Kathleen Doyle remembers the moment she realized she and Tom Reardon were built to last.
It was the mid-’80s. Doyle and Reardon, already well-established jewelry artisans, had just started dating. They were enjoying a meal together, discussing their common love of metalsmithing, when suddenly Reardon rose from his seat and ran downstairs. He returned with a tool manual in hand, asking Doyle if she’d like to read it with him. “That’s when I knew Tom was the one,” Doyle says.
Less than six months later, they were married. And 34 years on, they’re still going strong — as a couple, sure, but also as business partners. Their fine-art jewelry studio, “Tom Reardon & Kathleen Doyle” (which has spanned virtually the entirety of their relationship), has grown into a “full-time American Craft business that [has] flourished nationally,” as their website reads.
Doyle and Reardon have endured multiple moves together — from San Francisco to Portland (Oregon) and finally to Asheville, in 1995 — and welcomed emerging technology within the industry. They’ve made their name with heirloom mixed-metal jewelry (rings, earrings, pendants, brooches, and bracelets) that is deeply sculptural and often inspired by local flora and fauna.
Reardon recognizes the intimacy of the art: “I love working with jewelry because it’s a small object,” he notes. Doyle explains that it’s easier to have creative control over something on a “human scale.” And forging human relationships through making custom work furthers the analogy.
Doyle’s academic associations include a residency at Penland School of Craft, and both artists spent their early careers as fine-art professors at various colleges. But they each harbored a desire to strike out on their own — together — to make and sell jewelry full time.
By the time they moved to Asheville with 35,000 pounds of equipment, their work was being featured in some 400 galleries. About ten years later, when new technology entered the scene — most notably in the form of CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacturing) — the duo embraced it to their advantage. They felt comfortable using technology to expedite certain production lines because they knew that “if it all went back to zero, we could still make [jewelry] by hand,” as Doyle puts it.
Self-employment hasn’t always been a stress-free endeavor. “I get one day off per week because I’m over 70,” Reardon says, half-jokingly.
But there’s no looming boss to answer to, no office politics. They get to give back to causes that move them, including the local Habitat for Humanity and the national Craft Emergency Relief Fund (for artisans experiencing the effects of natural disasters).
“We have cappuccinos together every morning. We don’t have to fight traffic. We know the other person is reliable, and if one of us can’t do something, the other can,” Doyle says.
Tom Reardon & Kathleen Doyle jewelry, North Asheville, studio showroom tours by appointment: For more information about the artists, see trkd.com. Tom & Kathleen are resident artists at Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Road, grovewood.com) and they sell at adjacent Gallery of the Mountains. Their work is available at Southern Highland Craft Guild shops at the Folk Art Center, Biltmore Village, the Moses Cone Manor (Blowing Rock), and on Tunnel Road; at The Asheville Shop in the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center (36 Montford Ave.); and at the Piedmont Crafts Guild Gallery in Winston-Salem. They’ll participate in American Craft Week this month with a studio tour on Saturday, Oct. 5, 11am-4pm, at their Grovewood space, with 10% of proceeds benefitting the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (americancraftweek.com); in the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands (US Cellular Center, Asheville, Oct. 17 through Oct. 20, southernhighlandguild.org); and at the Beaverdam Studio Tour Oct. 26 and 27 (visit beaverdamstudiotour.com to get the couple’s home-studio address).