Jewels That Dance: Go See — They Really Do!
By Roberta Binder
Paula Dawkins graduated college with her degree in Psychology, married, and was living in Ashe County in a lovely spot called Grassy Creek. Standing with her husband one day wondering what she was going to do next, along came a friend. An electrical engineer, he had renovated an old school bus to ride around in and changed his name to Motor. “We visited a bit when he turned to me and said, ‘Hey, you can make some money making jewelry.’” He gave Paula a lesson and an application for a craft show.
So, she bought some silver, made some jewelry, put it in a shoebox, made a makeshift display, and she and her husband headed to the show. They didn’t have enough money left over for a motel that night, so they slept in their car. Paula sold her very first piece and she still remembers all the detail of that transaction, the sale was $14.95. By the end of the day, there was enough for a meal and a motel room. At the end of the show, all the jewelry was sold, including some she had made on the spot. She walked away with $1000 in cash. “I went home, threw the money in the air, danced around and said, ‘this is what I’m going to do!’ I was hooked in a major way.” And so the story began.
It wasn’t always as easy. For quite some time no show topped the first one, however it didn’t matter, when you are hooked, well, you’re hooked. “I had already hit the ball out of the ballpark, so every day I expected to be the very best day I ever had.” And so it was. She knew she was never going to do anything other than create jewelry. Paula read, tried ideas, pushed her envelope and learned along the way, the true magic was that in her heart she knew this would be her life.
Ten years later, along came a divorce and Paula decided it was time to move down to the big city of Asheville. She knew she needed to create her jewelry outside of the house since it had taken over her previous home. Thus the search for a studio began.
As serendipity seems to continue in Paula’s life, she went to dinner one day at a restaurant on Lexington Avenue, as she came back to the car, she saw this little shop with showcases on the side walls, a burglar alarm and a For Rent sign in the window. “Oh, I’ll rent this. This is where I’ll work and sell some jewelry and continue to go to craft shows.” And that is just what happened. Her career in Asheville began in 1983 when downtown was very different from what it is today.
Yet the word got out and people began to come in, “Can you make me something like this?” Sure was always her response. When they asked the price, she’d throw out a figure. Paula reminisces, “I’d make it, and people would like the results. They’d send other people. I was making money! I thought this was great.” Her creative designs and name began to grow around the town.
About this time she came to realize that her life work was written in gold, silver and precious gems. The shop relocated several times and the result became Jewels That Dance! “I’m grateful for every second of the journey and everyone who has supported me by loving my work along the way. I had no business plan, I was never that organized, everywhere there was a fork in the road I just took it. I was so blessed and continue to be blessed. Carol Schniedewind has been my business manager since I moved to Asheville; she is the one behind-the-scenes that keeps everything running smoothly.”
Paula attended a few workshops and training programs; she reads incessantly and is always willing to fail. She is a fast learner, likes to try new ideas and creations. She will work on the new idea or technique, taking it as far as she can, then find another master craftsman who can help her fine tune the concept, and makes it hers from there.
She has grown to be a master jeweler, an outstanding custom designer. “Ever since that day when someone said, ‘Can you make me…?’ I’ve been intrigued with custom design. I always love the thrill of doing something different, accepting a new challenge. With custom it is always collaboration, everybody who comes in has a story to tell me, perhaps that is where my psychology background comes in. We always develop this great relationship.”
Also a realist, Paula notes, “It is not all glory and success. Some days I don’t want to get up and come to work. But I never lose sight of how I got here and all the people who have been part of this journey – from the day Motor drove up, changed my life and its direction, followed by the stream of people that continue to walk through the door and encourage me to climb new ladders.” Her hard work earned her recognition in 1993 as one of the outstanding new jewelry designers of the year by the jewelry designer’s industry professional organization.
One of the things that is impressive on the website (I strongly recommend a visit) is that all the store’s diamonds are sourced ethically or recycled and re-cut. You can see the details of the diamond mine and the cutters.
Any successful retail store is a collaboration and team effort. Many members of the Jewels That Dance team have been with Paula from close to the beginning. Each brings welcoming warmth as you walk through the door. There is an additional team behind the scenes that help to produce the magic. The work of a hand-picked group of master jewelry designers is also on display. “You have to believe and keep going. You have to go out and get stung. Learning to believe, go with the hustle, don’t be afraid to fail and get back up on the horse.” Paula closes our time together with wisdom for all of us.
Jewels That Dance, Jewelry Design, is located at 63 Haywood Street, Asheville NC 28801, www.JewelsThatDance.com
Roberta Binder, Facilitating Clarity through Mindful Editing Keeping the Author’s Voice, Always at RobertaEdits.com. She is also a writer and photo-journalist who enjoys all of her writing adventures with WNC Woman – Women Nurturing Change.