Amy Ragsdale: Artist and Jewelry Designer

Bucks County native Amy Ragsdale is a jewelry designer and artist with a deep trust in the creative process.  This trust was born in an experience she had as a young girl, an experience  that deeply influenced her life as an artist and as a person.

Q. Where did you grow up?

AR:  I was born in Bristol.  I was the middle child of seven and lived in Levittown.We were the quintessential Levittown family.  There was lots of freedom and unsupervised time..  My parents were  laid back.  They were not about being better or different than anyone else.   My dad gave me message that I was loved and that was huge.  I had a mother who was indifferent. In a weird way my mother’s inability to connect to me worked to my advantage.Other than being home for dinner and chores, we were on our own.
Q. You mentioned an experience that shaped you as a young person.

AR: We spent a lot of time on our own and I learned from that experience that there are forces seen and unseen that are watching over me. That was validated while I was riding my horse Oaky when i was 14 years old.  Oaky taught me how to trust my gut and how to trust nature. Some people call them epiphanies  but I remember as clear as if it happened last week… I just got this message that “Oh, by the way everything is going to be all right. It’s going to be great.” and I felt my heart just leap and here I am by myself on my horse, like,  in the woods. And I’ve had that supported by experiences over the next 40 some years. Grace is how I describe this ability to observe and see things and be aware of things at this organic level that a lot of kids my age were not doing .

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This  wasn’t always the message at home.  My father was far more unconditional with his love.   You just knew he was looking out for you. Not that we needed a lot of looking out for but you knew he cared. He was empathetic…you could feel it. Whereas with my mother there was a disconnect. That’s not right or wrong or good or bad it’s just looking back  I can see that it helped me have more of a wildish nature.  And that wildish nature was frowned upon by teachers and certain other people but I couldn’t help it.  I got high on life.
It’s not like I had some crazy aunt who took me under her wing. The only person who guided me that way was Barb Silcox and that was not until I was 13 or 14 and I was well on my way to being independent. She lead by example that women can do what they want even if it breaks the rules. She was confident, independent and alive.  She made me realize:  “so there is no other choice, I’m going to be who I am.”  She was a truck driving babe in the 70s.  Barb had a CB with a “handle” .  She was “Candy Apple”.  “This is Candy Apple, breaker, breaker.”   She was really comfortable with her wild nature. and I thought, “hell if she can do it so can I”. She taught me how to stand in my own power and she looked really happy too! The lessons I learned from her I’ve kept my whole life.

 

Q: Your work involves Fashion and art-  do they come from same place creatively?

AR: Our culture and society is coming out of a dark period of fashion., A period when a false “luxury” ruled. And things like ….I hate to use the word, but “sustainability” and ethical fabrics and ethical work conditions and really encouraging people to really explore what it is that make them feel good and vivacious and alive…. We can’t all be walking around like Carrie Underwood on”Sex in the City”. The little Carrie necklace….people still ask me about it. Right down to spending $500 on their shoes. and then 6 months later, a year later, it’s like really obvious that these were IN last year…I can’t wear them this year.  And what kind of sense does that make? It doesn’t make sense to me. It never did. I had a uniform:  I had two pair of jeans, two pair of shoes and I had Hanes pocket T shirts. That’s what I wore. And when it got cold I wore flannel shirts and I alternated every other day. Now people are like, “you can’t wear the same thing twice in one week” and I’m like “Whhhat?!!”  “Yeah, I kinda did and I lived. (laughs)
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Q:Talk to us about your idea of a “signature piece” of jewelry.

AR:For me jewelry fashion and style are about having a signature piece and stepping into your space where you feel safe and then wearing your piece . It’s something that empowers you. It is a reminder of being true to yourself. And then there is the connection to something that has BEEN a support to you.  Having something that means something to you like, “this is my father’s, or this is my mother’s, or this is my grandmother’s, or this is my daughters…. that you don’t find in popular fashion. You don’t want to be walking around in what every eighth grader in Upper Dublin is wearing. (laughs) I love Tiffany’s, don’t get me wrong but everybody’s in a toggle necklace?  What does that say?

DSC05344So I’m very fortunate. My business has grown in a healthy way and I have some fabulous clients.  One client in Philadelphia said, “Amy I have a Van Cleef and Arpel bracelet. I paid thousands of dollars for.It  belonged to Brooke Astor. I’ve worn it twice. I put my Guardian Cuffs on every day.  She could afford whatever she wants and she said, “I wake every day and put your cuffs on.” Whatever the story is behind the jewelry that is the key. It evokes that memory and it resonates.

 

Q: What is the first piece of jewelry that you made- that “aha moment?”

AR:I was told to go home and play with some sterling and I made this pair of earrings and I got in the next day and my boss Tony Heyl  said, “they’re great, love ’em.”  His partner Carolyn said, “they’re horrible, they’ll never selll, you can keep ’em.”  And i was like, OK  and so I wore them. These women came in, it was a tourist town so they were  from away, and they looked around and saw hundreds of pairs of earrings and they walked up to me and said, “we want the pair that you are wearing.” And I just got this smile on my face and I said, “well, they’re not for sale but I can make you a pair.”  Because I really wanted to keep these. These were the first bowl pair of earrings that I made.  Tony loved them and Caroline said “they’d never sell.” so I thought I’m not getting rid of these. So I went in the back and started making them for these people and Carolyn said, “what are you doing?” and I said, “I’m making these earrings. These women bought them.”

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Amy Ragsdale  “Champagne Earrings that I made back in 1987.The earrings that encouraged me to trust my gut.”

 

when she asked me “how much did I charge them” and I told her I charged them $57 which was WAY over what we were charging but I had the guts to make a point and I made it more for myself than anyone else.

 

You have to give yourself a little bit of a hug and a little bit of a smack on the ass. You get back up. you are going to be fine. It was remarkable and the fact that I still have ’em is great. I was told they were worthless but they are a pretty nice pair of earrings.

 

Q:How does place influence your creative process?

AR: I like to work in a peaceful setting. It doesn’t mean that there is a fountain of water trickling in the other room…. it just can’t be hectic and chaotic. I almost always have music playing. I find myself, as many artists do, going into a trance. There is an extensive space around me and I can breathe and exhale and inhale and let the experience take over and transpire without me having to control it. Having a lot of metal around. I’m lucky I have great tools and Just letting the process unfold. I know like every other artist, but it’s true, but the process unfolds.   There is a sense of disbelief, “Holy S$#$* did that just happen.People say, “How did you think of this, and I’ll look at them and I’ll say. I really don’t know. You get these hits of inspiration and you have to really appreciate them because I think that  is part of the cycle.  You get this gift and then you appreciate the hell out of it.

 

There was a time very early on when I thought, “Jeez, I’m not going to be able to come up with any more ideas.” Once again it was one of those moments, I woke up the next morning and I thought, ” Of course You’re going to be able to come up with more ideas!” That’s how your built.  The universe is boundless, it’s endless, it’s infinity.

 

MY clients often will say, “I want something like this, this, and this.” and I’ll say, “let me make three or four and see if I got anything close and that’ll launch a whole new line. It’s something I never thought of and they just had a vague idea but between the two of us.

 

Trust the process. Have Fun. A friend of mine who is in the business, said to me , “Amy your work works because you know when to put it down.  The beauty is in the simplicity. There is actually a quote from Leonardo DaVinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  And that goes to the earlier point about ” the dark time of fashion.”  It is just add another piece of gold, add a pearl, add a glom of something shiny, just keep adding and then you have what I call glommy jewelry.  You can cut it in half and pop out half the stones and then it looks good. There’s no room for interpretation. There’s no room to breath in some of this jewelry. Its’ so glommy>  That’s what I try to get kids to do.  When you think you are done, put it down and walk away for a minute.  And then come back.

 

Q:As an artist, what advice would you give your 23 year old self?

AR: Have fun! You can’t lose. If you are having fun it shows in your work and it permeates into everything. Your spirit goes into the work and it can affect people. This woman put on one of my pieces. It was the echo necklace, she put it on and she started sobbing She turned around and I hugged her. There was something that resonated in her and she said “I’m not taking it off.” Things do vibrate. This is the reason we are attracted to certain things and certain places. That is what we were talking about. Bucks  County just vibrates in a way that energizes art and artists.

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Amy Ragsdale’s photographs of conic images of our Bucks County surroundings are available at the Carversville Grocery.

Q: Thanks for  sharing your story with us Amy!
AR: I appreciate you taking the time to interview me. It sparked an ongoing conversation with myself.  Reminding me, once again,of how integral Tony Heyl, Barb Silcox, my parents and my children are to the joy of my work.

 

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