Every once in a while, Melinda Lawton enters into what she calls “stream-of-consciousness jewelry making.” She’ll sit down to work without a specific plan; then, hours later, she’ll emerge from a trance-like state with new creations before her.
“I let the gemstones tell me what they want to be,” she says. “It sounds kind of hokey, but it’s true.”
That Lawton, owner of Sweet Magnolia Gallery in Hendersonville, has become a high-end jewelry designer comes as little surprise, given her former career as a graphic designer. She owned a successful design company in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, earning two National Emmy nominations for title design and visual special effects.
Through it all, jewelry design remained a hobby. When she chose to make it a career, the transition was relatively seamless. Because, as Lawton explains, the fields have surprising parallels.
“It’s all about texture, form, movement, and color,” she says. “It’s really just design in a different medium. I get these beautiful gemstones” — green amethysts, moonstones, Pavé diamonds, pink garnets, Tahitian pearls — and it’s all about putting them together in a way that’s visually appealing.”
In the early days, before her business took off, she’d wear her homemade pieces in public — “in Costco, or wherever” — and passersby would comment on their beauty. Eventually, her work ended up in high-end jewelry stores in Los Angeles, and even on Carrie Underwood’s ears when she won American Idol in 2005.
Indeed, the now world-famous pop-country star was wearing Lawton’s jewelry the night she won the crown.
“I remember her coming out in a coral dress and I thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s going to be wearing my coral earrings,’” says Lawton, who says her gems are ethically sourced. “Seeing that happen was another big push I needed to start pursuing my jewelry line even more.”
Lawton has traveled throughout the world, initially as the daughter of an Air Force test pilot, then as an adult who traversed Europe, as well as a professional who lived in Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles. Such globetrotting continues to inspire her work. “When you travel and see things from different cultural perspectives, it can’t help but inform your visual experience,” she says.
Lawton moved to Western North Carolina nearly a decade ago after reuniting with the love of her life — Alan Berkow, a former restaurateur — after 32 years. She first landed in Tryon. “I remember looking on a map and [the town] was just a tiny dot somewhere on the North Carolina/South Carolina border,” she says.
She admits the sleepy Southern locale was “culture shock at first,” given her former life spent in the world’s biggest metropolises. “As my daughter said, the ratio of trees to concrete is exactly opposite here as it is in Los Angeles.” But the laidback charms of the region have grown on her.
“I love it here. I get to live in these beautiful mountains and create jewelry that’s sold all over the world.”
Sweet Magnolia Gallery, the studio and store of Melinda Lawton, is located at 1406 Greenville Hwy. in Hendersonville. Lawton also exhibits at Grand Bohemian galleries throughout the Southeast, including in Asheville at 11 Boston Way, Biltmore Village. www.grandbohemiangallery.com. For more information, see melindalawton.com.