Paula Montgomery of On (Re)Purpose makes jewelry at her home studio in Fort Collins. Montgomery is pictured Friday with one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry using vintage components. / Rich Abrahamson/The Coloradoan
From Fort Collins Coloradoan, April 11th, 2011….
Question: How did you become interested in making jewelry and when did you turn it into a business?
Answer: I had a jewelry business (Beasts & Baubles) in the 1980s and learned how to use the tools from my husband, Chuck Rossteuscher, who was a trained fine jeweler. I did it as a side business since, at the time, I taught high school art and math in Los Angeles.
I was named “New Designer of the Year” in 1980-something in Accessories Magazine, but the only thing I liked was the designing. Making the same necklace or bracelet over and over became boring, and I ended up farming it out to keep up with production. It just wasn’t fun anymore, so I stopped. I guess I really only liked the shopping for the pieces and making one of each, not 100. Now, that is exactly what I’m doing with this new business, and I am as happy as a clam.
Question: Your pieces are all one of a kind and most are vintage. Where do you find the little treasures you put on your jewelry?
Answer: Anywhere I can. Of course, eBay and Etsy, but I’ve had great luck at the antique shows held in Denver several times a year. The fun part about eBay and Etsy is buying from European dealers who have access to items I’m not going to find in the United States. I’ve even raided the jewelry boxes of friends and relatives.
Question: What is the most interesting charm, bauble, keepsake you’ve put on your jewelry?
Answer: My favorite find so far is a small, red enamel child’s purse that has a dog on the front. The inside is lined with purple fabric. I got it from a dealer in Argentina and made a necklace for myself since I haven’t been able to part with it yet. Whenever I wear it, people stop me to ask about it. The other amazing favorite find is a crocheted, French, pouch/ purse with drawstring and adorned with a fleur-de-lis in the tiniest French-cut steel beads. It took me a while to fashion a way to make it the centerpiece of a statement necklace yet maintain the ability to open and close the pouch so someone could put a treasure or memento in there. It’s a special piece, and I’ve never seen another like it.
Question: Where is your jewelry available?
Answer: Currently, only at EsScentuals and my website. Again, I’ve really just started this and am working on a very comprehensive marketing plan that will cover many different avenues besides retail stores. I’m very excited to see how this all will play out. The response has been so positive, and I have a marketing guru who believes in me and together we are planning worldwide domination. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but we do have a plan and it’s lofty and we are undeterred in our quest! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Question: How has the recession affected your business?
Answer: I’m starting this now so I say, “Recession? What recession?” Ignorance is bliss!
Question: What is the price range for your jewelry?
Answer: Earrings start at around $30, and my most expensive piece so far is a $400 necklace, which has the aforementioned crocheted French purse.
Question: What is your philosophy behind your jewelry?
Answer: I try to utilize vintage items in an updated and modern way. This is not your grandmother’s jewelry by any stretch of the imagination. Each piece is one of a kind, and in our world filled with chain stores and mass-produced items, I feel there is a need and a market for women who don’t want to see themselves coming and going but to have something so special, they will be stopped on the street or at a restaurant for people to get a closer look. Also, each piece I create has a title and a story that comes with that piece. I keep track of each component included in each final piece and together they tell a story with their provenance. Simply put, I’m repurposing but in a very purposeful way.
Question: What’s the most whimsical thing you’ve ever done in your personal life?
Answer: I’m not sure this classifies as whimsical but I’ve gone to cooking school in Tuscany and flown to Paris just to go to the flea markets.
Question: You live and work in Old Town. Where is your favorite place in Old Town.
Answer: For shopping, The Cupboard, since I love to cook and there is no such thing as too many gadgets, dishes or pans; White Balcony because it’s impossible to go in there and come out empty-handed. And Living Space. I just want to live in there but am pretty sure they’d find me. For eating, Canyon Chop House, Austin’s, Snooze, Nordy’s and Gelazzi’s.
Northern Colorado Business Report
Quit your day job to be an artist?
By Michelle Venus
December 30, 2010 –
Fort Collins artist Amelia Caruso stands in front of a dozen of her peers at ArtLab on a Sunday afternoon in November. She’s conducting a workshop that will help artists more successfully market and sell their work.
“It’s your responsibility to become educated and prepared,” she tells the group. “Business is business is business, and art is your business. Right brain, left brain. Don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention to the math.”
Caruso starts with the basics, beginning with an explanation of business terms: profit and loss, expenses, fixed costs, the difference between wholesale and retail sales. She then goes on to define branding, advertising and marketing.
“Branding is how you present yourself to increase the perceived value of your art and yourself. That needs to be consistent,” she said. “Galleries should have no questions about who you are and what your art is about.”
Caruso encourages artists to look at different ways to sell their art. That might mean creating passive income through licensing. With that exposure, though, comes risk. Digital images are constantly popping up on the Internet without the artist’s permission.
“If you don’t copyright your work,” she tells the workshop participants, “it’s much harder to address the problem and get the other party to stop using your images. With it, you have some leverage for recourse.”
Caruso teaches the workshop from her own experience. After graduating from the Art Academy of Cincinnati with a fine arts degree, she felt unprepared to make a living.
“Art schools just don’t teach marketing, business principals or accounting,” she said. “They send students out without an understanding of how to be successful with what they’ve just spent four years learning. Society doesn’t expect artists to be business people and that’s a failure of society as a whole. Do you know where I got my MBA? Domino’s Pizza. I was a manager there, and that’s where I learned how to run a business.”
Like Caruso, many artists have “day jobs.” Although she invests 40 to 50 hours each week in her art, Caruso also works in the resale department at Waste Not Recycling, and not just for the paycheck. “I enjoy the social aspects of going to work,” she said. “I’ve also had cancer twice. The insurance benefits are very important to me.”
Here are two local artists who have quit their day jobs to make a living at art.
Paula Montgomery creates jewelry from found, or repurposed items, and sells them through her company, On (Re)Purpose.
“I’ve been self-employed for over 20 years and have had two very successful businesses,” she said. “The difference is that the other products were mass-produced, and now I’m creating one-of-a-kind art jewelry. I can’t sell the way I used to. Stores just can’t call me and order 20 of something. This way is much more gratifying.
It’s also a lot more personal. “I hear the good, the bad and the ugly and sometimes that’s a bit scary,” she added.
Montgomery’s jewelry is available at a high-end salon in Fort Collins and on Etsy, a global website that connects artists and artisans with buyers. But she’s not seeing the results she hoped for yet.
“I wear my designs wherever I go and hand out lots of business cards,” she said. “I find that people respond really well when they see the actual pieces on me or at the salon. I haven’t figured out (Etsy’s) formula yet. Photographs don’t do justice to the uniqueness and coolness factor of my jewelry.”
While she perfects the formula, Montgomery is working with a Web designer to build a dedicated site and is developing a marketing strategy that hinges primarily on social networking and public relations. She believes that social media, done right, offers cost effective, broad-reaching exposure that will ultimately translate into sales.
Getting her work in front of the right fashion magazine editors and stylists is a high priority on her to-do list. “I have to do all this work myself,” she said. “The budget isn’t there to hire someone to handle all these functions. My goal is to have a celebrity wear one of my necklaces. The big question is how do you get it to them?”
Montgomery knows how to manage businesses. She earned a degree in studio art from UCLA, and credentials that allowed her to teach both art and math in California. She and her late husband started an art rubber stamp company that they ran for 17 years. After they sold that business and moved to Fort Collins four years ago, she started a spinoff business selling rubber stamp kits, and now concentrates on her handmade jewelry.
“I learned how to use Quicken a long time ago,” she said. “It’s easy for me. And, I do have a degree in math, so numbers aren’t intimidating. I’ve never written a business plan and I’ve never had to borrow money for any of my businesses.
With handmade pieces, Montgomery is finding pricing a little difficult. “I’m learning about how to cost the materials and how to get to the price of the final product,” she said. “Some come together easily and sometimes they take longer to gel. The prices need to be fair and cover my time – I need to pay myself – and the components.”
However, she is realistic about the challenges she faces. “These are fluff items,” she said. “It’s hard to start a business in a troubled economy. But I’ve done this before and it worked out just fine.”