Theresia St. Vrain always wanted to live somewhere with mountains. Growing up in St. Louis and going to college in Columbia, she didn’t have the opportunity.
Then in 1982, her husband was offered a job as a veterinarian in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was the ticket to her dream.
“It was perfect because I knew it was where I wanted to be, so we moved there,” St. Vrain said.
The move led her down a path to explore a new facet of her artistic creativity: metalsmithing.
“I was really drawn to handmade items,” she said. “I’d see some artists who were doing that kind of work in Santa Fe, and I just wanted to make something that was my own.”
Moving back to Missouri five years ago, St. Vrain now works as a jewelry maker and metal worker in Columbia. She owns a small business, St. Vrain Metals, sells her work at Bluestem Gallery and has exhibited her work in the Columbia Art League, where she also volunteers.
“I look to the other artists in my life, and she’s one of the people I really admire,” said Kelsey Hammond, executive director of the Columbia Art League. “She is truly an artist. She is dedicated to making things.”
Textiles, then metalBefore getting into metal, St. Vrain worked mostly with textiles. She raised sheep, spun the wool into yarn, knitted sweaters and wove rugs. She also worked for a children’s, and eventually an adult, sweater company called Monkey Business and a knitwear company called French Rags.
Throughout her life, she experimented with many types of three-dimensional art, including fiber, shibori dyeing and embroidery.
To expand her artistic abilities, she started taking jewelry classes in 2004 at a community college in Santa Fe and then moved on to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She was able to take classes from world-class jewelers, she said, and experiment with other art forms.
“I wasn’t interested in traditional types of jewelry, and I had a lot of ideas,” she said. “I just didn’t know how to put them together.”
She also met Jett Spencer, owner of Jett Gallery, in Santa Fe, and spent 13 years managing the gallery. It also became a place to display and sell her own work — earrings, bracelets and other jewelry, as well as larger vessels made from metal.
“I like the fact that she is so inventive,” Spencer said. “She does try different things and isn’t constricted by the norms of ‘you can only do this with that.’ She’ll try things that are outside of the box.”
The experience St. Vrain had managing the gallery gave her the skills she needed to start her own small business venture in Columbia.
“Not all artists are good business people,” she said. “I still struggle with business, but I grew up in a time where that wasn’t taught.”
Interest as a childFrom a young age, St. Vrain had always been interested in art. As a child, she took a drawing class every year at the St. Louis Art Museum
Even when she stopped attending the class, she kept sketchbooks for her thoughts. That continues to this day.
“I’ve got tons of books around here that I draw in,” St. Vrain said, “but I can’t sit down and just draw. It has to come to me.”
But metalsmithing is where St. Vrain thrives creatively. She’s interested in taking a piece of art and designing it in such a way that it is both functional and an expression of an idea.
“I would like what I do to be an extension of who I am, but not necessarily who I am,” St. Vrain said. “I just like being able to express myself through one-of-a-kind adornment or functional items.”
It took her a long time to find what she loved doing, but once she did, she hasn’t stopped.
“Just stay true to your own ideals and what you want out of it,” St. Vrain said. “I finally found metalsmithing and jewelry making, and that really spoke to me.”