This week’s interview is with Sewickley jewelry artist, Judi Erno of Urban Baroque. Judi’s designs combine various elements (fiber, metal, stone, clay, glass) to create truly unique pieces. She has a knack for balancing the classic with the contemporary, the earthy with the urban, the raw with the polished. Her design fluency allows her to explore the spectrum of feminine and masculine styles. Whatever her materials and wherever her designs take her, Judi’s work is like a breath of fresh air.
A woman of many talents, Judi worked as a professional caterer and restaurant manager before taking up jewelry making. She now sells her jewelry work at shows and shops across the Greater Pittsburgh region, and passes her knowledge and skills onto her students.
Judi’s big heart and warm personality are immediately evident. A dog lover, her dedication and efforts to improve the plight of animals are remarkable. Her keen sense of humor keeps us in stitches. For example, Judi discovered a damaged prop in our Winter Wonderland window display this past December. The note she left for us read:
DISCO BALL FELL & LOST ITS TILES. IT’S NOT “STAYING ALIVE”!
We know that you’ll enjoy our latest interview, complete with eye candy.
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Please introduce yourself and Urban Baroque.
I live in Sewickley with my recently retired husband, Jerry and my retired “stud” dog, Chuck Roast Sire of Sausages a.k.a. Charley. Jerry is thoroughly enjoying retirement, but Charley bored quickly, and became my studio assistant. [Don’t you just love Charley’s full name and title? Charley’s bother, Pork Chop Baron of Frankfurter a.k.a. Porky, passed away earlier this year. Porky was a beloved pet and local celebrity whose annual birthday bashes raised money for Animal Friends.]
My handmade jewelry business was, in a sense, handed to me. While recovering from an illness I started to make jewelry to pass the time, and fell in love with the process and outcome. I was surprised and flattered when friends and acquaintances started asking for my jewelry, but I never expected to turn my pastime into a business.
You used to be in restaurant management and had a catering business. Are there experiences from that time that have informed or helped you with your jewelry business?
Surprisingly yes. When I was catering I had to cost out my menu items before I could even consider giving a client a quote. I now use the same process and formulas to price my jewelry. It gives me the peace of mind knowing I’m being fair in my pricing and that my clients can expect consistency—both in pricing and quality.
Do you have a favorite studio or show snack?
Not really, but Charley will woof down a piece of cheese occasionally.
Describe your studio working space for us.
It’s a spare bedroom with my grandmother shelves stuffed with supplies and hooks on the walls holding beads, fibers, ribbons, chains etc. A tv for my favorite cooking shows, Downton Abbey On Demand, and my new favorite funny, Chrisley Knows Best. I have a counter-height table and stool that overlooks my backyard, and the most important thing, Charley’s loveseat!
What is your favorite part of your arts process?
Choosing the color paths for my pieces.
Do you have a favorite material?
I love to incorporate fibers and leather into my jewelry. Even if it’s only a bit of silk ribbon, I love that extra little touch of ‘pretty’.
If people could only take away 3 things from your work, what would they be?
It’s more like one thing. That they enjoy my jewelry as much as I enjoy designing it.
Define “Urban Baroque”.
I chose the name Urban Baroque for a few reasons. For my love of baroque architecture influenced by my Catholic faith and love of cathedrals, and for baroque pearls, each one irregular and each one unique. That is what I hope to convey in my jewelry. Different and one-of-a-kind! I then added Urban to express the contemporary side of my designs, and to make sure my clients didn’t envision Marie Antoinette stringing their pearls.
What is the inspiration behind your work?
I’m a hippie at heart, and I’m really enjoying all the bohemian looks that are out now. Vera Neumann‘s graphic designs inspire me. I fell in love with them when John Lennon started wearing her scarves. I’ve wrapped cuff bracelets with her beautiful silk scarves, and embellished them with metals and seed beads. They’re some of my favorite pieces. Vera’s business journey is an inspiration, too. Her start in a NYC apartment to worldwide recognition is quite a story. I’ve met so many wonderful artists at Koolkat, I often wonder if I’ve just met the next Vera!
What do you do when you need some inspiration?
Log onto Pinterest. The colors in nature always inspire me. During this long winter I found myself searching for meadow scenes or purple flowers, whatever I needed. Hopefully it improved my work because it definitely helped my attitude. [You can follow Judi on Pinterest.]
Do you ever suffer from artist block? How do you get through it?
Yes. With silence and prayer. Works for just about everything!
Favorite local artist. What do you love about their work?
My stepfather Jens Bisgaard. His Scandanavian style jewelry is perfection, and the simplistic beauty of his work is stunning. But the real reason he’s my favorite is that he loves my Mother so much.
Favorite artist living or deceased. What is it about their work that resonates with you?
Annie Leibovitz. Her photographs are mesmerizing. She has the ability to capture a moment in time so perfectly that it becomes a piece of art in an instant. What a gift!
Favorite work of art.
That’s on my bucket list. The Sistine Chapel.
How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
My good friend heard wonderful things about Koolkat Designs, and urged me to check into it. We stopped by one afternoon just to scope out the joint, and met Kate McGrady. Kate was so nice and welcoming the next thing I know we’re chatting up a storm, and I’m a new Koolkat artist! I’ve been at Koolkat a year, and feel blessed to be part of such a fabulous group.
What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
I love the art and the opportunities that Koolkat Designs offers, but my favorite thing is the people behind the art and the fabulous new friends I’ve made.
A big greasy breakfast.
What art festivals, craft shows have you participated in?
Three Rivers Arts Festival with Koolkat, Sweetwater Center for the Arts “Holiday mART, Beaver’s Garrison Day, and the Sewickley Harvest Festival.
What are your art goals for the coming year?
To establish a presence on the internet and to learn the ins-and-outs of social media. It’s intimidating, but a must for anyone who wants to share their work. (Btw…will trade jewelry for internet expertise!)
Tell us about the classes that you teach.
I’ve been on a teaching hiatus, but I’m happy to say that I’ll be starting new classes next month at Crystal Bead Bazaar. There are now five Koolkat artists teaching at Crystal Beads—Maria Richmond, Jeanne Shuff, Olga Mihaylova, and Georgette Frances. We’re all very good at sharing! I’ll be teaching a few of my favorite leather and bead bracelets.
What is your favorite part about teaching your art?
My favorite part of teaching is actually learning from my students. Most of them have some type of craft or homemade experience, and I always pick up great ideas to incorporate into my work. Thanks everyone!
Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.
Describe yourself ten years from now. Where would you like to be?
Right where I am know. Enjoying and thankful for my life, family and friends!!
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Photo credit: The photographs of Judi’s jewelry were taken by Koolkat artist, Karen Sturgeon.
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