An interview with local jewelry maker Lindsay Chastain

“…I do not want my parents to know immediately that I have a parrot.” — photos by Heidi McKinley

Lindsay Chastain, 25, works hard managing the Bluebird Diner in Iowa City, and in her off-hours, she’s involved with jewelry design (not to mention fashion, a two-piece band dubbed “We Shave,” movies and an extensive taxidermy collection). Lindsay hand makes her jewelry — sold at White Rabbit and available online at Sauvaged Jewelry.

Her pieces — both eclectic and haunting — include taxidermy goat eyeballs, etched hawks, Ouija board pendants and much more. You can find her work at this weekend’s What a Load of Craft at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.

Little Village: Your dog is just standing there with a blanket on…

Lindsay Chastain: Oh yeah. she will not move at all. Sometimes she follows you to the door when you’re leaving and she just has the blanket and she’s just standing there staring at you. It’s really sad.

LV: What are you doing?

LC: I was moving my studio from one side of the basement to the other.

LV: Isn’t part of it attached to the floor?

LC: No. I want to get a [centrifugal casting machine] and it will have to attach to the floor eventually.

LV: What is a centrifugal casting machine?

LC: So there’s several parts to it. There’s a crucible. So, it’s a big round bucket sort of deal and it’s on a centrifuge so it’s a centrifuge machine and you just wind it up and then there’s a crucible that you put pellets of silver or bronze or whatever metal you’re using — and you just melt it down with a torch.

Some metal alloys, you can’t do so much because they’re not pure metals, so they get dirty. After it’s melted you release the brake, it spins around really fast and it throws it into your mold. With alloys its so dirty it can make imperfections and it gets into your thing that’s why they use gold, silver, bronze because they’re all pure metals.

LV: So what metals do you use mostly?

LC: I use base metal mostly so brass or bronze, nickel silver and copper. I’ve done stuff with sterling.

LV: How do you do any of that without a melter?

LC: That’s just for casting. That’d be making something three-dimensional. I mostly just do fabrication and a little bit of forging now and etching and cutting. So nothing I make is going to be truly three-dimensional. I can still make forms. something that’s a physical object with many sides, but it’s going to be flat at some point.


LV: What is fabrication?

LC: That’s cutting, soldering, forming, conjoining. I try to do every part of it as much as I can instead of just assembling pieces. I still use some stuff, like I buy chain because it is too time consuming to make chain. It would make the cost of whatever I make go up by twice as much, but everything else I try to do on my own

LV: Where do you get your materials?

LC: I order through Riogrande[.com] for the most part. They’re pretty big metal and goldsmith supply. Sometimes if I want a smaller quantity of something I can go on Etsy. I buy brass and copper from Ace Hardware. I get rods for heavy stuff and the other metal is just sheet metal. Sometimes people use them to cut out numbers for their house or do some kind of crafting. They’ll sell that, nickel, silver, it doesn’t have much use. People don’t use it as much because it’s more expensive. Most people aren’t going to use it outside because they can [use something else] for cheaper.

LV: Why are you moving your studio?

LC: The biggest thing is because of that nosebleed. because over there I didn’t have a fan and over here I’ve got a hood so I can suck up some of the particles and the soot.

LV: From cutting?

LC: So from cutting it’s not as bad, it’s usually heavier chunks.

LV: What kind of saw do you use?

LC: I use a jeweler’s saw, which is just a handsaw. [Mine] is a custom saw, this guy who makes tattoo guns does. He laser cut that and it’s just a tension saw so the blades are like, really small.

LV: How fast does it dull?

LC: Not that bad, you’re more likely to break the blade before it goes dull. If you’re doing anything that’s got tight curves or really quick turns like trying to do very geometric straight stuff you go to a turn and you can break it.

LV: Are you thinking about taking on an apprentice?

LC: I would love an apprentice because they would take care of a bunch of things that are not as much fun to do like when doing multiples of something cutting out things, and sanding, which is what flex shaft is for. I’d like to design it, I’d like to cut it out. The reason i was looking for some people who wanted to get into it who didn’t have access to it as much is that I could teach them things that maybe would be omitted in some introductory classes.

LV: Where else would it be possible for people to learn jewelry making like this?

LC: [The] University of Iowa’s got a great metals department. They’ve got some really good teachers who have been doing it for a really long time. As far as buying supplies or finding workshops just to learn how to one specific tiny thing like stone setting. I don’t know so much about grad school programs just because that wasn’t something I wanted to do, but for bench jeweler certification, there’s one in San Francisco that’s good, there’s one in Nashville that’s good. Penland school for craft will do one week classes that are just specialty.

LV: Have you gone to any specialty training?

LC: Not yet because it’s really expensive. The materials are really expensive too. So when you pay for a class it’s like material cost and that can be up to $2,500 for one class that’s like five days. They’ve got three day classes for like $1,200. I started looking into Penland because it’s close to my parents. They can do eight week programs or one week or you can rent a studio for a month and you get to use their facilities.

LV: Do they do fellowships?

LC: They do do fellowships and residencies. It’s one of the top craft schools in the country, so it’s kind of hard to get into.

LV: So what training do you have for this?

LC: I went to Memphis College of Art I was a drawing major, but I’d been taking metals since I was a junior in high school. I think total, I’ve been doing it eight or nine years now

LV: Why did you start?

LC: At the boarding school I went to, we got to try a little bit of everything just to see how we liked it. They’d be like, “Alright you get to take printmaking for a little bit, painting for a little bit, sculpture, metals, ceramics…” It’s an art boarding school and it’s funded by the state

LV: Why did your parents decide to send you there?

LC: I decided to go there. I chose to go there.

LV: How old were you when you went?

LC: Sixteen

LV: When did you start selling?

LC: The first time I tried to start selling stuff was when I was a senior in college. We did something called the Holiday Bazaar and it’s where alumni and students of the college can put their stuff up for sale and like, 20 percent of it goes towards scholarships for future students and then you get the rest…

LV:Where do you sell now?

LC: Just white rabbit and online. I get some online orders. A 30/70 cut is really great but most of the time is 40/60 or 50/50. Most galleries will take 50/50. but I do most of it kind of in person. I get commissioned to do stuff, so a lot of the more extensive things or more complicated things I get consigned to do, like that collar I did for Jensina, she asked me to do. I’ve done goat rings on consignment.

LV: Goat rings?

LC: The goat rings are pretty weird. The taxidermy eye stuff’s pretty weird. It’s a taxidermy eye. they’re not real, it’s made out of resin and plastic.


LV: How did you get into taxidermy?

LC: My family. My dad hunts, my cousin’s hunt. I mean I’m from a pretty rural country area so I grew up around it but my parents don’t have any taxidermy. My great grandfather had lots of antlers, lots of horns, he was a huge hunter in South Dakota so he had antelope, elk, turkey, pheasant, everything.

LV: Do you use antlers in your jewelry?

LC: I’ve thought about incorporating it a couple of times. I’ve looked at a lot of people who do do that and I like it a lot, the same thing with bones. But if it’s not done right… I don’t know. It’s the same thing as having a really nasty fur coat. there’s no use if it’s not done right.

LV: What is your most useful tool?

LC: So, any time I’m using this guy… there’s two speeds on it, you can do it forward or reverse.
It’s a flex shaft but it’s usually called a dremel. It’s got a foot control down here. It’s great, it’s a multi-use tool. if I put the right bits on it I can use it for really light engraving, use it for polishing, finishing, texture, filing — it’s great. it’s probably besides the torch, the best investment I’ve made as far as tools go. It cut all of my work time in half if not more.

It’s been great but it makes a lot of dust so all of the sand… It’s like if you’re sanding anything, all of the dust is getting thrown all over you, all over the air, and you’re breathing it in, so until now I haven’t had any ventilation and when I’m down here I spend five, six, up to eight hours at a time.

LV: And that’s how you got the nosebleed?

LC: I was inhaling a lot of it. It was musty down here, and with the heat running it makes the air really dry, so already setting up for a good nosebleed. And then like, I’m blowing black stuff out of my nose a couple days after I’m down here. It’s not a good thing to do.

LV: Do you take any safety precautions? Do you wear a mask?

LC: If i’m wearing my glasses or I need to wear eye-protections, usually I just will wear glasses. Masks don’t fit right. So it will fog my glasses up while I’m working or it knocks the glasses off the bridge of my nose. I have a respirator that I could also use for that…

LV: So it’s pretty bad for your lungs?

LC: I know. The EPA came into our school right when I was getting ready to graduate and put safety regulations on everything. It’s not that the [the EPA is] wrong but personal safety is a choice and I’ve chosen not to do the right thing all the time. I need to take better care of myself which is why I’m taking steps to do that but, I mean, I also work with ferric chloride acid, I work with patinas which have acid.

LV: Have you ever burned yourself with acid?

LC: The acid’s not strong enough to maim you. It’s not like Crazy Love-style acid, but it’s citric. If you’ve got little cuts on your hands, you’ll realize you’ve got little cuts on on your hands when the acid gets into them. The ferric chloride is what I used to etch that bird and lots of stuff, so it will eat through metal.

LV: How long does it take to finish a piece?

LC: It depends what it is. Like that hawk took about … two and a half, three hours including etching time. Rings will usually take longer because it’s multi step. Pins and buttons aren’t that bad. Anything that’s just cut out stuff isn’t that bad.

LV: What was your most interesting commission?

LC: Had to make like a metal narwhal for somebody.

LV: Did you make the Laura Palmer’s finger piece that you wear?

LC: I did not. That was someone out of Chicago called Hunter Gatherer Jewelery. She works in casting, which is something I’d like to do. It’s on the horizon. I’d like to get to where I was able to do this solely but I just don’t know when that’s going to happen.

LV: When, do you think, was the greatest jewelry era in history?

LC: Art Nouveau stuff’s really great. Some of the Russian jewelry from the final Czar. It’s just really intense filigree stuff. Some of the Georgian era jewelry is really good.

LV: How are you feeling about the up-coming What a Load of Craft fair?

LC: It’s going to be good. I just need to finish doing all my stuff.

LV: You need to make some money.

LC: I’ve got a parrot to take care of. I was going to get it this weekend but I do not want my parents to know immediately that I have a parrot. I got [my dog] for four months before I told them, my mom was like, “no.” I said it’s a Great Dane and she was like, “no.”


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