“I sort of fell into it,” Amanda DeWitt said. “I am very artistic, but I never knew you could do something that you like to do to make a living!”
In 1969 during her junior year DeWitt quit college and moved from Champaign (Illinois) to Door County with her then husband, jewelry-maker Tom DeWitt. She had not been an art major but smiled as she pointed out that her ancestors included furniture and clock makers.
“It was probably the best decision of my life,” she laughed. “No regrets!”
She learned to make jewelry and is still here, her shop a part of her home on Church Street in Ephraim; a garden house studio sits in her back lawn.
DeWitt recalled when she met Madeline Tourtelot her first year in Door County. “I had gone to pick up mail at the post office,” she said, “when Madeline drove up laughing in her canary yellow Jaguar XKE, a scarf tied over her platinum blonde hair. Tom introduced me, and I thought, things are a lot different here than in Champaign!”
Founder of the Peninsula Art School, Tourtelot was an inspiration to the arts community in Door County, DeWitt explained. She invited artists to her home, helped them to network, and provided encouragement, sometimes in the form of financial grants.
After a decade, the DeWitts’ marriage ended; Tom moved to the Cayman Islands and Amanda decided to continue the DeWitt Jewelry business. By this time she had a daughter, many friends and was “hopelessly in love with Door County.”
“I think I was working on mother instinct,” she said, “and wanted to stay at home and make a go of it. A mom and pop business, without the pop!” With the help of friends and the support of the community, she made a success of the enterprise.
As a jeweler, DeWitt has found her niche and has developed a clientele for her work. One reason is the popularity of her signature pieces. Now she works exclusively as a silversmith, hammering much of her jewelry on an anvil by hand. “Almost no one hammers anymore,” she said.
A trademark piece is a sterling bracelet hammered on two sides in a twist that fastens with a subtle clasp. A classic design that provides comfort for the wearer and strength for the piece, the bracelet sells for $60.
“People tell me I should raise my prices,” DeWitt laughed. “I tell them they can pay me more if they want to!”
DeWitt also has created a signature sterling necklace composed of forged links hammered flat in the center, vertical at the sides and connected with jump rings. The necklace always looks good, she said, no matter how it turns.
“Professional ladies find it is something they can travel with,” DeWitt added. “They can wear it at work or dressed up,” as it is classic and understated.
“I’ve been making this design for a long time,” she said. “I like the feedback. Women say they wear it all the time, that it’s their favorite jewelry. And young kids react the same as older ladies who have bought it. Sometimes a daughter comes in with her mother to pick out a piece of jewelry. And I do pieces for brides to give to their bridesmaids.”
She makes variations on the necklace, along with pendants for chains, pins, rings, and earrings. Earrings are generally professionally cast from wax molds to achieve symmetry in the pair.
“Living in Door County has influenced my designs,” DeWitt said. “They are organic. I go outdoors every day, walk in the woods.” She pointed to one of her pins as an example. Two willow leaf-like pieces are joined at the ends with a central spiral connecting them. “An ancient design,” she said.
A number of factors have led customers to appreciate her work. One is the fact that her forged jewelry is hand-made and one of a kind. “If someone sees a necklace in my shop in the morning,” DeWitt said, “and comes back to purchase it in the afternoon, it might be gone!”
Another is the artisan-artist aspect of her business. She is an artist; “True artists put a part of their soul in their work, and I put something of myself in each piece I do,” she said. But like a true craftsman, she works by herself, not only making the jewelry but also running her own shop. Her jewelry is not sent to a sweatshop or a third-world country to be mass-produced. While her designs are classic and pure in their simplicity, so is their realization as she produces her jewelry.
Subsequently, her work is uniquely recognizable; she told the story of a businesswoman in Boston who looked across a conference room and saw another wearing the same DeWitt necklace. The woman caught the eye of the other, touched her necklace, smiled, and the other pointed to her own necklace and smiled back.
Amanda DeWitt is doing what she loves and has survived as a full-time artist, not because of a trust fund or a wealthy spouse, but because of hard work and a basic lifestyle. “I’m a studio-production jewelry artist,” she said, “and I work to sell to a public with modest means, people on vacation, who buy a souvenir piece. No one spends a fortune here! And I’ve been raising a family!”
Her daughter Lilly has two children and works as an attorney for Kimberly-Clark; her son Edrik recently graduated from UW-Madison in communications and history; and her son William is a student at UW-Stevens Point planning for a career as a medical technician.
While DeWitt plans to create jewelry forever, she knows that she needs to make concessions for the passing of time. In the past she would clerk in her shop during the day and then make jewelry in her studio during the evening. Last summer she found she was tired by the end of the day. “You need to keep your wits about you working with tools!” she said.
She is in the process of having a house built on Washington Island (the Red Cup Coffee House shows her jewelry), and plans to close her Ephraim shop on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to spend time making jewelry on the island in her new studio. Eventually she hopes to move to the island full-time, but this coming season she will continue to maintain her business in Ephraim.
DeWitt Jewelry, 3054 Church Street, Ephraim, is open May through October, Thursday through Monday, 10 am – 5 pm, and by appointment (920.854.4610).