River Wolfe Art Jewelry is known throughout Ohio for fine crafted polymer clay jewelry. Her jewelry is born from the desire to explore the medium of polymer clay, wire, beads, etching, silkscreen and other mediums. She loves trying new things and re-inventing old things. I first learned of River’s jewelry through my membership in Etsy Team Columbus. Because I am an animal lover, I was immediately taken with the unique pet related items that she makes. I have since become more aware of not only her creations but her needs as a disabled artist who depends on a wheelchair and specially adapted van to function in the art world.
She and her partner, Jonny, have been making and selling polymer clay jewelry for over 10 years and have won awards, been published in 400 Polymer Clay Designs by Lark Press, been featured in The Crafts Report and have participated in many of the best Art Festivals in Ohio and surrounding states. Her love of beads and polymer began in 1984 while she was in rehabilitation at Dodd Hall (OSU) after a fall while hiking that left her paralyzed from the sternum down. During the 6 months she was in the hospital and rehab she would wheel herself from Dodd Hall to Byzantium when it was on 5th Avenue. Libby, the owner, and River would talk about beads. Because she felt comfortable around LIbby, unlike how she felt around many other people due to the accident, they developed a friendship that planted the seed for jewelry crafting.
However, in the winter of 1985 , she chose to return to finish her BS in English Education with a minor in Art Education in 1989. She chose not to pursue art education as an undergrad because the classes were very competitive and she didn’t feel supported by her isntructors. So she continued on to graduate school and received her Master’s in Counseling in 1992. It was during her career as a counselor for survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury and substance abuse at OSU that she took her first polymer clay class and a love affair began!
Unfortunately, after 7 years as a counselor, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (where the immune system, the system that protects your body from outside harm, mistakenly starts attacking healthy tissue) was in a lot of pain and experiencing great fatigue. The ramifications of this led to her retirement from counseling. Happily for the art world, it also led to her turning her hobby of beading/polymer work into a means to supplement her retirement income and River Wolfe Art Jewelry was born.
Many consider her jewelry to be a “craft” because she uses polymer and beads rather than precious metals. However, I think it takes a true artist to create the type of polymer clay that she uses in her products…cute things but also edgy.
Causes for good inspire many of her items, including her line of Obama jewelry, inspired by the candidate in ’08. There is also a line of Small Paws jewelry that was born out of her love of animals. It all started with a simple paw “cane” which is what polymer artists make beads out of (see “about section in riverwolfeartjewelry etsy store for example of paw cane). Because people loved the little paw earrings and bracelets, the line was expanded to include puppy and cat faces and then glass tile necklaces. Animal rescue groups invited River and Jonny to their fundraising events where a great audience was found.
She also has a higher end jewelry line that is inspired by the earth, indigenous cultures and the actual medium of polymer. There are so many things that can be done with polymer, that she is continuously exploring the many ways to manipulate it. Her love of carving polymer and simulating stone has driven her create some very unique pieces. Although she has many skills in the area of creation she states that: ” I’m a very impatient and critical teacher, best to leave teaching to someone else.” Too bad cause I think many polymer artists would be interested in her techniques!
In addition to selling her jewelry at art shows, she has 3 shops on Etsy.com~ one of which sells most of her whimsical creations, another features higher-end selections and the third specialized in Barack Obama jewelry. This was the first Etsy shop she opened and gradually split off into the other shops after the campaigns to feature her higher-end items. She also has some LGBT themed items at Sage Sisters in Grandview.
Although River continues to makes her jewelry, she has recently experienced a setback in being able to participate in most of the shows she has been accepted into due to major problems with her wheelchair accessible van and it’s lift. Unfortunately, it is beyond repair and she is now trying desperately to buy a new one. Not an easy task as the van alone costs upwards of $30,000 without the modifications that are necessary for her to be able to get into and drive it. As River explains that it is very difficult for those with spinal cord injuries to get the financial assistance they need. The conversion for this van will cost an additional $18,000! Fortunately for River, she met the strict eligibility requirements for Ohio’s Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation Program so the agency will fund the wheelchair lift and hand controls to assist her in maintaining her business. Because the agency requires that a new mini-van must be purchased, River continues to try to find avenues to attain that goal. Although the funding for the conversion indeed is a blessing, it certainly seems like an awful lot of hoops have to be jumped through to get help! Another example of our ‘broken’ health care system, I believe.
In order to obtain the van, she has used the website Give Forward and a number of friends assisted her by conducting a garage sale and raffle with proceeds to benefit her. That has helped her raise close to $10,000 but she still has quite a ways to go before she will have enough to purchase the vehicle she needs. And with most of her family residing in Texas, she is dependent on friends for the support she needs to be successful. Despite these setbacks, she courageously continues to work towards the independence she craves.
In the meantime, her partner, Jonny, is vending at the shows she had scheduled before the van crapped out on her. In addition, she is suffering from a torn rotator cuff which requires surgery in the next few months. Adding another layer to her plight as an artist. She will need close to 6 months recovery time, another problem to be faced as she attempts to raise the money for this van. Despite these setbacks and the frustration she has felt, she courageously continues to work towards the independence she craves and wants to continue working/creating.
Although it is most likely only a drop in the bucket, a portion of my proceeds from the Falling for Local: An Ohio Artisan Market at Franklin Park Conservatory, are earmarked for her. It is my hope that in this small way I can help her reach her goal as my goal with this blog is to support and encourage Ohio artisans. I am also hopeful that by sharing her story, River will receive additional financial assistance from fellow artists and the Central Ohio community.
If you know of any other agencies or funding sources that would be helpful in River reaching her goal, please feel free to contact her or me with any information you may have.
My continued thoughts and prayers go to this very talented lady!
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