I love texture and anyone who knows me knows my work typically features lots of it so when I first saw Kris Kramer’s work, I was instantly taken by the fabulous textures she uses. And the haunting faces of the animals in her work are so full of feeling. Kris is the owner and artisan at Kris Kramer Designs.
Kris lives in Whitefish, in northwest Montana, which is about 30 miles from the Canadian border. “I live with a little dog, Rose, in a wooded area in a small tourist town that offers recreation all year round. My daughter lives about 120 miles away, and we visit each other often.”
I asked her where she was brought up. “I was raised in Illinois and Wisconsin,” she told me. “I lived in New York in early school years and worked in northern Minnesota in summers during high school.”
Her first experience with metal clay was interesting. “I was working a stressful, 50+ hours, managerial job,” she began. “I wish I could remember the first metal clay piece I saw but can’t. I purchased some on a lark. I experimented with a small bit like I was in biology class dissecting a pithed frog. I fired it then turned it black with patina. It was a blob with pokes, prods, lines, stuff stabbed into it. I was hooked and it became my therapy on Sundays. Eventually, I quit the day job, as the expression goes, and . . . .”
I asked her when she first began creating. “In second grade an assignment was to make a panoramic scene inside a shoebox. I was at a loss. My mother not only helped, she did the entire thing herself. Needless to say it stuck out among the other kids’ projects. I was so impressed though by what she could do that I must have then and there jumped on the creative bandwagon. Thereafter I would pencil-and-paper draw miniature scenes every chance I got. All of these were tiny; so that, when I discovered a new tiny world in metal clay, I felt as if I were coming home.”
Kris creates her pieces in her home studio. “I have a studio in half my garage. My commute to work becomes then a walk across my drive. I am organized and running out of room. Each day on average I spend at least four hours in the studio plus three hours on related admin tasks at my desk in the house.”
With so many hours spent on her business, I asked Kris how she relaxes. “I put on TV a romantic comedy or some music with a good beat along with an apron and cook up or bake something new in the kitchen. Or I sit in a special wicker chair with striped silky cushions and a cup of tea and read something inspirational. Outloud.”
I asked Kris about her creative process. “Early in the morning when I’m fresh from dreamtime, mental images appear in my mind. When I actually take action on one of them, I draw a pencil sketch, which helps me see just how such a thing might be constructed. I find that I can plan in detail but the plan usually changes along the way, and I am more than okay with that. I wing it a lot, too.”
She has a particular piece that means a lot to her. “I made a huge, and I mean huge, pendant once. It weighs probably 100 grams—well, maybe not that much. I made everything from scratch—texture, shape, and more. It is a huge seedpod. It is birthing a new race of humans, a race that cares deeply for Earth Mother Gaia, appreciates diversity among humans, and is kind, sensitive and light-hearted. If you look closely you can see some nascent sprouts (faces) among the emerging seeds.”
Nature is obviously very important to Kris so I asked her about her influences. “My main influence is the level at which I can exist where I live,” she began. “I can walk into the woods and hear a dozen songbirds, feel the deer, bear or mountain lion watch me walk by, see more grasses than I could identify in a botany class in five years, marvel at the hues of only one color in the wildflowers, watch cottonwood fluff float by, catch a photo of an iridescent fly on a leaf …. need I go on? Someone else might walk up that same path and talk my ear off about something that matters little to me at the time, unless it has to do with nature, love, wisdom, or personal sovereignty.”
These influences are clear in Kris’s work. “Each totem animal pendant I make comes alive. Each one’s personality emerges in the process. Each one’s eyes say something different, but there is a theme. And the theme is laced with sadness and anger, is in their expression that says, ‘Wake up, people.’ Some look off into the distance, perhaps the future. Roads in my work always lead to horizons; maybe the animals are looking there also.”
I asked Kris what other techniques she uses alongside metal clay in her work. “I incorporate other metals, such as bronze, into silver pieces. I want to get back into setting cabochons. I make my own chains or improve upon purchased ones. I rarely solder and wish I could rivet. Mostly though, I’m a silver metal clay purist.”
Kris told me her feelings about teaching metal clay. “I used to teach classes for up to six people at art centers and community colleges. Teaching to me was like doing shows — schlepping everything around is a lot of work. Now I teach out of my studio, share freely on my website, and build and offer online courses. What will never get old is the part in the metal clay process when you see your silver piece finished for real; there is always a pause, a reflection in appreciation, and a moment of ‘wow!’”
Kris also sells her work. “I sell in about half a dozen shops in Montana. I sell in five locations within Glacier National Park, seasonally obviously. I sell online on Etsy. I sell out of an online retail jewelry site based in Brooklyn. Let me be clear that my work consists of boring production pieces that sell in numbers and creativity-inspired, experimental, one-of-a-kind pieces. You can guess then where each best sells, or if I sell one or more at all.”
I asked Kris what she’s currently working on. “I am not working on anything right now!” she laughed. “What I am doing instead is tumbling each piece on display in my studio (mostly Etsy items) then placing each in a zip-lock bag, adding one anti-tarnish square. You see, I used so much patina this winter, all my pieces tarnished.”
So what about the future? I asked Kris what she wants to achieve artistically or creatively in the years to come. “Sweet question. A vision is necessary, and I do not have one. I think my work could use some more character and artistic infusion. Having said that I need to add that I still believe metal clay has not been fully explored, so whatever I create I want it to be unique, original, outside the box, and new.”
She went on, “As far as where I’m going with my work, I’ll have to ask my hands. Will they hold up and are they willing to give me another five years or more? They are telling me to give up the production work. And to experiment and stretch myself more in silver and other metals. They are telling me to teach remotely way more. And to keep my Life Coaching office in town—I help artists and artisans reach their goals, too.”
To see more of Kris’s work or find out about her coaching business, she has multiple places online.
The Silver Pendant on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheSilverPendant
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/kkdsilver/, https://www.instagram.com/ilovesilver962/ , and
Kris Kramer Coach http://www.kriskramercoach.com/
I Love Silver for Online Courses http://i-love-silver.usefedora.com/
Julia Rai is an award winning artist, teacher and writer well known in the international metal clay community. Her work has featured in a wide range of publications and she writes regularly for print magazines and online. She teaches in her home studio in Cornwall and travels to teach by invitation.