Dina Varano’s studio is nestled deep in the Connecticut woods, on a private road that winds up a narrow hill and then down again, until a steep drop finally leaves you in a setting so serene you feel like you have stepped into another time and place. The quiet sanctuary offers up nature’s song in surround sound, large windows fill the rooms with light and shadows, vintage objects lean on trees and if you look carefully you will see the occasional clue that a family lives here too.
I was inspired before I even stepped inside
In the yard…I spy a boot
Built by Dina’s husband and attached to their home, which he also built, the studio is only a few miles from the shop that bears her name, where Dina sells her designs and beautiful accessories. The studio is made up of two rooms that spill over onto a patio. Filled with the artist’s well worn tools, materials and supplies, in the main room you will also find sketch books, design recipes, earring samples, bins filled with silver wires, hand cut shapes and components in various stages of finishing, and separate work stations for different tasks. And tools…oh the tools…did I mention the tools?
Dina Varano working out a design
In the smaller room, which includes the entrance to the studio, the main wall features shelves, nooks and crannies that hold bits and pieces of inspiration gathered on walks in the woods and at the beach, favorite objects, antique finds and artwork by her children. As sacred a space as any I have seen, it is this wall that greeted me when I entered her studio on the first day of my apprenticeship.
Outside, looking at one of the studio worktables through the window
I was at ease within minutes and quickly realized that I am at home in any studio filled with tools and inspiration – even if I know nothing about the medium. We also share a similar aesthetic – a pull towards old rusty wire and wood, a love of the power created by the repetition of shape, texture, color in art. Quick to smile and easy to talk to, we first talked about the apprenticeship project and what she might want me to work on. Then she turned on the music – she almost always works with music on – and she put me to work!
We looked through earring samples as Dina acclimated me to her process
During my time as an apprentice to Dina I will assist her with some of the necessary but more mundane, tedious steps involved in making her jewelry – and I couldn’t be happier. As I learn, I will also watch the balancing act of life as an artist, business owner, wife, mother and community member.
As I rolled tiny shapes through a rolling mill, I watched Dina stamp a piece of silver with her name stamp
I am happily cutting wire, brass brushing pieces that have come out of their acid bath, rolling shapes through the rolling mill and using a scotch pad to take down the shine on the components. Each piece of finished jewelry has dozens of components that go through several stages before the final design is assembled. It is a labor intensive process, one that Dina has been tweaking and perfecting for twenty years, creating each piece by hand with a great deal of care.
The end result is a line of jewelry that moves and shimmies with a lighthearted energy and a sense of play – her loyal customers come back again and again to add to their collection.
A small selection of hammers and tools…oh the tools
Varano soldering components
Cage Basket Necklace by Dina Varano, sterling silver
The apprenticeship is just beginning, but I have learned so much already and participating in the process has deepened my appreciation of the time and effort that goes into making this wearable art. More to come soon – I’m off to assist Dina in the store – another part of this busy artist’s life.
daMuse On The Move
Please make a donation and help send daMuse into the field – you can read more about the project here. Many thanks to all who have donated already. Your donations are adding up quickly and I am well on my way towards making the Washington DC apprenticeship a reality. Let’s keep the momentum going!