March 27, 2008

Artistic Acclaim Continues to Shine Upon Moonlight Studio

Jewelry has been the calling card for Moonlight Studio for more than a decade, but a friends family illness recently led to an expansion at the Wyaconda business.

Owner Mary Beth St. Clair now is offering 2008 special occasion dresses for prom, pageants, weddings and graduation.

The transition was made in an effort to aid a friend whose dress shop was being put on the back burner due to her husbands illness.

I really wanted to help her out. And I knew there was a need for this service in our area, as I went through this process with both of my daughters, said Mary Beth. But we will just have to see where it leads.

While she is lending a hand to her acquaintance, the new business venture is similar to how she got her start in jewelry.

Growing up in Knox County, Mary Beth had been very involved with art. She was talented enough to attend a secondary art school, but instead chose a more stable educational path in business at Truman State University in Kirksville.

After working as a bookkeeper in the banking industry, a family illness forced her to leave work.

But she never stopped working. The transition allowed her to get back to her artwork.

Originally working in two-dimensional artwork and mixed media, Mary Beth began working with beads and metal components after being commissioned to draw Art Nouveau designs for jewelry pieces in 1995.

This initial exposure started what has become an endless search for new knowledge and techniques to create her artwork.

I am self-taught, and still a work in progress, Mary Beth says despite more than a decade of experience. I read a lot about new techniques but basically Ive learned how to do what I do, by doing it.

St. Clair did attend a training seminar at the William Holland School of Lapidary Arts in Georgia a few years ago, and said she plans on doing some additional professional development in years to come.

I took some silversmithing courses, something I already do, she said. But I wanted to see how others do what I do and try to find out what I was doing wrong. It was very educational as I found several techniques that have made my job easier.

After starting with bead stringing and assemblage, Mary Beths jewelry work soon progressed to stone-setting, silversmithing and wirework.

Not long after the transition, her work began earning awards as well as media coverage focusing on her unique style.

That style originally focused on wire-wrapping around natural sea glass and sandblasted glass. Mary Beth worked with partner Silvia Santos, a Peruvian wirework artist that she had met at an art show in Illinois.

Since then Mary Beth has expanded her horizons, continuing the glasswork, but also adding etch work, found object work and traditional and non-traditional silversmith work along with the additions of unusual stones, all unique to her own style.

These transitions marked her desire to change often, learning as many different methods as possible. Her expanding work combined with continued research into design and method further refined her style.

In 1995 Mary Beth started attending art shows and her work quickly gained rewards. Despite having two daughters in school at the time, Mary Beth and husband Verne still made time to attend as many as 40 regional art shows a year.

While that number has declined over the years, it has not meant a dip in the number of awards being received by Moonlight Studio.

In 2007 Mary Beths work earned her the Best of Show Award at the Art of the River show in Keokuk, IA. Her work also was honored at the Mid-Summer Arts Fair, Art on the Square in Fairfield, IA; Art in Central Park in Fort Madison and the Boone County Art League show. Mary Beth earned the Best of Show award at the Indian Hills Community College art show and capped off her year with the prestigious Merit Award at the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

Her experience in juried art shows led St. Clair to the Missouri Artisans Association. She serves as the vice president of the Best of Missouri Hands group that promotes some of the states best artists.

Despite the time commitment, Mary Beth still continues to develop three lines of jewelry each year. Normally one line features sterling silver, with a second involving stone setting with the last being a unique choice annually. Last year she worked in pearl for a line called objects from the sea. She also did a western line called Whispers of the West.

Her Amber Elegance line sets Mary Beth apart from most jewelers, as she has found a unique source for the rare stone.

I get my amber from Russia, where it comes from mines, she said. Otherwise you can not find these larger pieces like this and that sets me aside from most artists.

Her found object jewelry has also earned St. Clair plenty of praise.

I truly enjoy this line because it is simply making art out of something that isnt supposed to be jewelry, she said.

One such project remains on permanent display at the Missouri Governors Mansion in Jefferson City. The sterling silver pendant was part of a three-year series created by St. Clair. The piece was cut from a sterling silver antique tomato spoon. It features Osage leaves in honor of one of the first items documented by Lewis and Clark when they departed on their journey.

In addition to this display that has been housed in Jefferson City since 2005, Mary Beth also has her work available at galleries in Hannibal and Clarksville in addition to at her Wyaconda studio.

With the addition of the dress line, Mary Beth said plans are in place to build a new studio.

Right now my husband is running out of room, she said. All of my tools and work benches have squeezed him out of his space, so we are looking to expand.

With her youngest daughter ready for college, St. Clair envisions needing more space as she continues to explore and experiment in all areas of traditional and non-traditional metalwork and stonework.

My jewelry work encourages thought through history, nature and the modern world, she said. One may see the beauty of the gemstone, whimsy of the material, or an elegant composition, but the true value of a piece of jewelry is the feeling it inspires the special relationship between the object of beauty and the wearer.

That is a relationship Mary Beth plans on continuing to create for many years to come.

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