Panama Bay Jewelers
One more artist profile and then next week we do a story on our adventures at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Expo! Sneak preview: it has been FUN! More later...
I can't share Vernon's jewelry web site -- he says he has one in the works, but he also says it's taken a while to get it finished -- he says "It's a little like me -- old and slow!"
Vernon 'stumbled' into jewelry back in the early 1970's. There was a recession and he found himself unemployed. Before there were computers on every corner, he took himself to the library and checked out books on the Great Depression. He looked for businesses that survived that time, and learned jewelry businesses had done 'okay'. Then he checked out some books on jewelry making and invested the last $10.00 he had in a jeweler's saw and some blades. (It amazes us and inspires us to read about how many of you incredible artisans had to spend your last few dollars this way, and what great lemonade you've made out of lemons!)
Anyway, back to Vernon. (This is him working at his bench -- and he's come a long way since that first jeweler's saw, you can tell!) He sat down and started cutting the background out of coins, and made coin jewelry out of that. He sold a few, but didn't really have a venue for hooking up with customers. So after a year of struggle with that, he walked into a craft store in Williamsburg, Virginia. He started talking to the owner and the next thing you know, she agreed to give him a 10x10 space in the basement of her shop in exchange for 1/3 of his sales.
And here's the AMAZING part: A year later, he bought her out and turned the store into a jewelry shop! He named it 'The Golden Touch'. He worked and ran it until eventually, he sold it, retiring to do volunteer work in Belize (and now in Panama).
What led him to volunteer work was another life changing event for Vernon. He was in a car accident and spent four years sitting in a chair, not able to do much work at all. It gave him lots of time to think about pain and suffering. He had just signed a contract with Roman, Inc. to market his line internationally, and fortunately, the royalty checks were paying his bills.
Around this time, his church decided they wanted to build a Habitat for Humanities home. He wanted to contribute, but couldn't do the physical work. It occurred to him that he could donate a nice collection of jewelry and gemstones in his safe. And that's what he did. 'People magazine picked up the story, and Oprah sent a film crew to feature Vernon as one of the 'Angels' on her show.
Having never thought much about volunteering before all this, Vernon now says: 'I kinda like how helping someone out really helps you feel good about where you are at, and allows you to see past your own pain. He was eventually richly rewarded for his good deeds -- he finally found a doctor who operated on his neck, and he was 90% pain free! So off he and his wife went to do volunteer work in Belize.
There, he set up a jewelry manufacturing shop to train the inmates how to design and make jewelry. He spent six years doing that, and then moved on to Amgergris Caye island, off the coast of Belize, where he and his wife founded and helped build a school for disadvantaged children - 'Holy Cross Anglican'.
And in the meantime, Vernon's jewelry won the International Pearl Design Competition in 1980 and a special award in 1986, along with many other awards in the USA. With the move to Panama, he started back into jewelry making. This summer he will be donating two jewelry shops -- one with pewter, and one with gold and silver -- to the University of Panama, and he plans to volunteer to teach there part time.
As he says, his life has not been boring. His work is beautiful, influenced by beauties of ocean and jungle. He does a lot of custom work, based on the personality profile of his client. He creates finished pieces that reflect them, rather than his own style.
If you have time for only ONE optional video-viewing this year, WATCH THE VIDEOS HERE: http://holycrossbelize.org/
Vernon Wilson is an amazing and HUMBLE man that I'm featuring today -- and he barely told his REAL story in the few e-mail exchanges we had. His real story, and his heroism, is in the videos. Watch, admire, and if you are so moved -- donate to his passion, this sweet little school in Belize. Here is a jewelry artisan and goldsmith who has a golden heart -- and I am honored to tell his story.
Another inspiring artist, in so many ways. Thank you, Vernon, for sharing your story with us! Until next time, Shannon
Materials: Silver .925 sea settlement jasper stone
Dimensions: 20x 30mm
Photo credit: Fernandez Rezenda