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George Sawyer talks to Marlene Richey about Alchemy-Voodoo-Magic

Marlene:  When did you first discover your passion for Mokume Gane?

George: In 1971 I was at my Minnesota home when my brother-in-law showed me a WWII Japanese sword, seemingly standard issue. But when I looked closer and discovered the minute swirly pattern in the steel I was entranced. Then I discovered a signature. It was signed by one of the then living Japanese national treasure sword masters. This was my first experience with mokume gane. I became obsessed with the patterning and started experimenting to re-create the look and feel of the patterned steel in precious metals.

Note: Marlene profiled George for the Rio Grande 'Influencers' blog in 2014. When asked how he gets the metals to bond together, which is incredibly tricky he answered “alchemy-voodoo-magic".

Fireflies Garden 

Fireflies Garden pendant 

Marlene:  You introduced mokume gane to the jewelry market, right?

George: Yes, I began making and selling gold mokume gane to the public and retailers in 1971-72. I wanted others to experience these wonderful patterns and the magic of the material.

Marlene: You have always been passionate about this process and the jewelry/objects of art you have created. Do you find it hard to step away from all that?

George:  I won’t be totally stepping away. As of the end of July we stopped taking orders from stores which means an enormous reduction in my work load. I will be sharing my studio space and equipment with two other Minneapolis designers, Sara Commers and Andrew Bugher and we will blend the studio together. I don’t intend to ever quit working, creating and experimenting.


Midnight Sail brooch for AJDC 'Water' Project 2000

Marlene:  What projects are you tackling next?

George:  I want to make jewelry and objects that I always wanted to make and never had the time. I will be following up with new patterning techniques and metals, just for my own pleasure. I’m also working with some unusual traditional Japanese “patina-able” metals. I plan to create a color palette of these alloys to use along with colored golds in new pattern forms. I want to continue to go beyond wood grain patterns in diffusion bonded materials. My Koi®and Wabi Sabi™ metals were a good start, but I want to go much further.

Koi 12mm 14k red gold fine silver with red gold and 18k yellow gold milleflori cherry blossoms

12mm wide band Koi® pattern in 14k red gold, fine silver, with red gold and 18k yellow gold milleflori cherry blossoms

Marlene: What prompted you to make these changes?

George:  Life style. I want to have the time to spend with my family and friends. I have been running my business since 1972. I am ready to go back to the beginning again – to have the time to do the creative work that brought me to jewelry design in the first place.

patina ring 7 x 7

Patina ring

Marlene:  What do you think you will miss or not miss?

George:  I’ll miss the friends, colleagues and personal relationships that have developed over the years. I hope to spend time with these friends in new ways now.

I won’t miss doing all those things you need to do when you run a business, that get in the way of family and creativity, things that often kept me working late at night.

Marlene: What do you think your legacy will be?

George:  Of course, no one knows what their legacy will be but I would hope that people will feel that I helped create a new genre of jewelry that excited them, spoke to their heart and influenced them intellectually. 

I hope that part of my legacy will be passing on what I’ve learned so others can build and expand upon it, that some of my work is able to inspire excitement and passion in others who will spin off in new directions and run with it.

Pink Topaz Necklace

Pink Topaz necklace

Marlene:  What is your favorite type/piece of jewelry?

George: Some of my favorite pieces are among the pieces I have made for the AJDC (American Jewelry Design Council) exhibitions. Of course I have my favorite pieces and I find they tend to be brooches, bracelets and necklaces. 

Sawyer Puzzle

Puzzle Box for AJDC 'Puzzle' Project 1999

Marlene: What are your words of wisdom?

George:  Devote yourself to your work. Make it your passion. Apprentice. Improve your skills. Create your own unique voice. Don’t get lost in a sea of sameness. Be original. Do not chase the market. Create poetry. Make art. Speak your heart.

Sawyer v6 Final 

Necklace for AJDC 'Transformation' Project 2016

To find out more about George Sawyer, visit his page on the CJDG website, his website georgesawyer.com where there is a fabulous retirement sale and follow him on Instagram.

Marlene Richey . Creative business services for creative businesses . 40 years wholesale/retail jewelry business experience . Writer . Consultant . Professor . Speaker . www.marlenerichey.com