American Made Show: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you arrived where you are today
Lisa Schallert: I grew up near Washington DC, where my mother worked for the Smithsonian as botany librarian. I spent my summers as a volunteer doing odd jobs around the Natural History Museum. When I went to Philadelphia to attend Philadelphia College of Art, I met an established jeweler and discovered that I had a real affinity for metalwork. I spent 15 years learning from him and translating my love of natural history into metal and eventually went off on my own and started Animal Vegetable Mineral.
AMS: Describe the path that led to your career as an artist.
Lisa Schallert: When I was 5, I wanted to be a koala keeper, at 10, a dolphin trainer and at 13 an anthropologist or maybe an archeologist.
Throughout my early life, though, I worked with fiber arts, designing and sewing clothing, embroidering, weaving and that kind of thing, so when I applied to art school, I thought I would continue in that direction. I wandered into metalsmithing completely by accident and was as surprised as anyone that it stuck.
AMS: What does the creative process entail for you?
Lisa Schallert: It usually starts with a picture or something in my daily life. I have file cabinets full of picture files and sketchbooks and now pinterest and other online picture files. Sometimes I’ll look at something for years before it finally pops into it’s final form.
AMS: What event or experience pushed you to take on art full-time?
Lisa Schallert: Paying the rent. I’m a good cook and used to be an accomplished seamstress, but making jewelry is the only thing I’ve been able to actually persuade people to give me money for. It’s a good thing I love making it!
I’ve never had a “real job” in my life and think myself amazingly lucky that I’ve been able to support myself with my art for all these years.
AMS: What inspires you to create new designs?
Lisa Schallert: I have so many new designs waiting in line, that I’ll never be able to do them all. Usually it’s something visual, sometimes it’s a phrase that conjures an image in my mind. I did a piece once that came about when I overheard a dog owner saying he had to let his pet out to “go check his p-mail”.
AMS: Tell us about the technical processes you employ in your work.
Lisa Schallert: Most of my work is cast in either silver or brass these days. I use color like an enamelist does, but with a process I developed called “colorizing” on the silver or with cold enamel on the brass .
I also do several lines of tableware that use a mix of casting and fabricating techniques, and mixed metals: silver, copper brass and bronze.
AMS: How would you describe your artistic style?
Lisa Schallert: A lot of my pieces tend to be very realistic, although recently I’ve been experimenting with some lines that are in a more graphic, slightly more abstract kind of style.
AMS: What type of customers tend to like your work?
Lisa Schallert: I think a lot of my customers have a good sense of humor. I don’t really do “serious” jewelry, so I seem to attract people who like something very individual and slightly quirky.
AMS: What is your most popular product line?
Lisa Schallert: When silver prices went through the roof and the economy fell through the floor I realized that a $50 silver piece was going to be a really hard sell. I took the opportunity to “knock off” some of my best designs in brass. The Brass Menagerie has been immensely popular. I think the low price point is a better fit for the more whimsical designs.
My brass and copper coffee scoops also have been bestsellers for many years.
AMS: Do you have any big announcements or plans in the near future?
Lisa Schallert: Nope. I want to keep doing exactly what I’m doing forever and ever. At least until I’m so old and silly that I can’t remember which end of the torch I’m supposed to hold.