This metalsmith found a home where metals are as common as groceries.
Kristin Diener has taken and taught metal classes on the East Coast, in the Midwest and the Southwest, but there's always been a common theme: Albuquerque.
"I'm in Missouri, I'm ordering everything from Albuquerque. I'm in Boston, I'm ordering everything from Albuquerque. But I had never visited here," Diener says.
After sever years of freezing cold New England winters, she came West to thaw out.
"When I moved to Albuquerque, this is like metal town U.S.A.," she says.
All of the supplies in Diener's first metals class at Goshen College, a liberal arts school in Indiana, came from Albuquerque.
"All the metals, all the stones, all the tools, all the everything came from here," Diener says." And same for grad school in Ohio."
She came here 13 years ago and is stunned at how metal-friendly Albuquerque was.
"When I moved here, I was like 'Oh my God, this is crazy. I don't have to order from a catalogue anymore,'" Diener says. "I just go down the street to Indian Jewelers Supply. It's like buying groceries - 'I'll take a pound of that 18-gauge.'"
Diener, who says she makes "big, odd jewelry" from whatever materials she wants, has amassed quite a collection of potential materials thanks to the many places she's lived and a keen ability to translate found objects, such as discarded bottle caps and bullet shell casings, into one-of-a-kind jewelry.
She'll combine a variety of found objects, including semi-precious stones, into giant necklaces, or tiaras, or whatever. Each piece looks more like wearable sculpture than simply jewelry. Some pieces are positively huge. she'll make a piece from antique jewelry, and add photos, shells, buttons, and whatever she can find to create something entirely new. All of it clearly has a handmade feel, and no two pieces are ever the same.
"I have a trash pile," she says. "I'll have all kinds of dirt, found objects, old tintypes. Sometimes they're off the street, like smashed pieces of metal. I have boxes and boxes of materials."
Once Diener has an idea for a theme, she'll rifle through her boxes, choose objects that make sense, and lay out the piece on a table.
Then, the metal work begins.
"It's laborious, repetitive, which I love," Diener says. "It's incredible amounts of labor. It's ton and tons of soldering and fabricating. So you're doing the design, at the same time, you start to make all these components. It's definitely not everybody's idea of fun."
It is, however, Flo Stein's idea of fun.
Stein started taking classes Diener teach through the University of New Mexico's Continuing Education Division six years ago. Although she had studied metal work and jewelry making, Stein says Diener has played an integral role in developing her technical skills.
"Some people like to do stones. Some people don't like to saw. Some people just like to fabricate. She will encourage you on whatever level you choose to work - that's a huge thing. It's very encouraging and a lot of fun," Stein says.
Mildred Ortiz, a project manager at NCA Architects, was looking for a creative outlet when she discovered Diener's classes in the UNM Continuing Education catalogue.
"I got into metals and metalsmithing because you have the ability to create something where you're in absolute control," Ortiz says. "It was not just little trinkets. You can make anything you want to create wit meta."
The first project students tackle in Diener's Beginning Jewelry/Metals class is making a simple ring band. They learn the things every metalsmith needs to know, including sawing, piercing, using a drill, texturing and filing, among others.
"I figured out how to teach it based on my experience of how frustrating it was because it can be so frustrating," Diener says. "I figured out how to teach it so that you're doing a huge amount of work but it's successful. So many things could go wrong. It could melt so easily and it doesn't."
Though Diener exhibits her work nationally, Mariposa Gallery in Nob Hill has had Diener's work on display for 11 years. Diener's students often stop by the gallery to see her work and gallery visitors nearly always respond to her pieces.
"Kristin's work always get a reactions. Many people marvel at the detail and size. They want to know,'Who will wear this?'" says Jennifer Rohrig of Mariposa. "We know that it takes a unique woman, someone who loves art enough to want to wear it. Most people that purchase Kristin's work keep it on permanent display in their home when (they're) not wearing it."
Diener and her work are featured in Thomas mann's new book, Metal Artist's Workbench: Demystifying the Jeweler's Saw, and several other books. Her work will be on display at the Harwood Art Center's annual fundraiser, 12 x 12, on Friday, December 2. To see Diener's work, visit Mariposa Gallery at 3500 Central Ave. SE, or visit www.kristindiener.com.