Truck-driving artist creates unique jewellery

The allure of making jewelry out of copper, brass and silver is simple for Colleen Marmino.

“I fell in love with the fire aspect,” Marmino said. “Being able to play with fire and not get into trouble was pretty cool.”

Marmino wasn’t playing with fire, but she did demonstrate other aspects of her craft during a pop-up demonstration at the Ruby Wren Eclectic Boutique in downtown Alton last Saturday. Marmino’s creations under her company name Coco are among the goods sold in the shop.

Marmino fell into the boat while remodeling her home in Shipman. She was responsible for clearing the debris at the end of each day’s rebuild and came across a piece of copper pipe.

“I felt it and after a while I didn’t want it to leave my hand,” she said. “So the next day I went into our garage and grabbed a hammer and started banging on it, used my husband’s flashlight and ended up handcuffing it.”

Marmino enrolled in metalsmithing classes with the Macoupin Art Collective, watched videos on the internet, and went through a lot of trial and error to improve their craft.

“I have a big 5-gallon bucket of junk at home,” she said. “Those are my mistakes, and I look at that and I think I should probably sell him.”

Marmino said there are two ways to create her copper, brass, or silver jewelry, but both start with “annealing” the metal, or heating it and letting it cool slowly while it’s being shaped.

For smaller items like rings or earrings, she uses a small mold or die and presses the hot metal into the mold with a 20-ton hydraulic press at her home. It often takes several times under the press before the article comes out the way Marmino likes it.

Larger items like bracelets and cuffs are shaped with texture plates that look like larger molds and run through a rolling mill — “like a pasta machine on steroids,” Marmino said.

“Most of the time it’ll come out really good through the rolling mill the first time,” she said. Marmino then uses a fine saw to remove the excess and sands and files the object until the intricate piece comes out with no rough edges.

“After it’s all set, you put it in to get it nice and clean, and while it’s still nice and soft you can shape it into a cuff, bracelet, or ring,” Marmino said. “The last step is to put it in a tumbler. It’s got little chunks of stainless steel shot of all different sizes and you tumble it for six to eight hours and it all comes out nice and pretty.”

Metalsmithing isn’t Marmino’s “real” job; she drives a truck to earn a living. But making metal works of art is certainly her calling.

“I hate that it took me my entire life to find something I enjoy so much,” Marmino said. “I like to take a natural raw material and turn it into something beautiful for someone to wear and have forever.”

The pop-up demonstration was the latest way Aimee Parks, owner of Ruby Wren Eclectic Boutique, is promoting the 20 local artisans whose items are sold there.

“These are going down very well,” Parks said of the events. “We’ve had amazing community support for our boutique and artisans.”

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