By Cheryl Hilderbrand
We don't always think of jewelry as art, but researchers note that people were ornamenting their bodies with shell earrings and journey necklaces as early as 30,000 BC, long before they even thought about painting on the walls of caves. Many famous art museums have priceless collections of breastplates and golden chokers from ancient civilizations.
And modern artist, Christina Seifert Glidden, has become an important link in that oldest of artistic media: jewelry design.
How did a 40-year-old former educator and mother of two from a small city in Tennessee morph a hobby and creative outlet into a successful and satisfying art career?
What forces in her childhood formed her vision and her skills?
How does she uncover the beauty and balance possible in a puzzle of sterling wires and green chalcedony?
"I loved teaching. I poured so much creative energy into it, trying to get my students to enjoy the Spanish language and love the Spanish culture, but I knew I wanted to stay home with my children when they were born. But I found that when the children were in school I began looking for something malleable, some material on which to focus the creative force that I had previously put into my classroom lessons."
"I tried batik and other print media, copper etching, and macrame and a variety of art forms, but ultimately found my place creating jewelry," she said. "I love the feel and color of the stones, but I also have the kind of mind that loves putting together a gas grill. Give me something with lots of pieces to figure out. Making jewelry is like that. I can somehow see how the loose stones will fit together in a way that works."
Christina was born in Pakistan and raised in Iran, Mexico, and Brazil. She and her mother, artist Sandra Siefert, loved the colors and textures of the bazaars in each of the cities where they lived.
"I had a Pakistani belt that was full of bells. That's a very happy memory for me. One of my first designs was something similar, and it became a bestseller," she continued.
She also remembers a high-end jewelry store in Rio de Janeiro where she watched designers, cut and polish stones. Frequently, she says, she went home with a few cherished samples held tightly in a little box.
Christina is very customer oriented. She scoffs at the idea that some women can't wear her designs. "Wearing jewelry is not about your neck length or your body. It's about attitude. It's about how sassy you are. You have to wear jewelry with confidence."
She also says that she loves working with customers. "When I do shows, I have an assistant who takes up the money and wraps each purchase, so that I can have conversations with the customers and explain about the pieces they are interested in."
Christina, who has short hair, also decided that the back of a necklace should be as interesting as the front and often adds tassel designs at the clasp. "They look good when your hair is up, too. Why shouldn't we have prettiness at the back of a design?"
So she grew up surrounded by art, loving puzzles, and open to the creative force. But how did that become a business that garners money and national recognition?
"Well I started out just making jewelry for myself and friends. Slowly, I began to collect a good many supplies and interesting stones. I have ADD, (attention deficit disorder) I know I do, though I've never been diagnosed. But I have to make myself focus on the piece I'm working on because my head is always swirling with ideas. As I'm working I'm thinking about all the different manifestations that could come from the materials in my hands, I'm thinking about what I might build or create the next time or the next time."
She couldn't wear all of these pieces herself.
"When a friend said, 'you should start selling these,' I laughed."
But finally in 2005 she carried some of her exotic jewelry to a home show and came out $2,000 richer.
"So then I thought, 'well yeah, there might be something to this. Maybe I can help my kids through college.'"
Today Christina's jewelry is sold at galleries and high-end gift shops on Lookout Mountain, in Downtown Chattanooga, and in Atlanta's Buckhead. Last year she had a run at Atlanta's High Museum of Art gift shop.
Television viewers can see her designs adorning the necks of the characters on several networks: the E! channel's "Meet the Kardashians," MTV's "The Hills," and recently she was picked up as the jewelry designer for the Travel Channel's new show, "Bridget's Sexiest Beaches."
"Just as I believe that the creative force is something in the universe that we have to be open to, connected to, I also believe in divine intervention. You might call it something else, but how do you explain when the universe just seems to be supporting you somehow? One day out of the blue I got an e-mail from a Hollywood Stylist who wanted to place my work with some of her clients--people and studios. She was trying to find the website of a designer whose work she had seen and whom she had met while on a trip to a tropical island. She made some kind of mistake and opened up my website accidentally. She liked my stuff better!"
Christina went on to say that being open to the creative force is only a part of it. She believes that one has to practice one's craft and be ready when opportunity knocks.
"I work everyday. As soon as my children are taken care of and out the door, I am in my studio. But I take time for school functions and things like that too."
She has been coming to the Jackson Fine Arts Festival for three years now and has a following among local patrons.
"I love coming to Jackson," Christina says. "It's like going home. My mom has been friends with Scott Coleman forever and I have known him all my life. I always stock up on Fresh Air Barbecue Sauce when I'm there. I love talking with old friends and making new ones and driving around the square. It's a neat little town."
Christina says that turquoise is her favorite stone, and she says, "I work in sterling mostly because I try to keep the price points low for my customers."
But she says that she likes working with all stones and metals.
"I even like to do 'doggy bling.' I designed a dog collar for a friend that was classic pearls with pink diamonds in the shape of a bone."
"The title of artist makes me happy to the core. And I love it that I can create my work, but then be there for my kids when they need me."
"Plus, I meet the nicest people at my shows. Like the people in Jackson."
Christina's creations will be available at the Jackson Fine Arts Festival on Saturday, May 8 , between 10 am and 3 pm. In its 14th year, the Art show is being held in front of Carmichael Insurance Company at the corner of Third and Dempsey.