Richard and I have been married for 20 years and have six children from previous marriages who are all now thriving adults and wonderful people. Richard had a 28-year career with HEB Grocery company in their corporate office in San Antonio. He started as a software coder, then as a Systems Administrator, Project Manager, and Requirements Analyst. I worked in the medical field and my last full-time position was with a surgeon’s office doing finances, treatment plans, and insurance. I had a metalsmithing studio in our home where I spent most of my spare time in the evenings and weekends. I became interested in metalsmithing and jewelry making when I was in eighth grade. I had a wonderful art teacher who brought all the necessary basic metalsmithing tools into the classroom. I learned sawing, filing, riveting, annealing, soldering, polishing, and chain making. Luckily the high school I attended also provided the basic tools as well as wax carving tools, casting equipment, enameling supplies, and kilns. My teachers saw my interest and talent and allowed me to use the equipment after school hours occasionally, and one of my teachers invited me to use her home studio on weekends. I went on to major in studio art, metalsmithing, and jewelry making in college and it has remained my focus and passion throughout my life.
In 2011 we moved from San Antonio, Texas to Smithville, Texas where we bought some land in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County. Our oldest daughter Hannah, who is an architect, drew blueprints for us and we built a beautiful home and metalsmithing studio on 5 acres of densely wooded pine forest in Smithville near the city of Bastrop.
About halfway through the construction of our home in September 2011 several wildfires somehow started at the same time in the forests around our property and they all merged and formed a huge fire that became known as the 2011 Bastrop County Complex Fire. It burned 34,356 acres and destroyed 1,691 homes, 40 businesses, and four lives were lost. It was the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. It swept right through our neighborhood and we didn’t know for three days if we had lost our home or not because no one was allowed back into the area until they decided it was safe. When we were finally allowed back in, and drove down our road, everything looked different. The trees were all reduced to charred sticks and many homes on our road were completely destroyed. Luckily our home survived due to the fact that we had cleared the trees and underbrush from around our building site. It was a devastatingly sad time. It took several months to restore power and water, but little by little people started rebuilding and recovering. Eventually we were able to complete the construction of our home and move in, and although we had lost 90% of our beautiful trees we felt safe knowing that lightning never strikes in the same place twice!
We were finally able to get the house finished and moved in to our home in what was left of the pines in April of 2012. Richard was still commuting to his office in San Antonio, and I spent my days working on jewelry in my studio. Eventually we rented a small retail shop space in Bastrop so we would have a place to sell my pieces. I enjoyed running the shop, and Richard was close to retiring, so we decided to look for a larger space to purchase. In January of 2015 we bought an old brick building on Main Street in the historic district of downtown Bastrop. We spent nine months renovating it, and opened our retail shop called Relics Jewelry & Gifts Emporium on October 6, 2015. We were exhausted from doing most of the renovation work ourselves, but excited to finally open our doors to the public. We felt like the stars and planets had aligned! We were happy with everything we had worked hard for, but Mother Nature had other plans. Just a few days later, on October 14, 2015, we lost our home, my metalsmithing studio, and five of our pets due to a wildfire that got out of control while we were at our building in Bastrop. We lost everything but our vehicles and the clothes we were wearing that day. Luckily, we had our sweet Brussels Griffon, Wookie, with us in Bastrop, and I had already moved a lot of my smaller metalsmithing tools to our new building. We had great insurance with State Farm, and after providing a hotel room for us for a few weeks, they moved us into an apartment that was rent free for up to two years so we could re-build. After all we had been through, we decided that living in a pine forest that was prone to burning was something that we never wanted to experience again. Our building in Bastrop had an upstairs apartment that we had planned to rent out to help pay for the mortgage, so we decided to renovate the apartment as our new home instead of rebuilding on our property. We also built a nice metalsmithing studio in the back section of our building so we could have everything we needed under one roof. We’ve lived above our studio and retail shop ever since and we love our commute to work each day which is only fourteen steps! Our address is 925 Main Street, and with the uncanny connection of sterling silver being .925, we have come to believe that this is where we were meant to be all along.
We first became interested in laser technology in 2009 when we purchased a CO2 laser. I used it to make rolling mill pattern plates on card stock for adding patterns and texture to the metals I used in my jewelry making. It worked fairly well, but the impressions were not as crisp as I wanted. I used the card stock patterns for several years, but I was never really happy with them. Richard became more and more interested in the issues I was encountering and spent several years researching other options. Our main concern with buying a laser that could engrave metal was the expense. We knew we had the skill sets for being successful at using one with Richard having a background in coding and analytics, and me being an artist, computer graphics illustrator, and metalsmith. We eventually had one of those defining moments where we knew what we wanted and made the decision to move forward with the process of purchasing it. We opted to pay an additional amount to cover a company rep who would provide two days of intensive training in our studio once the laser was delivered.
We waited several months while our laser was being built, tested, and shipped. When it first arrived, we found the learning curve was steep, but we were determined. The first several months of learning and experimenting involved many long hours of hard work day after day, but we loved every moment of it. We tested lots of different designs and metals, took copious notes, and took lots of photos and videos. We were excited to start producing jewelry pieces for our shop, but we also talked about how we’d love to share the results of our work with the laser with other artisans. We decided to start Metal Maven so we could offer pressings of our designs as well as our services doing custom laser engraved dies for other metalsmiths and jewelry artists. Richard built a nice website, and I started a Facebook group so we would have a way to get the word out.
Unfortunately, the next part of our journey was extremely disheartening because of the negative pushback we received from some people in our online metalsmithing and tool making community. We had shared our plans with them and honestly thought we would be congratulated and welcomed, but we were sorely mistaken. I was thrown out of a Facebook group that I had been a long-time member of, and we were accused of all sorts of things that we hadn’t done. We were shocked and hurt and wondered how we could be seen as a threat since our plans were nothing more than a fun retirement project to keep our minds active and our creativity flowing. We only hoped that by selling some of the things we could produce with the laser we could offset some of the cost of purchasing it, as well as the upkeep of running it. Building a huge business, hiring employees, and being competitive was never part of our plan - after all, it was just the two of us with one laser, one manual rolling mill, one hydraulic press, and various hand tools.
At the time of those initial accusations our Facebook group had only been in existence for a couple of weeks. We had sent out two or three invitations and asked those people to invite others if they knew of anyone who might be interested. We were off to a great start producing plates that were highly detailed and roll pressed beautifully. We added a section to our website for selling pressings of our designs and started receiving a few orders for custom plates. Occasionally we would answer a Facebook post where someone was looking for a custom die if we thought we could help. We had a grand total of nine members in our group the day we were wrongly accused of “auto adding” all of the group members from that other group (that had thousands of members) into our group. That was something we would never do, didn’t know how to do, and didn’t even know such a thing was possible!
I’m sad to say that we let the situation get to us and came very close to throwing in the towel. We’re glad we didn’t and thankful to some other friends in our metalsmithing and toolmaking community that we reached out to for advice. They reacted with positive words and encouragement, and confirmed our belief that there should ALWAYS be room for anyone who wants to try their hand at any endeavor. They urged us to push forward and not allow anyone to dissuade us. From that moment on we were done with being bullied. We stood our ground, and proved that we had been unjustly accused. I didn't receive an apology, but I was added back into the group I had been removed from.
Three years later we’re still here, it’s still just the two of us, and we still love our little business. During our first year we added an electric rolling mill to our workshop because we’re in our late 60’s, and gosh darn it, we felt like we deserved it! We had to close our brick-and-mortar retail shop until further notice in February of 2020 due to Covid. We hope to re-open sometime soon, but we’re watching case numbers and waiting until we feel safe. The extra income from Metal Maven sales has helped us survive during this pandemic. We no longer do custom die orders because we couldn’t keep up with the demand, but we try to provide a wide variety of design options for pressings and rolling mill component dies. We’ve slowly welcomed members one at a time into our group which has 1,700 as of this June anniversary, and we rely solely on word of mouth. We don’t require any interaction from our group members, and we don’t do jewelry making challenges with rules and deadlines - it’s just not our bag. We simply use our group platform to let our members know about products or blog posts with tutorials we've added to our website, or when we need to answer questions. We enjoy sharing our knowledge and if we don’t know the answer to a question, we don’t mind taking the time to look for an answer. We’d love it if our group members would share photos and thoughts in our group more often, but we know everyone is busy and we totally understand!
When we started Metal Maven our hope was that other metalsmiths and craftspeople, no matter their skill level, would enjoy using the wonderfully detailed copper and silver pressings we were able to produce. Richard and I often comment that the last few years have been the most fun we’ve ever had. It’s been an exciting adventure that we hope to continue as long as we’re able!
So that’s our story, and on this third anniversary for Metal Maven we want to thank all of you for being here with us and sharing this experience. We want to say a special Thank You to those of you who have purchased our products and especially those who’ve become repeat customers and friends. We appreciate your support and we’re honored to be a small part of your artistic and metalsmithing journeys! Anne & Richard