The Center Stone of Santa Bella’s Jewelry Design Is Combining Classic, Historic and Funky Elements for Timeless Pieces
By Shari Lacy © 2009
The oval shaped Victorian style mirror sits in the center of the round, wooden table, amidst a sea of gold wires, needle nose pliers, hooks and latches. The rocking chair that Amy Sale sits in to create, was once her grandmother chair, and now serves as a comfortable place to work on the pieces she holds so close to her heart. Literally, each individually hand crafted piece is treated with the love only an artisan can have for something they’ve birthed in the creative process, as it is tried on and visually dissected in that old metal framed mirror on the table, making sure it hangs properly on the neck of a woman.
Amy is a specialty jewelry designer and one with a particular vision and passion for melding touches of yesteryear with today’s modern appeal. Humbly and quietly, she creates these pieces, rarely having a desire to tout her own talents but thrilled when someone sits up and takes notice of the time and affection she has poured into each piece.
Following the birth of her son Andrew and after making the decision to stay home with him, Amy searched for something to fill the void, not only of time but also the measurable success she missed after leaving a successful career to become a stay at home mom. While pregnant with her second son Max, Amy met a friend at church who was studying jewelry design at LSU. Living in Baton Rouge, LA at the time, she and her family attended St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. The name, Santa Bella, means “beautiful saint” and pays homage to where these two friends first began the company and the joy she gets from creating. To Amy, the name Santa Bella also represents a kind thank you to the church for giving her another source of fulfillment, in addition to family. The partnership lasted for several years but eventually dissolved as families grew and relocations took place. Amy’s passion for creating, however, did not. Amy is the heart and soul of Santa Bella Jewelry. There is no hidden desire to turn into an assembly house of mass produced goods lurking under Amy’s surface, but rather to spend her time on each individual piece of art, hand knotting her coveted Bella Knots and thinking up unique designs in the process.
THE MEDALLION PROJECT
Santa Bella offers several different lines of handmade jewelry, but one in particular is deeply tied to Franklin, the Medallion Project. This particular piece was inspired by a conversation between Amy and fellow Westhaven resident, and owner of downtown Franklin’s Philanthropy store, Marianne Demeyers. Philanthropy is a store that combines charitable giving with each purchase. While sitting on the park bench watching their children play on the playground, Marianne voiced her desire to come up with a special jewelry design unique to Franklin and that represented this town. She also coveted a favorite quote that read, “Get, Give, Learn, Teach, Pass it on.” She liked some iron gates, and was intrigued by a door knob from a church on Main St., but was simply at a loss as to how to incorporate them into a finished piece.
Amy was immediately taken with the prospect of figuring out what made Franklin special and what design could represent this gem of a city on a piece of jewelry. With her creative wheels now spinning, she went to bed late that night, conjuring up thoughts about Franklin and its history. What idea could she possibly come up with that would be respectful and could sum up Franklin’s special qualities? What item could be marketed to both men and women yet still have flexibility for design possibilities.
3:00 A.M. INSPIRATION
She awoke at 3:00 a.m. that night and was unable to get back to sleep. The Civil War was on her mind…she couldn’t shake the thought. She knew the war’s history in this area and the fact that one of the most prominent and brutal battles of the entire Civil War happened right here in Franklin, a war that drew passion from both sides, created lessons for generations and changed lives and our nation forever. The next morning she began the rather involved task of researching medallions and found that the first Medal of Honor ever given was given during the Civil War. The Williamson County Library provided her with an enormous amount of information and she was fascinated with what she found. She called Marianne to tell her of her idea; she loved it as did Marianne’s business partner, Kristina.
Amy was consumed with drawing and planning the project. She felt the medallion had to be multi-layered, giving her design flexibility. The two center most pieces would have the beautiful etched door knob with an image of a cross that Marianne loved. The second piece would have the words, “GET, GIVE, LEARN, TEACH, PASS IT ON” around its circumference and serve as a foundation for the door knob. The third base would be a sundial inspired by a beautiful old medallion Amy found years ago in New Orleans. The final piece was the traditional cross seen in many badges.
Using tracing paper, she was able to layer each one so they fit perfectly one on top of the other. She also created many other versions of the design, each to the same proportions so that they could be interchanged, creating multiple design possibilities, especially if each layer could be cast in different metals. Everyone involved loved the drawings. The variety they were looking for was represented. This design could go from either a man’s leather cuff bracelet, or cuff links, to a well adorned jeweled necklace for a woman or simply hang on a chain.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
She drew the design on paper but the dilemma of transferring it from the drawing state to an actual prototype still existed. “Where in the world do I go from here,” Amy thought. Her experience told her that she needed someone who specialized in emblematic tool casting, dies and waxes, even though she didn’t fully understand what that meant yet. She needed someone who would be willing to help a complete novice and show her the ropes. She thought, “What are the chances I’ll find someone anywhere that fits the bill? Let alone in Tennessee?”
FATE STEPS IN
Not only did Amy find someone in Tennessee, but she found Mr. George Moody, a man who operates a business right here in Franklin. Even more strange is the fact that Mr. Moody, one of the most sought after emblematic tool and design specialists in the United States and someone whose experience is legendary in the casting industry, lives right here in Westhaven. Interestingly, his daughter Lisa had been working in Philanthropy for years.
APPRENTICE TURNED ARTISAN
George Moody started as a tooling apprentice at a tool making company in Indianapolis, IN., when he was in his late teens. He worked under a German fellow, from the old country, named Richard Gadey. Mr. Gadey was a master tool maker. For over a decade, Moody would study under the instruction of this phenomenal artist, soaking in everything he could, in order to master what would soon become his life’s work. To this day, he uses a pantograph machine that helps him transfer original drawings and pair them down to smaller versions for casting.
He became very good at his profession, eventually earning a Business and Psychology degree per the advice of a VP for the Balfour Company, known for its artistry with class rings. “He told me that I needed a college degree if I were to progress in the field.”
Over the next several decades, Mr. Moody rose in stature in his industry, working for Balfour, Herff Jones Company, Gordon B. Miller and others, as head plant manager and a highly respected artist. He and his wife moved to Franklin, TN in 1990 to be closer to their daughter and started Emblematic Tool and Design on February 2nd of that same year.
Throughout the years, Mr. Moody designed everything from high school and college rings to academy and military rings to the 1996 Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Championship Ring and Tom Cruise’s Scientology Medallion. He is sought out by many.
A TREASURED RELATIONSHIP
Amy and Mr. George formed a relationship that has been pivotal to seeing Amy’s creation come to light. “Mr. Moody was so patient to help and guide me,” Amy says. “He just gave me a wise grin when he saw my initial free hand drawings. He helped by giving me multiple tools which allowed for precision in my tiny sketches, a light box, templates, a simple protractor, all the items which served to fine tune my drawings and give him something he could actually use to create the waxes or molds,” she recalls.
Mr. George also shared a book on Heraldry, defined as the art of blazoning, assigning, and marshalling a coat of arms. Amy was fascinated by the volume of pages inside. “This leather bound book, over 100 years old, and probably 8 inches thick,” she says with fascination. “It contains every coat of arms and medallion dating back centuries and throughout the world. The binding is worn away and the book itself looks like it may have been found in a tomb but it is probably the only one of its kind still in existence. He loaned this to me and brought it to my house to use as a reference for inspiration, even knowing I had two young boys here who could have easily ripped the pages out to make paper airplanes. He shared so that I could learn.” Mr. George educated Amy on his pantograph machine along with his various tools and processes. With the computers and digital graphics of today, his method of doing this type of work is becoming a lost art. He is one of the few tool artisans in the U.S. still creating by the old tried and true method that he learned as an apprentice 50 years ago.
THE NEXT PHASE
Amy is now in the next phase of this project. A prototype has been created. Her father, a man with a lifelong fascination for gemstones and casting himself, met Mr. Moody, learned about the equipment and was able to help Amy with the “raw” medallion, when it returned unpolished, with rough edges and not yet assembled. He turned it into a finished piece by polishing, soldering, and drilling holes into the medallion to make its wearable. She is now searching for a company that could help her manufacture multiple pieces.
Amy’s hope is to not only recoup some of the costs associated with this process, but more importantly to share with others this labor of love and hopefully see enough profit to give back to those in need, much in the same way Mr. Moody gave of his time to teach her his art. Her charity of choice is The Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that helps wounded military personnel returning home from current conflicts. Choosing the WWP seems all the more appropriate when you consider the Civil War history upon which this medallion was created.
As Amy moves forward with more creations for Santa Bella, one of the original inspirations for the piece remains the same, the quote “Get, Give, Learn, Teach, Pass it on.” Each word has played itself out in the creative process, from Marianne DeMeyer’s sharing of the quote, to Amy’s Civil War inspiration, to Mr. Moody’s generous spirit. The process is on its way to coming full circle.