understand the sentiment and how they feel about the pieces, and to know their pieces are being taken care of.”
For example, she is working on a bracelet redesign right now for a client whose grandmother had passed it on. Sarah is taking the gold and diamonds from the former bracelet and creating a new sterling silver bracelet with with gold accents melted down from the original. Then she will line the small diamonds into those gold accents.
“It’s figuring out that there are ways to continue that sentiment and knowing that person is there with you, and that person is now enjoying the fact that you’re enjoying something that was theirs—but in your own way.”
She considers jewelry to be her small scale outlet for creativity, but Sarah enjoys having a balance to the small scale with something larger. For years, textiles served as her large scale outlet in the form of silk paintings. Several years ago, however, she stumbled upon something she loved even more.
At the time, she was renting studio space in Roanoke, and the artists there were preparing for an upcoming show called, “Think Outside the Frame.” For Sarah, who was one of only a few artists in the group that already worked outside of 2D, that actually meant that she needed to come up with something to hang.
“I started banging on copper and having fun and forming some pieces, and the next thing I knew, I had several pieces that were larger,” Sarah said. “So I created a frame and mounted each of these formed pieces on that frame. It was actually bigger than my studio.”
Once again, she was hooked, and she never looked back. “I literally gave up fabric because tile is my new textile in a sense,” Sarah said. “I can manipulate it however I want. It gave me that same feeling I got from working with fabric but even more so.”
These copper architectural tiles are entirely one-of-a-kind and make the perfect statement piece for above a fireplace, in a kitchen, or in any interior space. “The architectural tiles are something amazing that not many people do,” Sarah said. “It’s a niche place to be in, and I love it.”
Like her jewelry, these architectural tiles are also inspired by nature. “While jewelry is typically more literal, with the architectural tiles, it can be literal or it can also be all the hidden shapes or lines,” she said. “So it doesn’t have to be the the literal object in nature, but it can be all the spaces in between. There’s a sensuality to it that I love to use.”
To craft these architectural tiles, Sarah takes large pieces of copper and sketches out her designs, deciding which spots will be raised and recessed. She then heats the metal and hammers it out 4-8 times to perfect her designs. Afterwards, she uses various chemicals to add color to certain spots.
Although it’s a labor intensive process, it’s a labor that Sarah loves. “I’ve coined the new hashtag #zenhammering for it, because it reminds me of drumming,” she said with a laugh. “When you get into a rhythm with it, it’s very meditative.”
You can learn more about her process and see some of Sarah’s work in action in this segment on Daytime Blue Ridge.
In addition to creating the architectural tiles, Sarah can also install them. These pieces can be installed in the mortar of a backsplash or fireplace or they can be free hanging. Sarah can design in custom sizes to fit a specific interior space.
Besides her small and large scale outlets, Sarah loves sharing in the creative process by teaching workshops. She hosts these seasonal workshops throughout the year at her studio, walking participants through creating their own rings. Recently, she even held her first metalsmithing immersion weekend.
In all of these various outlets for creativity, Sarah’s goal is to bring as much joy to others as she has found in the process of creating.
“I love helping people celebrate themselves,” she said. “Whether large scale with the tiles, enhancing a space, or small scale with the jewelry—either a collection, those pieces I’ve created on my own or custom pieces that I do for people—there’s something there. I want people to feel beautiful, I want them to feel good about themselves. My goal is to create something that’s stylish and makes them happy and curious and excited every day.”
Sarah is excited to launch a new jewelry collection in April. In the mean time, you can see Sarah’s tiles on display at The Market Gallery. She is also preparing for participation in the upcoming Roanoke Open Studios Tour on April 27 and 28. In November, she will be part of a 6-woman exhibition at the Alexander Heath Gallery in Roanoke.
Besides spending time with her husband and son, when Sarah is not creating, teaching, or managing her business, she stays busy in other ways on the family homestead. You can find her tending to the dog, cats, and chickens and managing the cabin for rent on their property.