Jeweler Profile: Kristi Frank, Founder of Salt Grass - Portland, Maine

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Hi, Kristi. Thanks for chatting with us. Tell us the meaning of Salt Grass and when your company was founded.

Salt Grass is a very tolerant grass that can grow in the mountains, the desert or the coast. It is common in New Mexico where I’m from. It is also known as desert saltgrass or seahorse grass. When I was choosing a name for my company, I wanted something that paid homage to my upbringing. SG was born in 2016 after I moved to Portland, Maine. My move was very calculated as I saw Portland to be a great home to grow my business. Salt Grass has has always been with me though. I am the daughter of two self made entrepreneurs, so I think owning my own business was always in the cards. Prior to moving to Portland I spent six years in New York where I worked for a number of female-run jewelry companies. That time undoubtedly gave me the foundation and confidence to launch Salt Grass.

When did you know you wanted to be a jeweler?

I intuitively found jewelry. I’ve always related to the world through art. Color, shape, and texture form a language that makes sense to me as opposed to verbal communication, which leaves me wanting more. This early affection for visual expression eventually lead me to art school after a few false starts at other colleges and universities. I had no preconceived notion of what exactly I would focus on but quickly found sculpture and then metal smithing. It wasn't until after school that I started thinking more seriously about designing jewelry to financially support myself. From there it's been a process of finding the balance between sculpture, functional forms (jewelry) and my personal style.

What inspires you most?

I think New Mexico will always resonate as the strongest form of inspiration for me. I'm the 9th generation in my family to be born there so I think the memories of that particular land are deeply ingrained in me. But I am very susceptible to the forms and textures of my surroundings.  The jagged rock formations of the Maine coast have been a totally radical form of inspiration for me lately. The moon also seems to rise larger and fuller over Maine. Beyond my love for the natural world I also find inspiration in forgotten and often overlooked places- cracks in concrete or the negative space left by tall buildings or maybe even the way a pile of trash would look as a contour line.

Describe yourself in three words.

Clumsy but persistent.

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What is a typical day like at SG?

Everyday is different! I am a restless person by nature so the spontaneity of my day to day is great. Mornings start with coffee and my two pups. After a quick breakfast I head out to the woods for about 30 or 40 minutes with the doggos. It’s a great way to clear my head and prepare for my work. Once I’m back home I head upstairs to my studio, coffee #2 in hand and tackle the day. I usually make a b-line for my jewelry bench and begin assembling components, setting stones, or soldering forms together. The best days are when I get to create all new or one-of-a-kind items. Some days it's all admin computer stuff, those are very challenging days. Other times I’m fighting deadlines for custom orders or working alongside my assistant. I usually have about a million plates spinning at once. There's often some stretching in the middle of the day, more coffee, lunch and afternoon snacks. Snacks are most important. Sometimes I work late into the evening, other times I just can't emotionally or physically and end up putting my tools down by 1 or 2pm. Producing jewelry with my own two hands is deeply connected to my self care.  If i’m feeling off I can't solder and have to wait for the inspiration and energy to return. There is no forcing it. Luckily, I have learned over the years about the importance of my self care and how to avoid these untimely meltdowns. Their infrequent appearances are good reminders that I am only human and it is only jewelry.

Tell us the best part of your day.

The morning! I’m one of those annoying morning people who wakes up, has a cup of coffee and has a million ideas running through my head. I usually feel super positive when I wake up and ready to do anything.

Describe your design process.

My design process is very hands on and intuitive. The idea usually starts with something totally random inspiring me like the fold in a shirt or a texture on a wall. Sometimes I draw a sketch of my idea before but usually I don't. I prefer to start making shapes or forms out of metal or wax or sometimes both. Sometimes I use other found objects as a base. My hands know what to do, how to make. Once I've created my form I usually sit with if for a while and try to figure out what the heck it is. What it wants to be or how will it work? Eventually it becomes clear but sometimes it takes a while.

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Which Artists or art forms inspire your work?

Recently I saw an exhibit by Rosemarie Castoro that really blew me away! I think her understanding of form and texture was so strong, so well-balanced and with so many nuances. I really love work that is about the subtle details. I am literally inspired by all mediums. Painting, photography, fashion, textiles, installation art, illustration, furniture - I love it all. For jewelry, I’ve really been into the one-of-a-kind pieces by STVDIO of Brooklyn. They are radical.

What’s currently your favorite product?

I really love with the Long Rock bangle right now. It has this beautifully wild texture and form which I’m dying over. I’m also loving these pins which I just started making. I feel I have more freedom to push my texture and form when I don’t have the restraint of making it a piece of jewelry. They feel much for sculptural in that respect.

Share some words of wisdom to inspiring artists.

Focus on your art more and what other people are doing less.

Describe your favorite place you’ve traveled.

Oh man, I love, love, love to travel! Recently I went to Barcelona and it totally blew me away. The food, the people, the architecture, the museums! I loved wandering through the gothic district which my husband and I kept calling the labyrinth. There were these amazing balcony gardens everywhere and the most incredible hand painted tile and door knockers. I mean just the giant old doors in Barcelona blew me away!

What’s the most challenging parts of being a women entrepreneur and small business owner?

I think its a real honor to be a woman entrepreneur specifically working in jewelry. Jewelry is a largely female run trade which is rad. It’s kind of by us and for us. So the challenge comes from trying to always find that authentic voice to empower the wearer. For me empowering other women through adornment is about getting down to the core of feminism. I find more empowerment and balance with androgyny and so I try to create with that ethos. It can be subtle but I believe the harmony between masculine and feminine shapes, forms and textures is what makes a really strong piece. Lastly, I would say that it can be challenging as a small business to find suppliers that will work on my small scale. The industry is really set up to cater to larger companies who mass produce which is something I’m not interested in doing. I am happy that more and more suppliers are offering post-consumer recycled metals and updated facilities which utilize more eco-friendly forms of energy like wind and solar. One day my business will be solar powered.

How do you balance work and life?

It can be challenging to balance work and life for sure but I've found a pretty good groove lately. Definitely don't ask me this question in December! I'm a totally insane workaholic then. But for now I just try to remember that life and work are equally important and one day I’ll be old and care less about that project and more about the cross country road trip I took with my husband. I created this business so that I could find true balance and happiness in my life, so when things start to get really stressful and busy I try to take a step back and check in with my needs and try to track how I got to this point. Do I need a break, a walk, a snack, a stretch, a social totally non-work related hang sesh? What can I do next time to avoid this impossible deadline or crushing feeling of too many things at once? Like I said, self care is really important for me. Without it I lose my marbles.

Describe your community in Portland, Maine. Tell us how your tribe has influenced your work.

I am beyond grateful for my community here in Portland. From the moment I arrived I felt like I had support. Local artist and seasoned jewelers literally fell into my lap to graciously answer questions for me and give me feedback. Being an outsider in a new community can be hard but Portland welcomed me with open arms. I now have a group of close knit creative fellows who are always down to help me shoot product, critique what i’m doing or suggest another fellow I should be working with. And the local community at large has made it possible for me to found and nurture this dream. I think just this general support and friendliness of Portland folks has encouraged me to take more risks and jump in with both feet.

What are your hopes for the Female Not Factory community?

I flipping love the Female Not Factory community! I want to continue to grow as allies and friends. I want us to all find success, whatever that means for each individual and to feel nourished by our work and our fellows. I also totally and selfishly want more FNF meetups!