Article by Rayna Bailey
Local Artists – March 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
INSPIRED BY IMAGES taken from nature, and working with silver, animal fetishes, natural stones, imported glass beads, and satin cording, Beckie Kagan designs jewelry that she calls wearable art.
“I grew up in the country,” says Kagan, a Leadville native.
“I’m an animal person and a nature person and a lot of my jewelry designs come from how things look and seem in nature.” Pointing to her ear, from which dangles a small, round, silver earring with a pair of deer etched out of the center, she adds, “That’s why I like these earrings so much, they’re so natural. You can actually picture the little deer standing out there.”
The view through the living room window of the remote rural Westcliffe home she shares with her husband, Andy, and their three-month-old son, Wesley, gives Kagan ample opportunity to observe “little deer standing out there” and to gather ideas for the collection of necklaces, earrings, bolo ties and more that are a part of her High Country Creations.
Kagan, who is a self-taught jeweler and silversmith, says she started making jewelry about six years ago while still living in Leadville, working winters as a ski instructor at Ski Cooper and summers as a river guide for Performance Tours.
“I needed something to supplement my income at that time. I had some really neat ideas and I’ve always been kind of creative, so I decided to see if I could make jewelry and make some money, too.”
Just starting out, Kagan says she turned to craft fairs as a marketing outlet. “Craft fairs are a good place to go to figure out what people like and it helps with pricing, because if someone likes something and the price is right, they’re going to buy it.”
However, Kagan also figured out that relying only on craft fairs for sales can be a hard way to earn money. She laughs and says, “I didn’t go to craft fairs for very long. People will walk by your booth and say, `That’s beautiful. I like it a lot,’ then walk away. At craft shows, not too many people buy anything, because they think they can make it themselves.”
Recognizing that if High Country Creations was going to grow beyond being merely a hobby, she would need a more effective marketing plan, Kagan hired a sales representative to approach gift shops and promote her jewelry. The plan paid off. Currently, Kagan’s creations can be found in gift shops throughout the Southwest.
Most of the jewelry whcih Kagan’s rep delivers to gift shops in places such as the Emporium in Westcliffe, Denver International Airport, Phnix Sky Harbor Airport, Yellowstone National Park, and Montana’s Custer National Forest is smaller, less expensive pieces that are attractive to tourists in search of souvenirs.
“My rep only handles certain items.” Kagan says. She picks up a black satin cord with a small black bear fetish attached to it by a silver strand. “He only handles smaller stuff like this bear necklace. Stuff that businesses can send me a purchase order for.” Swinging the necklace between two fingers Kagan adds, “I sell a zillion of these. They’re cute and they’re very affordable. A mother can afford to buy her daughter one.”
While a portion of Kagan’s wearable art is, in a sense, mass-produced for gift shops in tourist areas she also offers one-of-a-kind items for discerning collectors at some specialty shops, including Sangre De Cristo Interiors and Copper Spur Metal Works, both in Westcliffe.
She also readily admits that custom designing unique jewelry pieces is her passion. “I really like mixing stones and silver. It can be rough stones, it can be finished stones, but they come out to be extremely unique items. I love doing just intricate silver work, mixing the stones with silver.”
Kagan has plans to expand her designs beyond wearable art, to include decorative silver jewelry boxes. Revealing her creative mind at work, she describes a box she envisions: “I have an idea that I really want to do. It’s of a rapid, since I’m a rafter. I’d have a box with a lid and have stones all around the river and silver flowing down the river and maybe a little raft made of gem stones.”
A horse-lover — Kagan owns several — she says, “I’m into horses so I wouldn’t mind doing some silver bits and show bridles. I’d like to branch out into areas that require different silver smithing.”
Since giving birth to Wesley, Kagan says she has been on a hiatus from her work, relying on the help of a friend to get smaller items made and shipped to clients. She notes that the cold weather has kept her out of her unheated workshop, too.
But with her thoughts turned toward spring and getting back to work she says, “When Wesley gets a little older and I can get my work bench set up in the workshop…” Sighing, Kagan refers to her silver box with the tiny gem stone raft, “That’s going to be one of my first projects as soon as I get things back on course.”
Rayna Bailey writes for many publications, most frequently the Wet Mountain Tribune in Westcliffe, where she also serves on the school board.