A Vintage Jewelry Artist
“I am not an artist. I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I can’t sew. I can’t quilt. I can’t crochet. I can’t knit. But because I always had this great need to do something creative and artistic, I tried it all. Finally about five years ago I found my talent. I seem to have a good eye for arranging things in artistic ways, and I found a hobby that suits that talent perfectly.” She also encourages everyone who thinks they don’t have any talent, “Don’t give up! Keep trying until you find your niche!”
Indeed, vivacious Carthage resident Linda Howard has found her perfect hobby, and most people who see the beautiful artwork she makes from vintage jewelry would probably say she can no longer say she is not an artist! “I’ve heard that what I do is called ‘vintage jewelry art,’ but I just call it getting old stuff out of the jewelry box or drawer (stuff that will never be seen!) and making something of it. It’s a way to display some family jewelry and also ensure that it does not get lost.”
The first piece she made was one of her many trees and was made almost completely from jewelry that had belonged to her grandmother. Costume jewelry was very popular in the 1950s, with brands like Sarah Coventry, Monet, and Eisenberg Ice among the favorites. Ladies wore not only rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces still in vogue today, but also pins and brooches that we don’t see as often in modern jewelry, and those make great additions to her artwork. One of the popular themes she has used recently is southwestern, with silver and turquoise, and she has found that belt buckles make a dramatic addition to those pieces. In addition to the trees, she has made wreaths, crosses, and pieces of many other sorts and shapes.
At the end of the first year she started, she only had one piece. The next year she had two, and the next year her collection had grown to six. “My husband said we probably had enough, and that from now on I should give them away instead of keeping them. I now have 21, so obviously his idea didn’t work out very well!” she jokes. “But seriously, he is absolutely indispensable to me. What a great helper! He is my carpenter and my painter, both huge jobs in the projects. He cuts and paints or otherwise ‘backgrounds’ the board for each piece, as well as constructing the support system necessary because of the very heavy weight. He originally made all the frames I use, but now many come from estate and garage sales and thrift shops, and he repairs and/or paints them. Someone who doesn’t have a ‘handy Larry’ might make one of these pieces, but probably never another one!”
She says that she knows she can’t keep every piece she makes and has given some away and sold some, and she has made some custom ones for friends using their own family jewelry. Each piece takes quite a bit of jewelry and is done in layers so as to cover the entire board with no gaps, so she collects all sorts of beads, jewels, and other small items to fill in gaps. “I do purchase some items when I find interesting pieces, and I have all my friends saving all their old or broken jewelry for me. I am grateful for any donations!”
Linda and Larry were both originally from Texas, she from Texarkana and he from Amarillo. She moved to California as a child and graduated from high school there. After they married, Larry was in the Air Force, and for 20 years they were stationed all over the United States and also had foreign assignments in Japan and Germany. They moved for job opportunities several more times after his military service but kept wanting to return to Texas. Their dream came true with his employment at Tyson in Carthage in 2005. Linda has a degree in Human Resources Management and always worked in that field until the move to Carthage. However, all the jobs she found when they moved here were out of town, so she decided on a different path and worked at the Sammy Brown Library until her retirement in 2014, two years after Larry’s retirement from Tyson in 2012. She loved the work there, saying “I have never met so many nice people as I did there, and I literally got to know Carthage through people checking out and returning their books from the library.” She adds, “We love it here! We knew we wanted small town Texas, and we both agree with the idea on the sign here that we really did find ‘The Best Small Town in Texas.’”