It all really begins with Ron Cravens growing up in Indiana and Kentucky learning metal working in school, welding and being influenced by family who worked with their hands and worked for themselves in various fields including blacksmithing.
Rosemarie Martinez a native New Yorker, was always interested in Art and Science but opted for the Art and was just finishing up studying art in college feeling aimless when they met. As college was finishing there was the absolute certainty that the Junior High School Art Teaching License just acquired might never be used. Student teaching for the license was in an inner city JR high and was so challenging all around that it seemed a poor fit at the time. It takes an extraordinary "something special" (missing) to be an urban teacher. Something else was waiting .
Meanwhile Ron being who he is , "ventured off the farm" (actually a small city on the Ohio River) and landed in California. Then off on another explore clear across the country to NYC where he met the soon to graduate aimless non art teacher.
Where did fate connect them? A lobby of a hospital while taking a break from visiting others..
"We met, looked at each other and simply put omitting for the sake of brevity all of the romantic flowery detiails, went happily off into the world together a few months later. We were barely out of our teens and excitedly ready for life's next adventure, together"
After working in Yoga retreat in Laurentian Mountains of Quebec for a bit came hitch hiking across Canada, a whole other story. These were very freewheeling days and it was not uncommon to see hippies (guess we qualified) crossing the country as folks had been doing before since the beatnik days and perhaps since the 1930’s. About those crazy adventures hitch hiking in Canada, as our close friends know, there are quite a few colorful entertaining episodes in that span, left out here. This is a business website after all .
We briefly picked apples for a living in the Okanogan Valley of western Canada, worked in a vegetarian restaurant in Vancouver, and Ron developed his first craft skills as a carved candlemaker in Vancouver, Canada!
Off we went again after awhile through California in a beat up VW bus, circling back to the east coast and ultimately landing on Martha's Vineyard where our settling down and the jewelry occupation began.
Life on Martha’s Vineyard was idyllic but wait, before you think we lived in one of those lovely gray weathered Vineyard summer homes, though lovely it was we actually lived in a friend's glass cabin made from recycled windows in the woods on a fairly long sandy driveway. James Taylor was our neighbor but it was still a glass house in the woods. It was heaven except in thunder storms. We survived one of the most horrific lightening storms we ever experienced save the time we camped out at the edge of the Grand Canyon under large pines in similar weather! Horrifying but we survived, obviously.
We cooked on a coleman stove, ate lots of brown rice, went to the beach each day in our very beat up VW bus (wish we had it now, worth a fortune) , picked cranberries with a scoop for some wages (back breaking). No worries.
WE WERE WEAVERS!
We wove woolen belts on two floor inkle looms Ron made, sewed brass buckles to the ends. It was a hippies dream accessory and we were actually quite (relatively) successful selling our wares in a Vineyard Haven store. We loved earning a salary working with our hands and being independent.
That is when more good fate stepped in.
On one of our selling stops into town we met a man who would change our lives.
James Russell was a jeweler & leather worker who ventured to Edgartown from Nantucket and Coconut Grove in the winter. He was so successful in his little shop in Edgartown that he needed an employee.
He suggested we stop by his workshop/gallery/store and one day (actually the day we decided to get get married, formally) we ventured to Edgartown to see his studio. Seeing that I did not have a formal wedding ring James Russell reached into his jewelry case and handed me a lovely gold wedding ring which fit!
He explained his situation and hired Ron on the spot, and over time taught him all the basics of silver and goldsmithing. Our friendship grew.. His profitable business grew and with it his excellent reputation.
Ron always says -
“He not only taught me silversmithing and goldsmithing but how to actually run a business, pricing structures. Being creative and being able to actually live from one's income is not easy. Hidden expenses exist everywhere”.
When the company moved to Rockport, Mass we went along and Jim hired and trained several other people who mostly all became jewelers in their own style eventually! The crew included Ron Cravens, Tom McGurrin, Alan Soule, Norman Scrimshaw, Bob Pearsall, Floyd Bucklin, Tom Kuhner and Richard Handle.
All were part of the company of James Russell Silversmiths. Five League of NH Craftsmen jewelers eventually!
Bob and Susan Pearsall and Richard Handle are no longer with us and we deeply miss them. They were family.
We will forever be indebted to James Russell, a generous person, great teacher and still a lifelong friend!
"A Classic" from the archives of James Russell , Edgartown 1969. Well what can we say , it was 1969 after all.
Within a few short years several of the silversmiths trained by James russell moved to New Hampshire and for awhile worked together in the "northern branch" of James Russell Silver & goldsmiths.
An economic downturn in the early 70's and distance led to the slow dissolution of the group with each venturing off on their own while James continued to maintain his business in Rockport Mass and ultimately move to New Hampshire himself to become a League of New Hampshire Craftsman as well.
At this time we discovered that we had the good fortune to have settled in a state with the oldest supportive crafts community organization in the US called The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. There were several League retail galleries, an annual craftsman's fair, a very supportive Director and an already established appreciative base of craft customers. It was time to join.
We were asked to provide a sampling of our work and Ron represented our design and abilities. Abilities had been learned under James Russell and perfected but the stylistic direction was not entirely set. The realization came that choices had to be made.
This phase not only found us living in the rural hills of New Hampshire homesteading with limited resources on a large tract of land, beginning a family which was coming along steadily but it also found us also seeing bills and taxes coming in and so the new business needed a plan.
Ron realized that in order to maintain time on the land homesteading and with the family that the jewelry would have to be tailored to the customer, in other words locally sellable. The goal of a rural lifestyle supported by being creative and making objects by hand seemed a dream but we went for it.
Ron was juried in 1972 we guess and the push was on to supply the stores with jewelry that had local appeal and was reasonable priced for the market at the time.
Next was to show at the the Craftsman's Fair!
In 1974 we signed up for our first Fair. Then we scrambled for displays. Kind of a backwards approach . Ruth Burt and Merle Walker actually loaned us displays from headquarters for our first fair! They were enormously supportive.
The big tents had been added just a few years before and they were striped like circus tents. They were festive and a step up from individual booths of a few years previous but the reflections on the jewelry cases was quite distracting and it was great luck to find ones booth located under the rare white only tent! We were there, it was exciting and striped tents or flooding tents (common) were just part of the "ambiance of the day!
We displayed our jewelry on peas and beans and had to keep digging the pieces out. The customers loved it anyway.
We were initially a bit intimidated by being with the veteran "Metal Giants" such as Peter Lear, Marylin McCubrey, Tin Bacon, the Pulsifers, the Scarponies, Mark Knipe etc. as we were just a bit younger or just starting out but we showed and for the last 46 years we have been at the Annual Craftsmen's Fair doing what we do. Now we find ourselves the senior exhibitors and can"t believe it has all happened so quickly!
Our customer base has grown over the years. Young girls who came to the fair with their parents are now adults with their own children and though we feel the "same" we are sure we look as different to them as they do to us! It is very difficult to fathom the quick passage of time.
Our little children are grown and there are grandchildren with interests in what we do.
We have been blessed over the years with a fabulous customer base, many friends in the crafts community and customers who always stop by our booth to say hello.
We love New Hampshire and our homestead and feel so very blessed by it all.
We have had the honor of being part of the "back to the earth craft" movement in New Hampshire and have the honor of being part of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen that continues to blossom into something quite extraordinary despite the current challenges.
Without James Russell, the League and our great customers things would look very different.