Sandra McEwen

1st Place – Enamel


The passion and eloquence that Sandra McEwen brings to her enameled works of wearable art speak volumes. “Spirit and Flame” makes a beautiful artistic statement, symbolizing the rebirth of the universe on the front and back sides. This piece fulfills her mission to honor history with a contemporary style and flair.

Artist Interview:

How did you come up with the title for this piece?
I was thinking about exploring the duality of the universe when I designed this piece. One side is the cold universe and the other depicts a sense of rebirth. The necklace is reversible and can be worn either way.

How large is this piece?
It’s approximately 17” and hugs the neck. It’s very heavy—½ pound of fine silver—but it feels great. It is a powerful piece, like a Renaissance mantle that Henry VIII would have worn. It is reassuring. 

Who was your inspiration?
The famous coronation painting of Elizabeth I. I was inspired by her necklace. I wanted to do something really big—a statement piece.

How long did it take to make the piece?
I worked on it over the course of six months. I had the design in mind. I had to figure out how I was going to build it and make the silver bases. I wanted to think about wearability from the very beginning. I wanted it to lay right. It is an exploratory piece. I made the first main medallion and then went on to the others. I enameled the entire back first and then flipped it over and did the front. Very thick pieces. There was no setting. Each medallion is a solid piece with the front and back.

Will this piece inspire other pieces?
Yes. Absolutely both in technique and genre. I gave myself permission to dive into what I like. I am not holding myself back, and it is resonating with other people as well.

Have you won other awards? If so, what?
I won a Niche Award and was a finalist several times. And I have won an ACC award of excellence.

Name a fact about yourself.
My husband and I get up at 4:00 am every morning even when we don’t have to. And then I work out. I don’t do any work after 4:00 pm.

Describe yourself in five words?
Hardworking, creative, helpful, focused and determined.

Of all the arts and crafts why did you choose jewelry?
I chose enamel before I chose jewelry. I went to school for illustration. I was told I could get a job as an illustrator. I then took a stained glass class, and I loved making a finely crafted item. After that I took an enamel class and, well, the rest is history.

What was the first thing you ever made?
I made an acid-etched brass cuff bracelet at Meredith College, where Marianne Scherr was my teacher. She was a wonderful influence and enthusiastic about teaching.

What or who do you think has been the strongest influence or inspiration on your work?
Marianne Scherr really got me excited about jewelry at the Continuing Ed program at Meredith. She was from Cleveland and so am I, which was a bond between us. She was a world-renowned artist. She was fearless.

In such a competitive industry, what do you credit your longevity to?
It is a hustle. It is about keeping at it. I don’t look at other people’s work. Move forward. A million tiny steps. Stay focused and positive. Do it well and thoroughly.

What is your favorite quote in either business or art?
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close

What makes you passionate about metalsmithing/design?
I just love everything about it. I love the process. I love simple materials like glass, silver and gold that will endure for a thousand years. That is why I am passionate about enamels. It can be buried for a thousand years, and it will still be vibrant.

What is the best advice you received?
You’ve got a lot of bad art to make before you can make the good stuff. 

What is the worst advice you received?
Don’t quit your day job.

How have you learned about running a business?
Being organized and focused on the big picture will pay off in spades. You don’t have to do all of the things, but whatever you choose to do, do it thoroughly.

Who has been most supportive in helping your business grow?
My husband, Warren.

Who is/was your business or metalsmithing mentor?
My friends Lillian Jones and Betty McKim are awesome metal artists and have been so supportive of my work.

What was your training/academic background?
I studied Illustration at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I didn’t take a single jewelry class there. Only drawing and painting. I focused on very classical styles. RISD offers a strong foundation program. I also spent a year in Rome studying art. The program literally provided me with a little studio, and once a week we met for an art history walk.

What is your favorite tool?
I hoard enamels—lump glass enamels, American enamels, Italian enamels, all enamels. I never feel like I have enough of the glass. I cannot stop collecting it because it is so beautiful.

Is the product or the process more important to you?
The enameling is the most important. I wake up thinking about enameling and constantly reevaluate what I am doing. Is there a better way to do it? It is on my mind constantly.

What is the biggest change you have seen in the jewelry world since you have been around?
Probably that people are moving away from high-end shows. They are selling online. And I have scaled back on commission-based stores.

What is your differentiator?
My background in illustration allows me to be more creative and gives my work a unique flair.

Interview by Marlene Richey