Lady of the Rings

Jewelry designer Molly Sharp of the Voorhees clan teaches when she’s not designing.             Photos by Tim Robison.

Of all the ways we express ourselves creatively, how we adorn ourselves may be the earliest. Jewelry making, in particular, combines the most primal of processes, involving stone, metal, and fire, learned over millennia and little changed.

For Molly Sharp, it was the glint of silver and the hardness of rock that drew her to the jewelry-making practice she’s pursued for two decades from her studio, tucked away in the coves and valleys of Zirconia, between Hendersonville and Saluda. But the attraction began even earlier, in the 1970s, when Sharp was living just outside London with her then-husband, a journalist, and raising two young children.

“I was looking for an adult distraction and found a continuing-education program in my neighborhood of Greenwich that offered both silversmithing and pottery,” she recalls. “I signed up for both, and after completing my first silver ring, I was hooked. It didn’t go quite so well with the pottery.”

Ironically, Molly is now married to the noted potter David Voorhees, whom she met while studying at Penland School of Crafts after moving to the mountains from Florida. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for him,” says Sharp. “He opened many doors for me in the [local craft] community.”

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Her marriage also inducted her into what might be considered the most prolific family of regional artisans. David’s sisters, Jane and Susan Voorhees, and his sister-in-law, Amy Voorhees, are both painters and printmakers; his daughter, Elizabeth Voorhees Becker, is a fine-art photographer.

While at Penland, Molly studied with Thomas Mann, who imparted the nuts-and-bolts side of running a jewelry business. She crafts rings, bracelets, brooches, and earrings literally from scratch, using silver sheet and wire. To design her “Jumping For Joy” collection, she first etched the cavorting stick figures onto brass plates, before transferring them to the silver with a rolling mill. “What most people don’t know about the type of jewelry I make is that it’s extremely tedious and precise,” she notes. “You can be creative with your designs, but the successful execution of each piece is in the precision.”

Inspired by the natural beauty of the Carolina foothills, her work incorporates petrified wood, mica, and even bits of dinosaur bone and fos-sils. But the pebbles, collected in Europe and the United States, are her signature. “They’re all carefully picked off beaches in places like the Outer Banks, the coast of Maine, and the island of Iona in Scotland,” Sharp says. “I like to think of my work as being very organic in nature.”

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Her passion for traveling directed her process. “I was drawn to the craft by the strong traditional techniques of the Europeans,” Sharp says. “Anyone who has ever taken a workshop or class from me can tell you I still hold to these basic, traditional techniques.” Also in keeping with arti-sanal heritage, Molly has been passing those techniques on to others. After she and David closed Hand in Hand, the gallery they ran in Flat Rock for 16 years, Sharp began teaching in schools around the U.S. and from a custom-designed studio she and David built at Sunburst Hollow, their home and creative center in Zirconia.

She designs her workshops around a specific project, including a popular one where engaged couples make their own wedding rings. Molly and David are already deep in preparation for an international collaborative workshop in Mexico next spring.

With 30 years of work behind her, along with her induction into the Southern Highland Craft Guild, strong ties with 14 galleries around the country, and several prestigious awards to her credit, Sharp finds that her teaching grows ever more important.

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“New ideas, tools, and techniques are coming to the forefront every day in the jewelry world, which is exciting,” she says. “But holding on to what came first and learning those skills is, in my mind, the basis of becoming a great jeweler.”

David and Molly Sharp Voorhees (mollysharpmetalsmith.com), with the Revs. Posy Jackson and Lyndon Harris and Jane and Susan Voorhees, host the third annual Solstice Arts at Tigg’s Pond Retreat Center. The two-day indoor show happens Saturday, June 18 (9am-5pm) and Sunday, June 19 (12-5pm). David and Molly will display their own work, along with a dozen participating artists in all media, including Amy Perrier (oil “fingerpainter”), Walt Cottingham (birdhouses), and cartoonist Randy Molton. 212 Fiddlehead Lane, Zirconia. For a map and more info, go to www.davidvoorheespottery.com.

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