Posted by: Kath Usitalo | December 5, 2012

Michi-Gifts: Upper Peninsula Artist Beth Millner

Find Beth Millner's Love Bird Pendant onine at MIUpperHand

Find Beth Millner’s Love Bird Pendant online at MIUpperHand

Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, was preempted this year by retailers who insisted on opening their doors a day early, on Thanksgiving. Folks fled their turkey dinners and dirty dishes and flocked to stores to scoop up deals on goods that they just couldn’t wait another 12 hours to buy.

As an alternative to mass-produced merchandise and the mall mentality I am reviving the “buy local” email message that I received last year about thinking outside of the big box shops.

Click here to read Birth of a New Tradition, and be inspired to get creative in your gift-giving this season.

logoIn my hunt for gifts from the Great Lakes State I decided to check in on MIUpperHand, an online store for goods handmade in the Upper Peninsula.

You’ll find all sorts of locally produced items in a wide range of prices, from Escanaba’s Swedish Pantry pancake mix ($6.50) to beautiful wooden and glass bowls, wall art, beeswax candles, hunting knives, Iverson snowshoes and Hiawatha Log buildings and furniture, including a dog bed ($349.99) and sauna (from $6,690 up).

The nature-inspired jewelry of Beth Millner caught my eye. Her distinctive silver, copper and brass pieces were familiar—I remembered admiring her work a couple of summers ago at Open Wings gallery in Munising (more about that cool shop another day).

The Love Bird Landscape pendant pictured above is one of Beth’s more involved pieces, with hand sawn birds and hammered layers of silver, copper and brass ($300). She even made the steel stamp she uses to create the leaf impressions.

The tree is bare on the flip side of this copper pendant

The reversible copper tree pendant with leaves…

I like the humor of one of her simpler pieces, available on her etsy site for $70. It’s a copper two-sided tree pendant, one with leaves and one bare.

Beth dabbled in making beaded jewelry at home in Wisconsin but had never worked with metals until she arrived at Northern Michigan University, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. “I walked into my first metalsmithing class and I was hooked,” she says.

Trees, birds and bees are the theme of most of her line, which includes rings and earrings. She says that nature was always present in her work but really evolved after graduation, when she lived in a “tiny cabin in the woods” and was surrounded by the natural world of the U.P.

Then she and her partner Mike hit the road for five months, touring the country and living in the elements in a pop-up trailer. Trees became a common theme in the jewelry she made on the road and sold from Florida to Arizona and California.

...and without

…and without

While they were out west she recalls, “We saw how scarce water is out there and said, ‘Let’s get back to Michigan!'”

The couple, who wear rings that Beth made, now live in the Marquette area on a farm with goats, chickens and ducks. Their home was also the site of her workshop until early 2012 when she opened a storefront and moved her studio to the space on West Washington Street in beautiful downtown Marquette.

Her bricks-and-mortar business is doing well enough that Beth is able to increase the hours of her two staffers, and that’s a good thing. Naturally.

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