Arizona Artists

Flagstaff Jewelry Artist – Ryanne Sebern

Today we are going to introduce you to one of the best jewelry artist in Arizona, Ryanne Sebern. Something of an alchemic transformation, both enchanting and very much actual, took place one recent morning behind a red door of a Flagstaff studio with a strong history of artistic imagining.

Scooted forwards in her big red seat back ergonomically straight, though neck craned over her workbench, Ryanne Sebern slid a dime-sized ring of silver and aluminum onto the thin blade of a jeweler’s saw, also red. With an overhead lamp casting a radiance of light upon her, Sebern held the pendant with pliers in her left hand and grasped the saw firmly with her right hand.

Then, using a series of vigorous and precise motions, halting only temporarily to steady herself, Sebern made a light vertical line at the ring, curving only slightly to the right towards the top. A gentle turning of her wrist, just so, and a small pyramid-shaped base abruptly was formed. Then, one after another, three horizontal lines emerged on the left, two on the right. She rolled in to scrutinize, her face revealing neither satisfaction nor confusion, just concentration.

Sebern had, at the time it takes to perform possibly a few computer keystrokes, created a tree — branches and trunk and all — on this little disc of silver, starting a rural outdoor scene. There would be work to do, of course: better defining the aluminum silhouette of the mountain range, including a winding river into the scene, possibly even implanting a stone of turquoise or bead to portray the rising sun.

In time, after much sanding and buffing and rubbing, the 46-year-old Flagstaff jewelry designer will have added yet one more piece to her growing collection of earrings, bracelets, and other wearable art that represents her continuing interest in the outdoors and the stiff Southwestern landscape.

Even though during the coronavirus outbreak, with art festivals canceled and gallery shows limited, Sebern stays hard at work in the studio once occupied and owned by the late Don Bendel, regarded ceramicist, and Northern Arizona University educator. She is there every morning, before sunrise, sketching out sanding stones, scenes, manipulating mixed metals into patterns once only imagined in her mind’s eye.

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Presently, she’s teamed with the Arizona Trail Association on a fund-raiser to help preserve the 800-mile scenic route traversing the state. Her special edition Arizona Silver Trail necklaces and earrings are available on the site, with 40 percent of the sale going to the organization’s efforts.

It is altogether a great fit that Sebern has led her artistic muse in this way. Even when she is holed up inside in Bendel’s preceding “shed,” attached to her house near Fort Valley Road, Sebern moves into the outdoors she so loves. Like most who call northern Arizona house, she’s found a way to fuse her profession and passion.

When she is hiking the valleys or running the paths, that is not just recreation; it is creation; it is research. It is the inspiration for her artwork. It is what she lives for.

The wild areas and wide-open areas of the Colorado Plateau had maintained she enthralled since 1992 when she came from Colorado as an NAU undergraduate goal on a geology degree. She explored the Grand Canyon for the first time at age 19 and announced herself smitten. With time, she would change majors from geology to artwork, but the two themes and interests fit together, such as strata building upon each other.

She worked for years as a backcountry guide and instructor, a dozen years alone with Grand Canyon- Four Season Guides, in addition to teaching canyon history and geology together with the Field Institute. She met her husband, Brian Siebert while waiting to have water in the spring in Havasu Falls. The couple’s two kids, boys ages 8 and 6, really have spent their whole lives traversing the trails and canyons, first on their parents’ backpacks and now in their feet.

Combining Complementary Passions

Thus, to think the hills and woods and deserts would not be her artistic muse isn’t to know the core of Sebern’s being.

Resting in that large red chair — alongside a workbench shed with stray wires, half-formed parts, metal shavings, and a vintage-foot-tall RyKrisp tin may sprout a bouquet of paintbrushes — Sebern answered a question for her love of a Grand Canyon by staring off into some envisioned distance, possibly transporting herself to the scene.

“It is the vastness, I believe, that originally attracted me,” she said. “But it’s a lot more personal than that. The interest just kept increasing. I’d find one thing, and the next thing would attract me to look deeper. The diverse ecosystems, to begin with. I loved the geology. I love being out and working out, being on my feet, and carrying my things. I like everything about it.”

That affinity gets moved to her artistic endeavors, her preferred medium being “artwork that adorns.” But her pieces are small and relatively simple in design, and they provoke the vastness of these crazy places. In her hands, base metals like brass and aluminum are anything but the base. Accentuated by gemstones and intermittent use of stone, they glimmer and shine but never miss that rough-hewn quality the Southwest engenders.

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The way Sebern tells it, there wasn’t an epiphanic moment when she suddenly realized she needs to combine her interests. It just happened. “I started just by putting designs, shapes, and ideas together,” she said.

“I always pull thoughts (from) where I have been put that into my job. Coupled with my outdoor time, it was impossible not to interpret where I was, so it became a part of my job early. If I can paint it into a piece of jewelry someone can wear, I like this. And I like the material, the contrast of the metals, how I will build something there,”

Here is how intertwined her artwork and outdoor life have become: Usually, designs will come to her in the wild or during a run. Motivation comes with each breath.

“Ideas come when it is quiet when I am breathing, using all of my senses, smelling, running; you can cycle in various energies,” she said. “Some things I see and internalize and come out later on paper and then into jewelry. The minute I complete a run, I will jot down the idea or speak on my phone to get the thoughts out. Sometimes it does not make sense after, but it is fun when I can find back the idea again.”

To explain her creative procedure, Sebern shoved her chair away from the workbench and opened a drawer. There, wrinkled sheets of sketch paper came spilling out, a minimum of 30 sheets heavy, each with pencil-smudged drawings, scribbled directions about specs, and a lot of eraser marks.

Signs Of An Artistic Mind On The Job

She deals almost solely in hand fabrication. She has no excitement in “going big” or in casting, though she’s used some stamped designs in her work.

“Casting is a completely different artwork,” she explained. “That’s a subtraction technique. I like building. Adding layers.”

You can see that quickly sufficient in her studio, replete with wire, sheet metal, tubing, and the many tools of her trade. Asked to explain her procedure, Sebern makes it seem almost too easy.

“I wish to get that gorgeous mixed-metal color,” she said. “Modifying material is what I love, to cut designs from sheet metal. I enjoy using the jeweler’s saw. I cut plenty of designs out, and then I shall solder them together to coating metal. I will finish by piercing or stone-setting. I pierce the tree (before placing a stone), sawing out a tree design.

“Some pieces are extremely involved, and some are easy. I’ll build with four or five distinct layers. I have always got several (bits ) going at the same time.”

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Work Distance Oversaw By A Soul

Her workspace attests to that. Sebern’s dad, a woodworker that “only dabbled” in mixed-metal artwork, built her hulking workspace.

The scarred and gouged surface, sprinkled with shavings, scattered stones, and carved-up sheet metal, shows an artist hard at work. “It may not look organized,” she said, laughing, “but I will tell you where everything is on this seat.”

In the large shed, not all belong to Sebern. She and her spouse purchased the home and workshop from the daughters of Bendel around the time of the artist’s death in March 2019. Sebern stated Bendel’s daughters sought an artist to get the property as something of a perpetuation of the soul of the area.

Sebern has kept a lot of the work area as it had been. Appended to the shed’s red front door is a picture of a grinning Bendel, the print so clear that it almost comes off like a hologram of the designer there to greet visitants. Inside, Sebern has kept many of Bendel’s accouterments, like a lacquered Mona Lisa mystery on one wall, a picture of Albert Einstein on another, and a couple of scattered ceramic pieces from the shed and outdoor.

“This studio includes some of the best energy on Earth,” Sebern stated. “I am so grateful. I have a few of him left. I can not lose that guy, you know. He is here in spirit.”

However, Sebern has made the studio of her own. Her husband may have taken over the attic space in the back, and her two boys recruited another alcove, though Sebern has more than enough room to stretch out and stretch her head to style jewelry that depicts the expansive wonderful outdoors.

“A tree does not just look like a tree when I am cutting it into metal, ” she said, “but it’s rooted, and it’s growing. I like taking what I see and what makes me feel great and then sharing this perception within my work. You have a look at my work, and you know where my mind and body are.”