Partnership can bring many rewards, but few are as striking as the delicately wrought silver jewelry crafted by Hendersonville silversmiths Jerry and Linda Hunter. Drawing on the floral motifs of Art Nouveau and the geometric vigor of Art Deco, the creations that flow from their Two Silversmiths studio capture their shared sense of shape, color, and line. Jerry often cites William S. Burroughs’ concept of “the third mind” that appears when two partners work in close harmony.
“Our collaborative experiences have proven this true for us,” Jerry says. “Work starts with our concentrating separately on a design, but we almost always consult with one another for possible improvements.”
While Jerry had been working with silver since the 1970s, learning the craft after moving from his native Georgia to Denver, Linda didn’t take up silversmithing until the two met and married ten years ago, when both were in their early sixties. “I began trying to help him with his jewelry-making process,” Linda says. “It began slowly with simple wire wrapping, but the more I got involved, the more excited I became about learning all of the processes.”
Soldering proved the most challenging to learn, as it is for most silversmiths. “No one can teach you precisely how to do it,” says Jerry, noting that experienced smiths must learn by trial and error how changes in the metal’s color as it heats or cools indicates its malleability factor. “When Linda was learning to solder, there were days when she was so frustrated that her tears cooled the metal,” he reveals.
The couple works exclusively in Argentium, a tarnish-resistant alloy combining a higher percentage of silver than sterling with the metalloid germanium. “Airborne sulfur can’t penetrate the surface and can be easily wiped away with a soft cloth,” Jerry says. The material requires an entirely different approach than working with sterling silver, starting with a complete retooling to prevent contaminating Argentium with regular sterling — an investment that prevents many sterling silversmiths from making the transition. Argentium’s brittleness while hot means it must be handled more delicately than sterling, too.
“The strangest experience we’ve ever had with Argentium was seeing it levitate above the soldering board and float toward the edge,” Linda remembers. “To this day, we don’t understand what caused that.”
But the couple’s devotion to the material led them to develop a proprietary etching process that’s become the signature of their work. It took three years of research, plus the design and development of new tools specifically made for the task. “It was definitely worth the time because it allows us to make pieces that are graphic and would be hard to realize with any other traditional fabrication technique,” Jerry explains.
A discerning eye for stones complements the etched designs and has turned out to be one of Linda’s special skills. “She’s our go-to person for the selection of stones,” Jerry says. Opaque choices like Mojave Turquoise or Spiny Oyster shell are favorites, joined by more translucent tourmalines, rubies, and garnets, sourced from local stonecutters or at gem-and-mineral shows. “At times we’ll choose a stone and build a piece around it,” Linda says. “Some stones just grab us and lead us down a path. Other times, we’ll start a design with a shape we like and then decide on a stone to complement it.”
The collaborative approach means both Linda and Jerry do everything from the rough finishing and sanding of each new piece to setting the stones. Jerry does much of the etching and final finishing, while Linda, now a master, does the soldering. Each ring, pendant, bracelet, or set of earrings displays the couple’s studio style, incorporating natural forms and patterns so carefully rendered they seem to have always been a part of the metal and stone containing them.
Although Jerry and Linda met and married in their native Georgia, Henderson County became their permanent base and studio in 2012. “We wanted to move to a more art-inspiring part of the country,” Linda says. Hendersonville’s downtown, with its many galleries and easy access to fellow artists from all over the Southern Appalachians, won them over.
But unlike other fine crafters who arrive in this rich milieu, they aren’t inspired to dabble in pottery, woodwork, or any other mediums. “We are silversmiths to the core,” says Linda.
Linda and Jerry Hunter are represented by Artists@Work Studio and Gallery (51 West Main St., Brevard, artistsworkingbrevard.com) and by The Jeweler’s Workbench (80 North Main St., Waynesville). See Two Silversmiths on Facebook or twosilversmiths.com for more information.