The art of craftsmanship

Internationally known jeweler makes home, designs in Moffat County

The clean lines of the store guide customers to meticulous displays of pottery, jewelry and Southwestern decorations. The openness and light allow for unhurried considerations of each unique item.

The back of the shop is a stark contrast of clutter -- a disarray of plaster, metal shavings and carved plastic interjected with a collection of diamonds, rubies, saphires and turquoise.

The store and the workshop.

The businessman and the artist.

All are parts of internationally know jewelry designer and Craig business owner Karl Hoffman.

Hoffman moved his business to Craig eight years ago -- the final stop in a years-long journey to fulfill his dream of living in the West. He opened Skull Creek Trading Co., one of many places that sell the jewelry he designs and makes.

Becoming a jewelry designer wasn't something Hoffman dreamed of as a young boy. He found his passion by accident. Hoffman was just beginning a career as a professional skier when he was wiped off a horse after hitting a branch and broke his neck.

He took up silversmithing because "it was light work. It was something I could do," he said.

That simple decision opened the door to a new and unexpected career.

"I knocked my head into a tree and an artist is what came out," Hoffman said. "I'd never even taken art in high school. You never know if you're an artists or not until you find a medium. It opened a whole new world."

He taught silversmithing for a year at his old high school, but quickly became board with the repetitiveness. He moved to New York to begin a three-year apprenticeship with jeweler Kurt Wayne.

He worked eight hours a day under a different master every six months learning the art of creating fine jewelry.

"Fine jewelry requires a certain amount of architecture to it," Hoffman said.

Then, starting with only a $35 pair of pliers, Hoffman went out on his own.

Hoffman has shown his artwork in some of the post prestigious galleries from New York City to California and throughout the north and Southwest for the past 30 years. His work has been seen in magazines such as Southwest Art and Cowboys and Indians. Most recent, he was invited to show at the Western Design conference in Cody, Wyo. He currently displays his jewelry in shops in Steamboat Springs, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Santa Fe., N.M.

About 50 percent of Hoffman's work is custom designs, while the other half follows his designer's whim.

"Jewelry is the one art form that you become physically involved with," he said. "It can reflect your emotions or change them, bond you to another and hold memories for generations."

Hoffman settled in Craig eight years ago, a decision he said he'll never regret.

"I wanted a place that was a rural West community with real people, a low cost of living and close to a ski town so there's access to cultural events," he said. "It's the best of all worlds. I just couldn't find a better place than Craig. It's just a nice, quiet, warm place to live."

The Internet helps Hoffman live in a small town, but market his work on a global scale.

"My shop is here, my studio is here, but my brain is all over the world," he said. "Fed-Ex is my friend. I used to have to schlep all over the world (to sell his work)."

A woman in Napa, Calif., saw Hoffman's work in a magazine, liked it and has commissioned him to design a necklace using arrowheads she's collected on her property.

They communicate by phone and e-mail to create a unique piece that fits her personality and appearance.

Hoffman estimates he spends about 10 hours a day working with jewelry, but never stops thinking about it.

"I live with it," he said. "I'm designing in my head all the time. Ideas pop in any time, any where."

He'll spend hours touring gem stores to chose maybe six. Those stones may set for years before he decides how he wants to use them.

"I've had stones as long as 20 years before I decided what to do with them," he said. "Once I buy (a stone), I never forget it."

He's usually working on about 12 pieces at a time. His first privately commissioned piece was a tie pin made for a New York City "underworld figure."

It sold for $10,000.

Hoffman works out to stay in shape and has recently taken up digital photography.

"It's a wonderful blend, it really compliments jewelry making," he said.

Hoffman started by taking pictures as backgrounds for his jewelry and fell in love.

"My favorite times are sunrise and sunset," he said. "The media is usually black and white landscape, but I do enjoy people and structure.

"It goes hand in hand with making jewelry. When it's a cloudy, snowy day, I'm content to stay at my workshop."

Hoffman's favorite materials are turquoise, picture stones, and of course, diamonds.

"That's my trademark," he said. "There's a diamond in all my pieces."

He's also made a name for himself in elk tooth jewelry, something that is in demand in this part of the world.

"You'd be surprised," he said. "If you make it, there'll be someone out there who will buy it."

Hoffman lives on a ranch north of Craig with his wife and three children.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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