We had the good fortune of connecting with Pamela Webb and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Pamela, how do you think about risk?
Starting a business always involves risk. Most businesses require a fair bit of investment to get going. In my case, I needed tools, materials, and ideas for pieces I could fabricate myself and sell online and in stores and galleries. Coming up with inventory is a huge investment of time and money, and I am still always taking classes to get better at various skills. Most creative business owners use funds we make working for others to finally branch out on our own. The biggest risk is sometimes letting go of that ‘day job’. It can be difficult to believe in your business plan enough to let a good job go. Don’t be afraid to take business classes, there are many free and low cost classes and workshops offered by the SBDC or Small Business Development Center. I started my jewelry business first, as I was selling in outdoor markets and needed to learn to file and pay sales tax. Later, we added the architectural steel business to our offerings, once we slowly acquired another set of tools for working steel. We were lucky to have bought a tiny house with a bit of land, and then built a larger shop on our property for the architectural steel business. (which I do with my husband, Will). We are also lucky that we could build this building ourselves, so it took forever, but it didn’t cost as much as it could have. All these processes at the time seemed to take ages, but now looking back, I’m glad we took the risk. We just kept plugging away at it evenings and weekends, and now we have a small shop for jewelry making, large enough to have 1 student or employee working with me, and a larger shop for our welders and plasma cutters for doing the larger architectural steel work. Speaking of sales tax, cities want new businesses in them, look for grants or other funds from the city you are starting in. It was years ago now, but Lakewood gave me a grant for education, which I used to take a class I couldn’t have afforded otherwise at the time, as I was just starting out. I’m sure I learned of the opportunity through SBDC, so join those local associations!
And then, there are the artistic or creative risks. When I was in art school, we were urged to find a style or a unique method for your work, make it yours and keep making those pieces. This way, galleries could show your work, knowing that THIS is what you do and they could know what to expect from their artists. I have never been able to stick with one style or even medium long enough to get a lot of gallery attention. I want to take more creative risks, and keep reinventing my work and trying new things, even working with strange materials sometimes to explore new ideas. Knowing this would make my work difficult to market on a large scale, I chose one risk for another. I still have my ‘day job’ so I can explore and experiment with my art work and not have to make the same pieces over and over again. It’s difficult to do both, and makes for many long days. This is how it happened to work for me, but by no means would work for everyone. I teach jewelry, sculpture and ceramics in a large, public high school, so there is a fair amount of love for that job, as well as a connection to my own work. Balance is something I’m always working on. But it’s really important for me to give back, be involved with education and explore art with young people.
Another creative risk I take is to follow my stubborn desire to make everything myself. Occasionally, Will and I have to get a piece of large pipe rolled into a curve by someone with a large bending machine for a railing, and I have paid a former student to set many tiny diamonds for me in a custom piece, but I don’t have a jewelry “line” that is cast in a production casting operation somewhere else or otherwise, have pieces made for me. A big part of my business is making everything here, by hand and hammer. We can control the processes in a way that ensures the smallest environmental footprint. I will never, even unintentionally use sweatshop labor. I know my metals are recycled and from reputable sources. Working for myself allows me a little more power in the economy to support healthy, handmade industries.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Growing up working-class in suburban Colorado, the most rebellious and punk rock thing I could think to do was to make a living as an artist. It was just what everyone in my life told me I couldn’t do. My work has now spanned 3 decades and continues to inspire me to learn new techniques and materials, as well as to hone and sharpen skills, always having something to strive for. Drawings and paintings were the things I made and even sold as a teenager, empowering me to buy my first car! I was lucky enough to have been offered jewelry classes in high school and we did fabrication and casting. In the early 90’s I got into building installation and immersive art, making several pieces with teams of artists and on my own in and around Denver. This is where I first started working with steel, foundry casting, welding and being able to build larger and larger pieces. At this point, I moved to Oakland, CA to learn from some wise veterans of the Arts and Crafts movement. Here, I worked in 3 different metal fabrication shops, doing high end architectural pieces. I soaked in all the knowledge I could about blacksmithing, machining, welding and general fabrication techniques and tricks from some amazing artists, who I met through ABANA (Artist Blacksmith’s Association of North America). This was where I met my husband, Will. Coming back to Denver, we found people didn’t value custom architectural metal work like they did in Northern California and we found jobs in other fields, but bought a house and always wanted our own shop. This was when I started teaching jewelry, metalsmithing, sculpture, and ceramics which I still do in Jefferson County Public Schools. All the while I was making jewelry in the small shed behind our house. Being one to grow with the size of my environment, as we built more studio space for ourselves, I started making more large work. And finally, we are again doing railings and architectural metal for clients, building up our portfolio.
I still take classes and workshops, and consider myself primarily a student after all these years as a professional artist. There is still so much to learn, I don’t think I will ever become bored with this medium. The Colorado Metalsmithing Association and Boulder Metalsmith’s Association are a couple of great resources for classes, workshops and just finding local nerds like myself, working in so many different areas of metalsmithing.
As for now, I just finished installing 7 sculptures in Meow Wolf Denver, which will open later this year, and am working on some large sculptures, for a show at the Arvada Center next Spring. As far as my jewelry business, I’m enjoying experimenting with new things too much to make the same designs over and over again. Mainly I’m focused on one of a kind or limited series of wearable jewelry. And I’m always taking interesting custom jobs that challenge my skills, often using clients’ heirloom stones or metals and transforming them into something new.
Recycling is so important, as is having a small environmental footprint. I use all recycled metals and I appreciate the material for it’s ability to be transformed indefinitely. I also buy lab grown gemstones when I can, especially diamonds. I won’t, even unknowingly, support the oppression of people. I will happily use your grandma’s diamonds to make a new piece. Real art jewelry isn’t cheap, but it’s not polluting or creating cruelty like the cheap stuff does. Fast fashion is not my thing!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, pre-pandemic I was planning a week with a friend from London, who had never been to Denver. Some of the things we were planning included some Denver history. We would have stopped at the Cruise Room in the Oxford hotel on the way from the airport, after a quick tour of some of the weirdest art that lives at DIA. He’s vegetarian, so restaurants would include Blue Sushi on 16th Street Mall, City-O City in Cap Hill and the Mercury Cafe. We had tickets to see Pussy Riot at the Bluebird, so whatever gigs are happening at places like there, as well as the Ogden, Gothic, Globe Hall, the Oriental and the Lion’s Lair. And speaking of dive bars, throw in a bevvie at Charlie’s piano bar, Nob Hill and the Hi Dive. Record shopping can take up at least a day at Wax Trax, Twist and Shout and Mutiny Information Cafe. We would have to see whatever is happening at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Leon Gallery, Red Line, Robischon, and Balefire Goods. Getting out of town is a must as well, like a day trip to Red Rocks and maybe even a longer drive to the Royal Gorge, as they just don’t have stuff like that in London! There are so many hiking trails I enjoy here also, like Elk Meadow and Staunton State Park. Is there time for Hot Springs? Iron Mountain (Glenwood Springs) or Strawberry Park (Steamboat Springs) are favorites and about 3 hours away each, but Hot Sulphur Springs near Granby is a bit closer, just under 2 hours from town.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Balefire Goods in Olde Town Arvada Jamie Hollier and Jamie McLandsborough co-own this amazing gallery in Arvada, showing work of local artists, including myself and creating custom jewelry on site. They moved into a larger space right before COVID shut everything down and were one of the first stores to be able to re-open, due to the large amount of space in the store. They even had safe gift delivery during the holidays with deliverers dressed as elves! And they have always had their entire inventory online. They donate a portion of sales to a different charity organization EVERY month. I was so flattered to be approached by Jamie just as soon as COVID shut down the gallery I was showing in exclusively. What an honor to be part of this amazing community!
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PandemicSelfPortrait.jpg. photo by Hali Webb-Shafer SteelandGoldCuffs.jpg. photo by myself WunjoCastBrass.jpg photo by myself LittleFrontGate.jpg. photo by myself MeWelding.jpg. photo by Hali Webb-Shafer CustomBlackDiamond.jpg. photo by myself CustomRingwithCrown.jpg. photo by myself InstallingAwning.jpg. photo by myself CableRail.jpg. photo by Hali Webb-Shafer