Crista Dixon sees art in vintage jewelry, buttons

By September 20, 2011

Crista Dixon works on a piece of jewelry at her El Dorado Hills home. Village Life photo by Pat Dollins

By Mike Bush

What started as a hobby making “fun, funky” earrings and jewelry with a friend five years ago has turned into an almost full-time job for Crista Dixon.

The vice-president of the Assistance League of Sierra Foothills has sold more than 450 pieces of jewelry in the last four years. Making jewelry is an art Dixon partially learned as a child — she was taught how to cut and polish stones — and later took up in college. The move to a busy jewelry maker came a few years ago after Dixon attended a show at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, where she purchased a “very expensive” bracelet.

“A large piece of turquoise, all beaded,” said Dixon of the bracelet. “(After purchasing the bracelet) I thought ‘why did I do this?’”

Dixon is one of many artists who will be featured as part of the El Dorado County Artists Studio Tour sponsored by the Placerville Arts Association. Displays of Dixon’s work and 62 artists from 16 studios will start the weekends of Sept. 24-25 and Oct. 1-2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, as this is a self-guided tour. For more information call (530) 409-0724 or (530) 676-3959 or visit placervillearts.com.

Dixon displays her work at galleries in the Sacramento area, with one in Santa Monica. She said she can crank out about 25 complete bracelets and earrings within a few days.

Dixon, who has worked in sales and marketing and worked as a CEO, said she was lucky to travel all over the world in her career and recent years where she picked up bits and pieces of jewelry, and also came across old jewelry no one wanted.

“Sometimes they were not in good shape,” Dixon said. “I’d go to the Paris (France) flea market, or I bought a lot of buttons, a lot of vintage buttons. I have boxes of this stuff. So I thought ‘well, why don’t I corporate this into jewelry.’”

As Willow, Dixon’s 2-year-old beagle, sits beneath her owner, Dixon shows a necklace she’s making for one of her clients.

“I’m going to take an old vintage pin, and this is probably from the 1930s, 1940s,” explained Dixon as she prepares to work on the necklace. “We’re going to put this in the center. Generally, I don’t remake things. I usually make things from scratch.”

Dixon took the back off the pin, then strung the pin and attached it, then restrung the necklace until finished.

Amongst the many pieces of jewelry she has to make jewelry from scratch are dress clips women worn back in the 1920s and 1930s. Dixon plans to remove the clips, then redo them for necklaces. She also has pieces from the late 1800s to the late 1950s.

“What people use to do with these is put them on furniture,” Dixon described. “They’d glue them on; they would be decorative pieces.

“There are vintage pieces …  I’m looking all over,” said Dixon, who checks antique malls.

Case in point was a recent trip to an antique store in Merced. Dixon saw a fur coat that she says was old, ratty and had holes in it and purchased it for $15. Once outside the antique store, Dixon ripped the buttons off the coat, threw away the rest and reset the button into a bracelet.

“It’s kind of fun, actually,” Dixon said.

Pieces of citroen and jasper jewelry sit on top of Dixon’s work area. Once she starts working on a bracelet or necklace, she’s focused on finishing the project.

One project took 10 hours to complete. “It was actually a bracelet,” Dixon said. “It was a piece of green turquoise, very rare, and I did them with African beads, vintage African tribal beads and some precious stones.”

Dixon placed this particular bracelets — she made two — into the Gold Country Artists Gallery in Placerville, but decided that she loved the bracelet so much she was going to retrieve it. Two Napa winery owners, both women, purchased Dixon’s bracelets for $275 each.

She also works with chipped and mirrored glass. Dixon has some of these fragile pieces in a box dating back to the 1940s. She plans to make bracelets out of them.

“I’ve always been interested in Native American things,” Dixon said. “I’m kind of drawn to Mexico, Santa Fe (N.M.) and Arizona (for jewelry pieces).”

Dixon found earlier this year that one of her bracelets at the Santa Monica gallery was sold to actress Jennifer Love Hewitt.

“I got to keep waiting for In Style Magazine,” kidded Dixon. “That would be great.”

Earrings, depending on the number of stones, have gone from $45 to $200. Bracelets have started at $125 to $450.

“What makes things more expensive is I’m close to the source where I can buy it, and it’s getting scarce,” Dixon said.

Dixon plans to do shows in San Francisco next year.

To view Dixon’s work visit cristadixon.com.

Special to Village Life


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