(The Embrace by Mary Jo Weiss)
“Combining metals is what I like to do,” explains jeweler Mary Jo Weiss. Pairing sterling silver with 14K, 18K or 22k gold, and sometimes niobium gives her jewelry a distinctive look. Once you see it, you recognize it as Mary Jo’s style. Her work is showcased at Red Chair Gallery in August.
To start a project, she may set out a sheet of sterling silver and fuse gold onto it. Then she textures the metal using various techniques such as hammering, roller printing and etching. Finally, she will cut up the sheet to make a cuff bracelet or earrings. After forging and fashioning a piece into shape, she often highlights it with semi-precious and precious stones, such as tourmaline, labradorite and sapphire. Sometimes she wraps a thin band of shimmering bluish niobium around a sterling ring and then accents it with a large freshwater pearl. The result is stunning simplicity.
Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Weiss lived all over the Midwest as a child, completing a bachelor of fine arts degree at Northern Illinois University. She then worked in repair and fabrication at various jewelers, taking Gemological Institute of America (GIA) courses along the way. In 1990, she settled first in Bend and later in Sisters, where she raised two daughters and was the bench jeweler at The Jewel for 18 years. There she made jewelry designed by the store’s owner and also sold her own creations, under the name Josepha Weiss Designs.
In 2012, Weiss became a full-time independent jeweler. After so many years in Central Oregon, she has a loyal group of followers who order custom pieces from her. Some of the custom work has morphed into signature products. For example, a customer asked for a pendant showing a mother and child embracing. Weiss made it in sterling silver and brass, adorned with a semi-precious stone. Since then, she has sold dozens of the pendants, named The Embrace.
Connection to the local art community is important to Weiss. She is a member of the Sisters Art Association and still sells her jewelry at The Jewel in Sisters. She is a founder of the Torch Jewelry Collective, a shared studio space which includes a classroom for teaching small classes and workshops. In the past, she taught jewelry courses at Central Oregon Community College (until the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult) and now teaches workshops in her studio. She plans to offer classes in soldering, hollow forms, forging and other skills in the future. Later this month, she will participate in the Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild’s annual show at the Oxford Hotel and the Sisters studio tour at the end of September.