Leigh Ann Hurst is an Alabama Maker fashioning treasures from metal and stone

Leigh Ann Hurst says her jewelry has a personal stamp, and she feels like a little bit of her is going home with each person who buys it. (Mark Sandlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Folks were a bit confused the first time Leigh Ann Hurst exhibited her handcrafted jewelry at an arts fair.

“I got interested in making jewelry during the summer of 2009, after my mother, Glenda Sartain, showed me what she had been doing to entertain my niece one weekend,” the Huntsville native remembers. “They had gone to a local gem store and bought some stones to create pieces of jewelry. After playing around with the gemstones and some metal wire, I fell in love with jewelry design.”

That November, Hurst and Sartain took their pieces to the Made South Holiday Market in Franklin, Tennessee, where their jewelry — and the way it was exhibited — drew some curious stares. “We loaded an antique sideboard, antique lamps, an oriental rug, an oil painting and a shelving unit into my mother’s Ford Edge SUV, and drove it all to Franklin,” Hurst says. “We displayed the jewelry in the drawers of the sideboard and on the shelves. But it was hard to know what we were selling — antiques or jewelry. Anyway, the pieces were well received and the following year we did the same show, but without the antiques.”

It didn’t take long for more folks to start admiring Hurst’s jewelry — and her artistic skills. Although she’s been crafting items out of silver, copper, brass and gold for only a few years, her necklaces, bracelets and earrings are sold at shops in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and North Carolina, as well as on her website and at art shows across the country.

“I love making my art, but sometimes I hate to see it go,” she says. “So it’s great to know that people like my pieces enough to buy them.”

A graduate of Auburn University, Hurst worked as a design assistant for an interior design firm for four years. “But I never really felt comfortable in that field, so when my first child was born in 1991 I chose to stay home,” she says. “And after the Franklin show, I was ready to learn as much as I could about working with metals.”

Hurst attended workshops with Huntsville metal artist Connie Ulrich and North Carolina metalsmith James Carter, and took classes at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg.

“I’m heading back to Arrowmont this summer,” she says. “The learning never stops.”

Lately, Hurst’s favorite semi precious ingredient is labradorite, a gleaming quartz similar to moonstone. “Depending on the light, it can be a vibrant blue, or gold and green,” she says. “It’s perfect for earrings, and these days I’m focusing on earrings and bracelets.”

She still makes an elongated cross necklace, one of her most popular pieces.

Although some of her jewelry may look elegantly simple, it all takes patience and skill to make. “Even a piece like the cross takes longer than you’d think,” she explains. “I start with a piece of wire or metal. I try to use as many scrap pieces as possible so nothing goes to waste. Then I cut and solder the metal, clean it, get it to the right size and hammer it into shape. I usually work on several items at one time.”

Since that first Franklin show, Hurst has exhibited her jewelry at craft fairs from Georgia to Wyoming. And her pieces still draw a lot of attention — even without the antiques.

The Product: Sterling silver, copper, brass, gold-filled and gemstone necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Take Home: An elongated cross necklace ($65).

Leigh Ann Hurst Jewelry www.leighannhurst.com.

Republished with permission of Alabama newsCenter