A Shared Passion for Making Art from Metal

Carol Wilkins in her studio.

Carol Wilkins in her studio. (Kathryn R. Burke)

[July 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]
Written by Samantha Tisdel Wright.

IN THEIR SHARED GALLERY SPACE and working studio on Notorious Blair Street in Silverton, just down the block from where the train comes into town, Carol Wilkins’ stunning hand-crafted jewelry holds its own beside her husband Ken Webb’s whimsical fine art made out of scrap metal.

Ken Webb's studio.

Ken Webb’s studio. (Kathryn R. Burke)

Their shop front has two signs: Quiet Bear Art, and Carol Wilkins Designs. Webb and Wilkins have both lived in Silverton since the early 2000s, but met more recently at an art show in Durango. Since fusing their lives and livelihoods together, the two of them are constantly amazed at just how similar their artistic pursuits really are.

“Her tools are identical to mine except all her stuff is small, whereas I have huge hammers and a 60-ton press,” Webb said. “It’s all the same principals. It’s just scaled down on her end and way up on my end.”

Wilkins always wanted to learn metal smithing. But she started out as a hairstylist in Boston, before eventually finding her way to Silverton with her first husband. Here, she began beading, but found it to be unfulfilling.

Carol Wilkins jewelry.

Carol Wilkins jewelry. (Samantha Tisdel Wright)

Finally, in 2011, after undergoing a deep personal loss, she began studying with Marilynn Nicholson at the Taos School of Metalsmithing and Lapidary Design in Taos, N.M. She discovered that she had a natural affinity for the work, and a powerful, unique design aesthetic.

Wilkins has been designing and creating jewelry ever since. She makes pendants, rings, bracelets and earrings, working with all kinds of different semiprecious stones and a lot of native silver. Lately, she’s also been learning to fuse gold on steel. Each of her designs casts a mysterious spell. There is something talismanic about them, as if they hold some sort of ancient magic.

Carol Wilkins and Ken Webb

Carol Wilkins and Ken Webb (Samantha Tisdel Wright)

“I create designs for women to feel empowered,” Wilkins explained. “I think in each of us, we all have that sense of being a little wild. I am shy and an introvert, but my jewelry makes me feel I can do anything. It gives me confidence in myself.”

Webb is equally committed to unobstructed self-expression. He grew up in a small ranching and mining town in New Mexico. After high school, he attended a welding program at New Mexico State University, and found work as an ironworker and steel fabricator.

Ken Webb metal art.

Ken Webb metal art. (Samantha Tisdel Wright)

In his free time, he started making stuff from scrap. But it took him a long time to accept the artist that was awakening within. “It was a process to work through the fear of what other people thought of me,” he said.

Eventually, he surrendered to his passion, tapping into his spirituality and sense of playfulness to create remarkable 3-D sculptures and wall art out of scrap metal–from wild, larger-than-life shaman-like figures cloaked in rusty culverts to thigh-high candle holders made of rebar, and delicate metallic flowers that magically grow out of the twisted handles of a pair of discarded pliers.

Both Webb and Wilkins have a strong sense of the importance of giving back. In Tucson, where they spend their winters, Webb works with troubled youth and opens up his workshop to fellow blacksmiths who can’t afford their own equipment.

Wilkins, drawing inspiration from her grandmother who was an important mentor, gives a portion of the proceeds from her jewelry sales to charities that help young women. “I think empowering young girls is really important,” she said. “Growing up can be tough, and it is important to show them, ‘You can do this. You have got it in you.’”

Her jewelry quietly channels the same message.