September 27, 2019
Where the work happens
Among a drawer filled with different gemstones that Kristina Mueller — artist and Lake Clear resident — has been collecting, a small silver pineapple charm stands out to me. I pictured it dangling from a silver chain with its charming spiky fronds and grooved skin. It’s no bigger than a thumb print but looks precisely like a pineapple. There were several of them so I couldn’t resist asking what she planned for these irresistible treasures. She laughed and told me it’s for family and friends that share an inside story regarding a Phish concert. I, without irony, asked if she would add them to her collection to sell. She shook her head “no.” She’s not interested in mass producing.
Kristina is a jewelry maker whose work has been shown at NorthWind Fine Arts Gallery, where she is a member, in Saranac Lake. She is one of its newest members and her recent show “Find Your Direction” was a beautiful homage to the steadfast work of a jeweler — with photographs of her engaged in her process — and the art itself. She is one of many young artists in Saranac Lake. Her partner, Bill, with whom she shares a home and studio, is a musician who regularly plays with the band Annie in the Water. The afternoon I visited Kristina to get a tour of the studio it was pleasantly packed with his band mates discussing plans for a radio show appearance and other goings-on. The town of Saranac Lake in many ways is an artists' enclave. Its downtown is small but densely populated with art galleries, and live music is easy to come by at The Waterhole or at one of the town’s other bars and restaurants, many of which host live acts and regular open mic nights. Kristina, with her warm presence that exudes a familiarity and her giant smile, considers Saranac Lake a great place to be an artist. She explained that being in the art community, because of NorthWind, has allowed her to meet great people, and that the art community here is growing.
Saranac Lake has always been considered the cool Adirondack town, or as some call it, decidedly different, because it has been a hub of art and creativity for a while now. It’s the most populated town in the Adirondacks and its annual Winter Carnival is a combination of small town community charm and zany creativity with costumes, parties, an epic ice castle, and the closing parade filled with uniquely Saranac Lake performances. The cure porch has also put us on the global map for weirdness and fascinating history. Kristina’s simple, elegant, and ethereal style of jewelry is a nice addition to the Saranac Lake arts scene.
Kristina gave me a tour of her studio, that she shares with Bill. The majority of the space is a jeweler’s workshop with a workbench, soldering station, and wax station. The artist’s process extends well beyond this space. The studio is where the physical work is done, but the vision and community that drives Kristina can be found all over the Adirondack wilderness. Or, like she explained when I asked her: What makes her art unique to the Adirondacks, she replied without hesitation, “Me!” Kristina grew up in Lake George. The power of the Adirondacks’ brilliant fresh waterways, that she knows from growing up on one of its most iconic lakes, cannot be overstated.
Kristina started metalsmithing in high school, and with her teacher’s encouragement kept it in the back of her head as a potential career. But who actually got to pursue art, she thought. In the meantime, she attended college to play volleyball. An art show put on by the students at North Bennet Street School in Boston rekindled her passion for the craft. Amazed by the exhibit, she immediately asked, “How did human hands make that?” She left her design school to attend North Bennet, one of the oldest trade schools in the United States, for jewelry making.
At North Bennet she learned technical mastery by starting with the most minute tasks, from sawing to more complex tasks like soldering, in order to develop technique. She and her classmates learned by repetition and craftsmanship that was under intense scrutiny from her instructors. Eventually they worked up to stone setting and creating clasps and hinges.
Kristina admires the value of precision that was instilled in her at North Bennet. We are all the better for it because she spends upwards of ten to twelve hours of production time in her studio, shaping all types of metal, specifically sterling silver and gold, into the conceptualized pieces of beauty to be adorned. Her most visible joy during my studio tour came from a pair of parallel pliers — a game changer, she told me, as far as tools go. Jewelry making — a precise art — involves many tools because there are so many variations to consider — shape, size, and contours of gem stones to set as well as the hardness of gems and metals.
What’s next for Kristina? She has been custom designing and making jewelry, and was working on an engagement ring when we spoke. Her plan is to do less custom design and focus more on developing her collection. She is excited to be in the Adirondacks because it fuels her, but the natural landscape is not the focus of her designs. She is concept driven. When describing the inspiration behind “Find Your Direction,” she explained: “My work is emotionally driven. I think there’s a common growth and development that humans go through in their lives. Even though we’re all individuals we all face struggles and go through realizations. My work is about growth and personal development.”
You can find Kristina’s jewelry at NorthWind Fine Arts Gallery and for sale at L. Post Rustics in Lake Placid. You can find Kristina with a notebook full of ideas around town. She is part of a young and growing community dedicated to the arts in Saranac Lake. There’s no shortage of natural beauty and inspiration in this little town full of artists, avid outdoor enthusiasts, intellectuals, and coffee drinkers.
Kristina is an Adirondack lifer and proud of it. Her home was built to last like her jewelry. I asked her what she loves most in a piece of jewelry. With a smile and a toss of her long silky hair, she — without hesitation — responded: “Things built with longevity just speak to my soul. I love the idea of creating something that’s going to last for who knows for how long and to become an integrated part of somebody’s life and their story and potentially their child’s story or whomever they decide to pass it along to.” Value is something that accrues over time and is passed down, over generations. Kristina’s studio is just one place where Kristina toils, making the already beautiful Adirondacks more beautiful.
Come check out the local arts scene in Sarnac Lake. Start planning your trip today by booking that perfect place to stay.