By Molly Weybright
Kim Maitland founded Creative Metalsmiths gallery 41 years ago with her husband Don Johnson and fellow artist Barbara McFadden. It is one of the only all-metals galleries in the southeast and has won many awards since its inception. But Maitland began exploring art and “wearables” long before.
She grew up in Iowa and remembers making wearables from materials like wood as young as eight years old. After high school, she discovered jewelry making, being drawn to the mechanics and fluidity of the craft, and “that was about the end of anything else.”
Since then, she has honed and perfected her craft alongside numerous artists who she has interacted with over her career, including the artists who exhibit their work at Creative Metalsmiths. There are currently 18 other artists showing metalwork at the gallery.
“It’s very inspiring,” she says. “Getting to work with people who are very passionate about what they’re doing keeps you excited about what you’re doing.”
Running such a unique business has allowed her to meet people in many capacities. From traveling to national art shows to connecting with people through Creative Metalsmiths’ social media, Maitland’s network is always growing. But, she says, the Chapel Hill community is incredibly rich with artists and appreciation as well.
“This area is really ideal because you’ve got people who are looking for the unusual and people who are knowledgeable about what’s going on in the art field,” she says. “We just landed in a really great place that had people that were really excited about seeking the unusual.”
Environment is crucial for Kim; her work is often inspired by places she has visited and experiences she’s had. She cites a “starry night” collection that she has, which was inspired by trips to the mountains and the New River.
Inspiration is everything, so when it comes to creating wedding bands for couples, Kim finds it incredibly important that she speaks at length with the soon-to-be newlyweds in order to design the perfect, unique jewelry for their special day. She refers to herself as their “metal shaman.”
“You only get to make so much in your life and if you can work with people coming up with things that reflect that amazing union, that’s one of the great joys,” she says.
To get to work with people creating something that they will treasure and carry through life before passing it down to their loved ones is one of the reasons Kim was drawn to wearables. She calls them a type of talisman, saying that they bring out all kinds of emotions and memories for the wearer.
Couples often share their experiences with Kim and Creative Metalsmiths on social media, which gave Kim the idea to share step-by-step posts of her process when making wedding bands. These posts have proven to be quite popular, with her social media following growing substantially since their inception.
Kim’s thankful for this increased following because it has helped with marketing her business and art. Marketing, she says, has proven to be the most difficult part of maintaining a successful art career.
But, Kim reiterates that the Chapel Hill and Triangle community has helped with that as well. Creative Metalsmiths recently won best jewelry show for INDY Week and Chapel Hill Magazine, which, in addition to the gallery’s incredible location on the 100 block of East Franklin Street, has helped bring draw attention to Creative Metalsmiths.
Kim is thankful, saying “it is amazingly wonderful to be able to do what you love to do” and in a place where you love to do it.