Touch Stones

by Rona Berg

Many jewelry designers have recently developed a passion for sustainability, and have started to incorporate recycled, upcycled and found objects into their designs. 

But Ohio-based designer Susan Saltzman, founder of SToNZ, has been doing it for a long time. Foraging for materials--beach stones, beach glass, vintage bits and pieces--inspires her, and, as she tells it, there’s a lot to be found near her home, on the shores of Lake Erie. I chatted with Saltzman to find out why. 


Rona Berg: Have you always been a jewelry designer?

Susan Saltzman: I was an artistic kid, which my parents encouraged, so they were always signing me up for art classes. I was about 14 when I enrolled in my first metalsmithing class at a local community center, and took to it immediately.

I continued on and off over the years, but also explored other creative avenues. I went on to earn a BFA in graphic design and illustration from The University of Michigan School of Art & Design. Then around 2007, growing tired of the graphics business, I decided to dig out my metalsmithing tools and get back to working with my hands. I’ve been happily focusing on SToNZ ever since.

RB: You recycle, upcycle and reuse a range of materials. What inspires you?

SS:I’ve always been drawn to the seashore, and love to collect beautiful beach stones and seaglass, both from ocean beaches and from the shores of nearby Lake Erie in Cleveland.

I also love to explore antique shows and estate sales, where I seek out old sterling silver chains, tokens, charms, keys, locks, buttons, whistles, rulers, thimbles, compasses and other oddities that catch my eye. 

Sometimes people ask me to make them a necklace incorporating a stone or piece of seaglass that has special meaning to them, or a piece of jewelry incorporating their grandmother’s thimble, or a piece of silver flatware. 

People connect with personalized jewelry that reminds them of a meaningful time or person, or inspires them when they’re facing challenges. I love that there’s a mysterious history behind these objects. It’s so gratifying to know that my work often has special meaning for them.

RB: Why do you like to work with beach glass and stones?

SS: The simple ordinary stone has been transformed into a work of art; a beautiful object to be treasured and worn. It says, “I see beauty in nature and this earth, and it’s important to me.”

RB: What does sustainability mean to you? 

SS: There were years when I was designing giftware and children’s products that I felt a sense of frustration about 

adding more unnecessary stuff to the world. We are such a disposable culture, filling up landfills with our unwanted and broken gadgets, clothing, plastics and electronics. Computers, cell phones and TVs are all basically obsolete after 3 or 4 years. I miss the days when you’d get something repaired if it broke, and pass it down from one person to the next.

The observable changes in our planet are shocking, really. I think we knew what direction we were heading in, but didn’t realize that we’d see the ramifications of our actions during our lifetime. Yet here we are.

So I think we all need to think about how we vote, how we live, and what we can do to save the planet rather than deplete its resources. I try to avoid waste, recycle what I can, and do my part to support organizations that work to preserve natural spaces. And I don’t use any fuel to get to my office. I just head downstairs to my studio and the work day begins.

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