Hear how Lindsay Cope, designer of Swaying Grass Silver jewelry forged a new creative path during a time of uncertainty. Photos by Elizabeth Chlouber.
A few years ago, Lindsay Cope found herself unemployed. The life-altering event halted her professional career as a geologist working for an oil company and years of academic achievement. But with the closure of one door, she found a window to climb free, pouring her new abundance of time with passion for her hobby of silversmithing—creating jewelry from molding silver with natural stones.
“Silversmithing was a beautiful afterthought that I credit for saving my sanity during difficult times—much like the time we are experiencing now,” Lindsay replied.
Lindsay at her stamping and hammering station: a solid wood-carved plant stand that functions as a surface. Tools pictured: steel bench block, ball-peen hammer, stamps, and shot plate.
The process of making jewelry dilated unexpected new perspectives of creativity, learning, and resourcefulness. From the treasure hunt of gathering stones at rock shops, gem shows, and flea markets, to scavenging tools from around the house (make-shift anvils made from railroad track, and hammer, files, and pliers from the family toolbox), Lindsay found innovative ways to stride forward on limited funds.
For the past few years, she’s built a living by making carefully handcrafted jewelry under the maker’s mark Swaying Grass Silver. She hopes that these adornments become heirloom pieces to cherish and pass on—art that takes on its own life and story.
We caught up with the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based silversmith to hear more about how this creative outlet carried her through challenging times and how nature inspires her designs.
Lindsay in her home studio in Tulsa, OK.
Tell me more about what it was like to be a geologist. How did geology play into your appreciation of stones or silversmithing?
After my master’s degree, I went to work in Tulsa, OK for an energy company. I was steering horizontal wells exploring for natural resources. While drilling, you gather information about the rock formations that are in that location because geology is the study of the earth. So rocks, you study a lot of rocks.
In studying geology at a university, there are required courses such as Mineralogy, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology and Sedimentology. You become very intimate with rocks and minerals and the processes that form them, their structures, how to identify them and the way that they behave. It’s quite fascinating. By making jewelry, I am able to share the earth’s offerings with other people in a way that they can enjoy it as much as me.
Cabochons (polished gems) from the following turquoise mines: Pilot Mountain Turquoise (Nevada), Ithaca Peak Turquoise (Arizona), Royston Turquoise (Nevada), Crow Springs Turquoise (Nevada), Cripple Creek Turquoise (Colorado), White Buffalo (Nevada), Turquoise Mountain Turquoise (Arizona).
What drew you to silversmithing?
I grew up vacationing in the southwest and started growing a turquoise collection at a young age. In my early 20s, I met several silversmiths that made custom jewelry for me and I ended up talking to them for hours. I was very intrigued by their skills and knowledge of stones. I have always fancied rocks and jewelry. I’ve always been creative and love to use my hands to make my ideas come to life with anything I’m doing. It’s extremely gratifying to me. When I was looking for a creative outlet during my office-working days, silversmithing seemed like a natural step.
Lindsay wears the Flatform Universal in Black.
You started silversmithing after being laid off. How did this hobby fill that time and space in your life at that time?
It was my everything. I had time on my hands to dive in, so I did. My husband made room for me to set up a studio in our garage. Before the end of my first metalsmithing class, I was creating at home. Being creative helps keep me in a good mood. Starting metalsmithing on the brink of a layoff saved my sanity. Even though I was losing the job that I had earned two degrees for, I was happy to be learning this new trade. It kept my fire for creativity lit and therefore lifted my spirits.
What do you love about the process of creating with your hands?
I love working with my hands, it gives me immense gratification. There is something very intuitive about it. I rarely measure, just if I need a specific ring size. I love making it work by going with my gut feeling. I think it builds trust within myself, and that is so important because I believe it carries over into other aspects of my life. Jewelry has taught me more about myself than I could have imagined.
Soldering station. Lindsay uses a butane torch to solder silver bezels to the backplates, which she hammered and stamped with her maker’s mark.
How do you feel different or special when wearing something handmade?
When I wear handmade jewelry I feel connected. There is just something about the energy a person puts into something handmade. It’s harnessed in that object. With jewelry, you get to wear that feeling. I think it’s empowering to wear something made with someone else’s energy and love that is going to withstand the test of time. Handmade jewelry tends to be more sustainable and higher quality versus machines cranking out large quantities of jewelry. Who doesn’t want to wear something of quality when given the option? It just feels good. There are things that are timeless; to me handmade jewelry is one of those things.
What are the most unexpected tools and special discoveries that you’ve made into jewelry and why?
I have several make-shift anvils made from railroad track that my dad found for me at auctions, garage sales, and the like. I use an old metal tackle box to carry supplies while I’m traveling. I adore my bright pink Swiss Army knife keychain for loosening bezels, I’ve had it since I was sixteen! I sharpened a piece of copper I had laying around to help pop stones out of settings. I find myself looking for potential tools anywhere I can, I think it’s fun to be resourceful.
I had some jewelry given to me by my grandma. At first glance, I wasn’t that interested, but with the knowledge I have now, I have been able to repurpose stones and findings. I could even recycle the silver. I found sea glass on a vacation and was able to set it into a pendant. I used some sand from the same vacation to “pad” the glass. That, to me, was better than buying a souvenir.
Tools pictured: a jeweler’s saw, ring mandrel (a cylindrical tool to round out silver), rawhide mallet, cross-lock tweezers, curved burnisher (used for setting stones).
Tell us about some of your favorite local outdoor spaces and ways to enjoy them!
I love to be outside. It relaxes me, especially being around water. I love to go to the lake and get out on the water. Oklahoma is full of lakes and rivers. My husband restored a 1961 Airstream. He named her Marilyn, as in Monroe, and we have been taking her out on adventures. We love Keystone Lake. It’s a short drive from the city and has sandy beaches for our dog to explore.
Spavinaw, OK is a peaceful place with clear water. Mickey Mantle was born there. They have a lot of beautiful birds and old houses and buildings built from rocks. Camping on the creek has been my favorite adventure so far. The Tall Grass Prairie in Pawhuska, OK is a relatively short drive from us too. It’s the last protected tallgrass prairie remnant remaining in our country. Just plain and natural untainted beauty. Bison roam free there, it’s always exciting to see them.
Skiatook Lake in the Osage Hills, is another one of our go-to spots. The water is relatively clear, by Oklahoma standards, and there are a lot of cool outcrops to be seen while on the lake. There is a really neat town called Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains, a little further away from us. It was a hangout for outlaws, a kind of vacation spot. A lot of the town was built from cobblestones in the area. It’s near the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge so there are a lot of different things to enjoy in that area. In general, we love any Oklahoma State and Corps of Engineer park. A lot of them have the old WPA rock work from the Great Depression. Some people may see Oklahoma as a “flyover state,” but it has a lot to offer and I love living here.
Where do you look for inspiration? How does nature inspire you?
I gather a lot of inspiration from the stones themselves. I’m always hunting for turquoise and I’m always finding it. As soon as I see a stone of interest, an idea usually comes to mind.
When we travel, we often visit history and archaeology museums. I love to see ancient jewelry. I find it super inspiring. That people were figuring out how to survive intense threats of all kinds and felt the need to adorn themselves with jewelry and make art while doing so, makes me giddy. Self-expression has always been alive and well in the human race.
It is really important to me to be close with nature. It grounds and calms me, therefore sparking inspiration from a state of peace. I don’t work as well when I am feeling anxious. I walk my yard daily to check on my plants. We have a modest garden and I have several flower beds. I take time to learn about the plants and try to choose pollinator-friendly varieties, especially milkweed for the Monarch butterflies that migrate through Oklahoma. Gardening is very rewarding and there are a lot of life lessons to gain from it.
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