Craft Culture: American Craft Council artists to watch

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Nick Lundeen // Photo by Tj Turner

Name: Nick Lundeen

Company: Nick Lundeen Jewelry

Age: 29

Location: Northrup King Building, Minneapolis

Booth number: 212

Products at the ACC Show: Assorted jewelry

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Nick Lundeen // Photo by Tj Turner

As a kid, Nick Lundeen spent his time with his nose pressed up against the cases in his grandfather’s jewelry store. He particularly admired the work of craftsmen who took the extra step to make their work more personal.

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A ring by Nick Lundeen // Photo by Tj Turner

At 10 years old, Lundeen’s grandfather taught him how to carve wood into little animals or weird shapes. As a teenager, he graduated to working with stone. Eventually, he took up jewelry making. But it was just a hobby, until seven years ago, when Lundeen decided to pursue the craft full-time.

Lundeen clearly recalls his first attempt at working with silver, now one of his primary materials. It was one of the first nice days of spring, and he was standing in the parking lot below his Northeast Minneapolis studio holding a torch. In front of him, arranged on the asphalt, were two belt-buckle molds carved out of cuttlefish bone. The bones were only a few inches long, and the shapes for the buckles were intricate. He quickly learned that pouring molten metal is unpredictable. Needless to say, not every cast succeeded back in those early days.

“I wasn’t even sure what I was doing,” Lundeen says. “I spilled silver all over the place. With the cuttlefish, it’s a one-time-only casting and it smells horrible, like burning hair.”

That first attempt yielded no belt buckles, but despite the seeming failure, Lundeen was hooked on casting. “I like to be as much a part of that whole jewelry process as I can,” he says. “If I can carve the mold that I’m pouring the metal into, that’s even more exciting than buying the metal in a sheet.”

Next up on Lundeen’s list of ways to get more involved with his jewelry: mining his own gold.

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Jewelry by Nick Lundeen // Photo by Tj Turner

For now, Lundeen settles for intimately crafting each part of his pieces. He still casts in cuttlefish bone, and has also started using tufa—a soft, porous variety of limestone. After removing a cast from its mold, Lundeen places the silver bar atop a metal anvil and, using a variety of tools, hammers and forms it into its destined design.

It’s a process he loves. To Lundeen, the beauty of handcrafting a piece isn’t just about the final product; it’s about the adventure of getting there.

Q&A

The Growler: Why did you start carving molds and crafting your work by hand?

Nick Lundeen: I knew a couple old craftsmen that did it that way, so I went for it. They were old friends of my grandfather’s who he bought jewelry from in the southwest. Everything was done by hand. Something about that always appealed to me. They took pride and care in their work, and I liked that. I could have just bought the metal refined and started from there, but I liked that other part of it. It’s probably a foolish thing to do, but melting my own metal and pouring the molds is my extra step.

TG: You carve out of tufa now. What is that?

NL: It’s a variety of limestone. It’s a soft and porous stone. I like the rough, stone-like texture it leaves. I get it in large chunks and then carve it into a mold with woodcarving chisels. I have a melting furnace, so I’ll melt down all my silver in it. I buy a lot of scrap silver from jewelers around town. Then I’ll pour the mold. You end up getting seven to 10 pours out of one stone, and then it’s done.

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Photo by Tj Turner

TG: Your family collects objects from the Southwest that inspire your work. What objects have caught your eye recently?

NL: My parents have a lot of cool, weird things at their house. I always see something new that inspires me in a different way. They have this really cool collection of handmade silver spoons. Now all I can think about is spoons, so that’s what I’m making right now. I’m going to try and make this line of silverware and see how it goes. I used to do a lot of wood carving for Home Goods and the Foundry. I did some wood knives and spoons for Food and Wine magazine. I would like to make those out of metal and get back to that. The functional pieces are really exciting to me.

TG: Where do you find inspiration?

NL: It’s important to be open to different things. The different places you go or patterns you see, like a shadow on the wall. If I’m feeling blank on what to do, I’ll flip through a few books. Not just jewelry books, but books on structure, architecture and large-scale sculpture. For me it’s important to be at my studio working whether I’m inspired or not, because at some point I’m going to get inspired. I come here all the time with no clue what I’m going to do, but if I just start playing around, all of a sudden things happen.

TG: What do you think about when you’re handcrafting a piece?

NL: Don’t cut your finger off. I think don’t burn my hair, too, but I just cut my hair recently so I don’t think about that as much.


The American Craft Council (ACC) brings its annual, high-end craft show back to the Saint Paul RiverCentre this spring, April 8–10. The show is a celebration of all things handmade, with more than 225 artists from around the country gathering to exhibit their work, which ranges from clothing and jewelry to furniture and home décor. Lundeen was selected to be a featured artist in the ACC’s Hip Pop program, which showcases emerging artists from around the country.

Next page: William Dohman, Nick Lundeen, Luke Borkenhagen

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