Pursuing his passion
SNOHOMISH - Behind the grooved lines of Earl Anders’ face and the craftsman’s hands that have made several million pieces of jewelry is a sharp mind—of a businessman.
Anders, 83, will be the first to tell you that he’s been lucky in life to have made a decent living on his beloved hobby of making art, especially one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Usually sporting suspenders and the fresh face of an old man who lives on a farm, he’s been coming to the Snohomish Farmers Market to sell his goods for 17 years.
But his success, which later put his wife through medical school and three kids through college, didn’t just happen to Anders. He made it happen.
It took the guidance of a high school counselor—and the threat of not graduating without an art class — to push Anders to find his passion.
Once he was forced to enroll in a jewelry-making class, he never looked back. He went on to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and wound up teaching art and jewelry-making for 25 years.
“Boys in high school are not really that bright,” Anders joked with a wink. He needed the push, he said, and was glad he got it.
“Then I found out (art class) is where all the girls are! That was real nice,” Anders said.
Anders’ chest swelled with a bit of pride when he talked about teaching. He went on to coach about 900,000 students in his lifetime, which included teaching at Ventura, Calif. High School and UCLA.
Though Anders fits the description of a great artist (he was trained to be a sculptor) and describes himself as “eclectic”, he knew where he was going and was determined to set up a comfortable life for himself and his wife.
Anders said he took some extra economic classes in college so he “wouldn’t starve to death” when he graduated, and with the encouragement of a good tax man, he started his own business, Artform Jewelry, in 1963. The company is still in business today and does jewelry
design, manufacture, consulting, some teaching and appraising. (He said he’s especially good at this because he’s “so darn old.”)
But Anders didn’t stop there. The Korean War veteran is vocal about owing his career to his wife who worked menial jobs to support the young couple while he went to college after getting out of a three-year stint in the Air Force. He wanted to, and did, put her through school once he was done with school.
He did freelance work for Tiffany’s, and about a dozen other jewelers, he said. And although he’s sheepish about it, the feat of freelancing for such companies is no small feat.
Anders gave the Tribune a quick crash-course in the jewelry business: first, there are only a few jewelers but millions of people who want jewelry. Next, the companies want designs that they can mass produce to make money. Anders didn’t work well with that model—he liked one-of-a-kind pieces. He is an artist — a sculptor.
So the jewelry companies fired him because he wouldn’t conform to their guidelines.
They rehired him as a freelancer because he was so good at what he did.
“I’m a hard one to pin down,” Anders said with a chuckle.
“They made a lot of money off of me, I’m very good in design.”
Anders continues to crank out about 10-15 pieces a month, he said. The more intricate pieces involve a lot of laborious work and can take six months to a year to craft.
But despite the immense time he puts behind everything he creates, his little booth at the Snohomish Farmers Market is filled with unique pieces. Ring boxes are stuffed with exotic designs, some featuring stones and gems, others with foreign coins. Necklaces drape several full racks, many with custom work all the way down to the creation of the chain.
The best part about visiting his booth is Anders himself. It’s rare to meet a jeweler like him with such a huge array of knowledge, and maybe that’s because he’s “ancient,” like he says. But the twinkle in his eye seems to come from doing something he loves.
That or the suspenders.