Jewelry elevated to wearable art

By Paul Viau | Oct 09, 2013
Photo by: Paul Viau photo A MAN AND HIS ART — Local jewelry maker, Chris Amsler, is proud of his 'wearable art' on display at Mainstreet Artists Co-op and Cedar Hill Studio.

My wife is a big fan of jewelry, and (I’m putting myself out on a limb with this revelation) I like to express myself with jewelry, too.

To some of you, that isn’t very masculine, but what can I say — I spent more than 35 years as a creative director. It comes with the territory.

Most of my personal jewelry (not counting wrist watches) is either Native American or contemporary. And now that I think about it, the vast majority is sterling silver.

There’s just something about silver that grounds me, but when I saw the work of local artist, Chris Amsler, I wasn’t grounded — I was floored.

His creative use of sterling silver, gold and bronze is both elegant and inspiring; bold, yet still refined.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Amsler’s work is the unique story of how and where he learned his craft. As the Village People would say, “In the Navy.”

Chris Amsler spent 26 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring in 2008 as a Master Chief.

Some of you may remember him from his duty as a recruiter here in Waynesville during the 1990s. Before (and after) that assignment, Amsler spent 18 years (off and on) at sea. He served on destroyers, heavy cruisers and a variety of amphibious ships. On all those ships, Amsler will tell you, “There was no personal space, so jewelry gave me much needed mental space.”

Jewelry making was also a hobby that fit other Navy requirements — The equipment needed was minimal, compact, easily portable. As Amsler boasts, “It was a hobby that fit in a tackle box.” These days, his hobby impressively fills a massive jewelry display case.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chris Amsler’s jewelry making at sea started modestly —working with wire, beading, and making cold connections. As one of the engineers aboard ship, he found access to torches from the ship fitters shop. Soon he was hot welding and casting bigger and bolder jewelry.

Amsler had a gift for jewelry making. After all, he had always been “very mechanical,” working on cars and motorcycles. He also had a fine eye for detail work, having previously occupied his time aboard ship fly tying.

As Amsler traveled the seven seas, he collected gems from all over the world. He also found inspiration — like the plumaria, the flower used in making Hawaiian leis.

To this day, Amlser’s work is greatly influenced by nature and his strong Christian faith.

A quick aside here — Amsler is pronounced ‘Ahhhhms-ler’ as in ‘alms’ giving. And

Amsler gives freely (alms) of his time to Camp Ability, Haywood Catholic Youth and Knights of Columbus. In fact, Amsler was recently recognized “Knight of the Year” for all of North Carolina. Quite an honor!

You’ll find Amsler’s faith reflected in much of his work — including hand-hammered angels, crosses and silhouettes of local churches.

The natural beauty of gem stones is another strong influence in his work. His favorite stone is larimar, a light aqua-blue stone.

Did you know? — Larimar is called Caribbean blue in the Caribbean and Hawaiian blue in Hawaii. To Chris Amsler, it will always be Carolina blue, reminding him of home and family.

Speaking of family, Amsler’s happy marriage to his wife, Alma, is another strong source of inspiration. You can often find her “test driving” his latest creations.

You can find Chris Amsler’s work on display at Mainstreet Artists Co-op and Cedar Hill Art Gallery, also on Waynesville’s Main Street.

Stop by and see Amsler’s beautiful wearable art and meet a ‘man’s man,’ who deservedly wears his jewelry like a badge of honor. You can reach him at 610-962-7720.

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