But seriously, what Christina Holland has done with Anvil Jewelry is a perfect blend of the metal craft she studied in college, and her passion for banjo. And isn’t that what art is all about? Bringing your skills in molding reality to serve your personal interests?
What Christina has done is to create beautiful, sterling silver banjo picks using intricate, creative designs as well as custom features like cut outs for initials and attached gem stones. Each pair is hand-crafted in her Knoxville shop, and most are sold as gifts.
We had a chance to speak with Holland over the weekend about her banjo art. As we expected she is a banjo player as well as a metal artist.
“I don’t have a lot of years under my belt, but I am loving it! I’m self-taught from books and the internet. I’m not what I would describe as musically talented, but I can read music and I am relentless at practicing, so I get there eventually. My husband shows me up miserably on every instrument we own, so the banjo came with a promise that it would be exclusively my terrain. He’s now gotten interested enough in bluegrass music that he brought home a dobro so that we can play together. I started out learning Scrugg’s style and now I’m trying out clawhammer, too. I still use a fingerpick, I just flip it around and adjust the bend. Working as a jeweler is hard enough on the state of my nails without using them for percussion.”
Initially, the silver picks came about as a matter of necessity, but Christina soon applied her artistry to the endeavor.
“My husband gave me the banjo for my birthday, and my dad gave me his old banjo picks to play with – some Nationals. They were a pretty awkward fit on my tiny fingers, and, since I have an allergy to nickel they made my skin crawl and I knew a rash was on the way. I went to my workshop and created a fancy flowery version in my size out of sterling silver. After playing more, I felt like I understood what I wanted in a fingerpick, and I experimented with different approaches. I read a lot of banjo blogs and looked at different styles of fingerpicks trying to see what people looked for in a good one. I made endless paper, then copper mock-ups before I settled on my favorite design. I ended up with a comfy, secure wraparound style that fits extra large and extra small fingers. These can feature a rounded or pointy striking tip, because it seems like that’s a matter of personal preference. I especially liked the sound of the polished sterling silver over the dull sound of the nickel. I lost a lot of banjo-playing time making different decorative designs, adding gemstones, stamps and decorative saw-work. But once I had a good comfortable fit, it felt more natural to play. Plus, I felt like I looked good, at the very least.”
Christina started in the jewelry game when she was in college, switching from a sculpture to a metals major at the Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Craft’s BFA program at Tennessee Tech University in 2003.
“I focused on blacksmithing and jewelry and did small machine/simple motor type wearable toys out of silver for my senior thesis. I graduated in 2006, keeping a jewelry line going, selling in galleries while attending grad school and working as a children’s librarian. In July 2014, I moved back to Tennessee and took the transition as a perfect time to be a full-time metalsmith. I put my new custom fingerpicks on my etsy shop and sold my very first pair to a very nice lady who gifted them to Steve Martin…who tweeted them!
This was actually the first pair I sold, so I took that as a very good sign! Due to my intense excitement over this event, she was kind enough to send me a personal photo of him wearing them and I have it framed proudly over my jeweler’s bench. Now, I make a lot of different designs, and my favorite is to make custom orders.
The style I’ve sold the most of is certainly the personalized monograms. It’s really fun to do custom work. People are putting a lot of thought into getting a one of a kind present for someone they really care about it, and it’s cool to be a part of that. So far, everyone who has ended up purchasing luxury banjo picks has been pretty darn interesting! I’d imagine banjo players can generally be hard to buy for – really, what more could they ask for?”
The picks sell for $129 set, presented in a gift box.
Here are a few more images of her work.
Banjo picks are not the only items Holland crafts for Anvil Jewelry. She makes other pieces to be worn (rings, cuff links, pins, ear rings) and standalone items like custom cigarette lighters and objet d’art for the home. Many more photos can be found on the Anvil web site and her Etsy store.