A roll of copper wire that a friend serendipitously dropped off started Dean Shields’ jewelry-making career.
The friend, Power Webb, used it for industrial purposes. He told her he couldn’t use it, but was sure that Shields, an avid crafter, would devise a purpose.
“I just started from that,” she said.
She fashions wire jewelry, fused glass and special clay that reveals silver when it melts off in a kiln, then displays her wares at Down the Street Art Gallery.
Shields hails from a long line of artisans. Her father created wood tables and frames — the frames Shields used to wrap around her oil paintings, although she no longer paints.
Her brother, Earl, an actor who played the guy next door on “Home Improvement,” took photographs.
“He was a really talented photographer,” Shields said. “I think there is a trend in our family along creative lines.”
Shields was born in Bisbee and figures this explains her fascination with copper. She moved around, eventually settling in Tucson to be a beautician.
Old family pictures hanging on her wall reflect her hair devotion. A younger Shields stands perfectly coiffed in a black and white photograph. And today, her light blonde locks still fall in applied perfection.
In 1975, she sought escape from the heat and moved to Christopher Creek, where she managed an inn before moving to Payson in 2000.
Shields’ Payson living room is stuffed with items collected along the way of a life well lived, a table set up with an array of jewelry-making gear, her radio often playing as the light streams in the wide window.
Earl’s photographs hang on the wall, and Shields has collages of times with her brother hanging in obvious devotion.
Curling wire into designs is tranquilizing, Shields said. Perhaps it mutes the pain of having so many loved ones dead.
“You know what’s sad,” she said. “He never got to see any of this.”
Shields isn’t speaking of Earl, but of her friend Webb, who jump-started her jewelry-making career.
He died of lung cancer about a year ago.
Shields ironed rhinestones on her black button-down shirt and glued them on her man’s watch. The watch was easy to read, she said, but ugly.
Painting, Shields abandoned long ago.
“I just got stuck on the wire and this fused glass,” she said.
The iridescent fused glass comes in long, flat sheets and Shields cuts and fires it in a kiln. She uses two kilns — one full-sized for the glass, and another miniature one for the clay.
The clay is light beige. Shields shapes it, sometimes stamping designs into it, then allows it to dry before she fires it. The clay melts away and leaves nearly perfectly pure silver.
“You have to work really fast with it because it dries out,” she said.
“The things I do can be used with each other,” she added. It’s a “perfect marriage.”
She works every day on her jewelry in some fashion.
Shields, like many other artists, speaks of art like meditation.