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Finland native crafts jewelry with North Shore materials

Yarrow Mead works with a welding torch to create a pair of old-fashioned handcuffs for Hamline University's 2014 production of "MacBeth." Mead is using some of the skills she learned at Hamline to make and sell jewelry. (News-Chronicle file photo)

When she was young, Yarrow Mead was always fiddling with tools and working with her parents to build things around their Finland home.

North Shore native Yarrow Mead makes jewelry at the Duluth Armory. Jamey Malcomb/News-ChronicleNow, the self-described “tool junkie” is taking her passion for making things and turning it into a business. For the past several months, Mead has at the Duluth Armory Arts and Music Center creating metal jewelry featuring sea glass, agates and other stones from Lake Superior and selling them through her website, Yarrow Mead Metals.

“I just collect tools and I’ve always been a project person,” Mead said. “It makes sense to my brain.”

Spring recently emerged on the North Shore, but the forge used by glassblowers and metal workers made the Armory feel like a mid-August day in North Carolina. Mead’s workspace, just around the corner from the forge, is a hodgepodge of stones, metal and molds for creating silver earrings and necklaces that sell out almost as soon as she posts them on her website or social media.

“It’s amazing and frustrating because I would love to have stock,” she said. “Everything I sell is gone pretty quick.”

Since opening her online store, Mead has had to stop taking custom orders just to keep up with demand.

It’s been an interesting journey for Mead from Finland to Duluth, by way of St. Paul. After graduating from William Kelley High School in Silver Bay, she attended Hamline University and earned a degree in English education. More importantly, she became involved with the school’s theater department.

Mead was cast in a number of plays during high school with Lake Superior Community Theatre, but at Hamline, she got involved backstage, helping construct props for the school’s plays.

During a 2014 production of “MacBeth,” Mead and the prop design team needed to construct an old-fashioned pair of handcuffs, forcing her to learn more about working with metals. She was hooked.

“I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gone to Hamline and worked in theater,” Mead said.

Just before graduation, Mead wasn’t sure she wanted to teach right away, preferring instead to work with her hands. she contacted Grand Marais jeweler Stephan Hoglund about an apprenticeship. She spent most of last summer working with Hoglund, who is best known for his work with Isle Royale Greenstone. She learned that not only could she earn a little extra money making jewelry, it could be a career.

“It’s not a career you think about unless someone shows you it can be a career,” she said.

After taking the fall off to student teach and finish the requirements for her teaching license, Mead opened her online shop. She’s also working part time with fellow Duluth jeweler Britta Kauppila, who Yarrow Mead uses a soldering iron and pick to make settings for silver jewelry. Jamey Malcomb/News-Chronicleenjoys the way Mead has embraced local stones in her work.

“I think her work is reminiscent of the North Shore and honoring the beauty that is here,” Kauppila said.

For the time being, Mead is still working to meet the demand for her jewelry, but she keeps a sketchpad close by that she uses to create the concepts for her work and in the hope that someday soon she will create her own line of North Shore-inspired jewelry.