"> Stefanie Wilkerson - Sheridan, Wyoming Travel and Tourism

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Stefanie Wilkerson likes to say that creativity isn’t a competition, but if it were, it’s likely that she’d have a mantle in her house buckling under the weight of shiny trophies and medals. And it wouldn’t just be any house – it would be a house that Stef and her husband, Kevin, have gutted, repaired, refurbished and refinished in what amounts to another one of the duo’s wildly imaginative exploits. You see, Stef is one of those people whose imagination knows no bounds – and whose creative talents are matched only by her skill and determination. Metalsmith; jeweler; musician; artist; interior designer; they’re all just labels, and they don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Not when you’re a creative iconoclast with a thousand different interests, and the talent to succeed in each.

Stef’s latest artistic endeavor is Archetype Collective, a space that’s about much more than metal, jewels, and solid design aesthetics. The Archetype studios are located at The Union at the Montgomery, itself a craft-centric maker space that’s caught the eye of locals and visitors for its thoughtfully curated collections of home goods, art, Wyoming curios, jewelry and clothing. To see Kristi VonKrosigk, the steward of the Good Ship Kindness (you’ll have to visit to understand), interact with Stefanie, is to see someone attempt to put out fire with more fire – the pair possess boundless passion for art and people, limitless energy, and an innate ability to suss out good style.

Archetype was born out of Stef’s need to share her creative gifts. Self-taught, she’s hands-on in every stage of production, from design and smithing to finishing and sales. And when it comes to custom pieces, she’s the lead on consultations with clients – a side of the business that has boomed since she set up shop. Stef’s relentlessly positive attitude and outlook are quick to rub off; spend five minutes with her, and you’ll start to believe that you too can become an expert in any field of your choosing – salamander farmer today, alpine bike courier tomorrow! When The Union finally discovers a way to bottle Stef’s ingenuity, they’ll be able to sell it for a thousand dollars an ounce. Alas, save your money. Knockoffs are rarely better than the original.

Stefanie has only been in Sheridan a short while, but already she’d entrenched herself in the creative economy – of which Archetype has become an important bellwether. And despite the stresses of moving to a new state, settling in and opening a new business, Stefanie still finds time to pursue her other creative passions, which has an inspirational effect on everyone she meets.

For these reasons and more, metalsmith Stefanie Wilkerson is one of our Women of Sheridan, Wyo. for 2020.

Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s Shawn Parker sat down with Stefanie to discuss her passion for Sheridan, and what it’s like to set up shop in the Great State of Wyoming.  

SHAWN: Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Kansas, went to college in Nashville, then lived in downtown Kansas City, MO. I come from a family of creatives. Painters, sculptors, ceramicists, woodworkers, musicians, songwriters… you name it. I was always encouraged to express myself in those ways. I grew up playing piano, singing and acting primarily. But always found a way to use my hands to create beautiful things.
SHAWN: There’s a story out there about how you loved to collect rocks when you were a kid. Was that how all this started – just a quick “stone’s throw” to becoming a jeweler? Sorry… couldn’t resist. 

When I was thirteen, it was almost a “right of passage” to be given “real” jewelry for birthdays and holidays by my extended family members. They started my collection at a young age! My dad’s side of the family are jewelry LOVERS. Every time it was a holiday I would go around to each Aunt, cousin or my Grandmother to see what unique jewels they adorned! HUGE amber rings, and turquoise necklaces, or stones I’d never seen or even heard of.. It was always so fascinating!
As far as the rock collecting goes… every vacation we went on, I would always choose a bag of rocks as my souvenir. I can’t really trace back to when and why my fascination with rocks started. Perhaps it was the colors and textures that awed me, or that such beautiful things were just created in nature. As my fascination with rocks grew I started “hunting for crystals” everywhere we went! Parks, walks, etc. We had a pool in our backyard and it was surrounded by rocks. During the warmer months I would spend HOURS after school sitting on the ground sifting through every rock looking for any hint of a sparkle. Then I would take those rocks and climb up on our Astro mini van roof and throw them to the ground as hard as I could to see if they would break open and be geodes! (Only one or two were ever anything exciting! But that never stopped me). I still have some of my rock collection from childhood and I still “hunt for crystals”. Stones are my number one inspiration to this day.

SHAWN: You’re an artist, but your interests are pretty eclectic and certainly varied. Tell us a little about what it is that you’re into.I started piano lessons at a very young age, and that started my love of music. My degree is in songwriting from a university in Nashville. I worked full-time as a professional Equity Actor in Kansas City for 5 years. Composed original music for several productions. Taught voice, piano, and acting lessons. Decided to start a handmade stationery company…. It was called “The Key”. I made handmade stationery sets, tags, cards, etc. I have dabbled in the interior decorating business. My husband and I have flipped a few houses and done all the labor/design ourselves. I seem to always need to be working with my hands. Whether it’s playing piano, painting walls or making jewelry.

SHAWN: The Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) called 2019 the “Year of Wyoming Women,” as the state celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. On December 10, 1869, Wyoming Territory passed the first law in United States history granting women the right to vote and hold public office – more than 50 years prior to the U.S. ratification of the 19th amendment. What does it mean to be a woman in Wyoming in 2020?

I am so proud to live in a place that values women’s voices. This state set an example 150 years ago by showing America that women deserve to be heard. It’s because of this that I am confident as a female small business owner that my voice will be heard as well.
SHAWN: What does it take to move to a small town in Wyoming site-unseen? We know that Kevin was offered a job by Weatherby, but talk to us about the first conversation you had about Sheridan – why move all the way out here?  

When my husband, Kevin, found a job posting for an amazing job in Sheridan, he casually brought it up in our conversation while cooking dinner one night. I’m pretty sure it was just him putting some feelers out there fully expecting me to shoot it down, but to his surprise I was immediately on board! Had I ever been to Wyoming? Nope. Had I ever heard of Sheridan? Nope. Did I have any idea what I would do there while Kevin worked a dream job? Nope! BUT I have never shied away from an adventure – and Sheridan, Wyoming, was just that – an adventure. I had lived in a big city the previous 6 years, and was looking forward to a different atmosphere and pace of life.

SHAWN: How does Wyoming feature in your life – not only from a professional standpoint, but as a place to live and play?

Wyoming took my breath away the minute we arrived. The beauty that is around us on a daily basis is overwhelming. I hope that I never forget what it feels like to look up at the mountains and feel “small”. Suddenly, your problems aren’t so big and that deadline isn’t so important. This definitely inspires my jewelry design, but also inspires our lifestyle. If Kevin isn’t out hunting, then we are hiking, camping, or taking the motorcycle out for a scenic drive  – when we’ve got the time.
SHAWN: Tell us about the life of a professional metalsmith – how did you arrive at where you’re at today?(This is the abbreviated version) I started making jewelry in 2012. It was more of a beaded style, using stones and components I had to purchase from other places. I was frustrated that I couldn’t fully realize the designs I had in my head. Then one day at a pop up shop selling my jewels, a gal bought a statement piece and we got to chatting… turns out she had a degree in metalsmithing but had all of her equipment in storage and was just working at a regular full-time job. I convinced her to get her things out of storage and start teaching me! We then got a studio space together and started making jewelry! At that point I only did metalsmithing part-time and mostly as a hobby until we moved to Sheridan! It was one of my best decisions to finally go full-time.SHAWN: Can you give us a quick peek at the creative process? How does a piece go from concept to reality? 

1. I pull out various stones from my ever-growing collection and begin playing around with them. Finding unique combos of colors and shapes.
2. I will then take a few to my sketchbook to sketch out a design.
3. Then I begin construction which starts with a bezel and backplate.
There are many steps of soldering, cleaning, shaping, stamping, filing, patina, polishing, etc. before I get to the end product. One piece can take anywhere from 2-12 hours! I always say “the metal will tell me what to do” and I really mean that. As I am in the construction process, I always keep an open mind. If I feel like the design needs to change, I change it. I believe that creativity needs to be flexible to be true to the piece.

SHAWN: How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style as eclectic, modern jewelry with a hint of the west. My target audience is the brave and the bold! The beautiful thing about jewelry is it honestly transcends generations. I have customers In their 20s and customers in their 80s! I try to make a range of pieces so that even the minimal jewelry wearer can find something they love. But no matter how small the jewelry, my requirement is that it must have character!

Also, a little bit about why I named it: Archetype Collective.

Archetype means: the original. The one copies are made after. I loved this for my handmade jewelry! I strive to be unique and original in all my designs, and I believe my customers see that.

Collective: I chose This word so that no matter what other creative endeavors I choose, my company name can still encompass it. I know myself well enough to know that there will be other things my creative soul starts, and I don’t want to lose all the work I’ve put into making the Archetype brand.

SHAWN: Here’s a classic softball for you – where do you find inspiration for your pieces? (please say Sheridan, please say Sheridan…)

All around me! The mountains, the colors of changing leaves. Again, I am a BIG texture and color person. Most of my pieces include unique shapes, textures, and colors all combined together. I also find inspiration in my clients. The people I get to meet and the stories they tell inspire my pieces more than they will ever know.

SHAWN: Archetype is just one of your many creative outlets. Do you ever overwhelm yourself, or spread yourself too thin, with all your pursuits? Conversely, how do you stay energized?

Oof. Do I overwhelm myself, or spread myself too thin? Don’t we all??!! But seriously, yes. Sometimes I do. I often get “grand ideas” or “visions” of the next creative thing I want to do, whether that is a jewelry piece I am going to make, or a new room I am going to design. The problem being that the vision is very specific, and I immediately make a plan on how to achieve it. I LOVE making lists, gathering supplies/ideas, and working out the logistics. I know the vision of the project, and I must achieve that vision. I have a hard time letting go of little details or things that need to change along the way. However, this is why I have so many different creative outlets. At some point in time, each outlet was an “idea” or “vision” and I gathered up everything I needed to learn how to do it, and did it.

So yeah, sometimes I’m spread too thin, and I’m learning to say “no” to things, but I make sure that everything that takes my time is fulfilling and inspiring. That is how I get recharged. I might finish a piece of jewelry that I’ve been working on for days that gets me inspired to photograph it, then the colors of that photo inspire me to paint a room in my house, then that inspires me to finally finish that song I’ve been writing, and so on.

SHAWN: Sheridan is known nationally as an outdoor recreation paradise, but what surprises many people when they visit is the scope and size of Sheridan County’s creative economy. Where do you see Archetype’s place in Sheridan’s creative space, both now and in the future?

When we first moved here one of the things I loved about Sheridan was the creative community. I knew I wanted Archetype to make a mark here. Everyone is so supportive of their local creatives, which is hard to come by in bigger cities where big chain stores dominate. I feel like I brought a litttttttle of the “big city” with me in a good way. I started teaching metalsmithing workshops here in Sheridan, and every one of them sells out! I can’t wait to expand in that area, as well as releasing more jewelry collections this year. As far as the future, I hope to keep pushing myself creatively, starting new ventures, exploring more outlets, and in turn, bringing Sheridan along for the ride!

SHAWN: We’ve talked at length about future plans that you and Kevin have been working on – is it safe to say that you’re in Wyoming for the long haul?

Kevin and I have some pretty exciting things in the works that we can’t wait to share with everyone! We have jumped right in and invested in Sheridan from day one without hesitation, and will continue to do so. It is our home.

SHAWN: Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?

I honestly would not have qualified myself as someone with an “entrepreneurial spirit” if you asked me this several years ago. I always knew I was a creative “go-getter” and a hard worker, but left it at that. My ideas were grand, but I just brushed them off thinking they were too out of reach. However, my business-minded husband taught me that I am in fact an entrepreneur, and those grand ideas are attainable. He truly encourages and nurtures my entrepreneurial spirit, which gives me a safe space to grow.

When I started Archetype full-time, I remember thinking “oh my gosh, I’m doing it! It’s working! I started a business!” And that is all it took for me to get the entrepreneurial bug. I’m hooked! New ideas are popping in my head on the regular and I just have to sift through the ones that are worth my time and efforts!

SHAWN: Many people with “regular jobs” spend their free time engaged in artistic pursuits. How do you, as an artist, unwind? What do you like to do in your free time – what little free time you seem to have!  

I love to unwind with music. I can completely relax and let go of the day’s worries the second I sit down at my piano to play. I don’t do it often enough. I will be honest with you though, I also love Netflix. Sometimes in order for my brain to turn off at night I have to have it locked on an episode of Friends or Parks and Rec, otherwise I’ll lay in bed going through my to-do list for the next day and never get to sleep!

SHAWN: Lastly, shameless plug time – where and when do you host your workshops?

I hold several workshops every month! I teach a ring, earring, and bracelet workshops, all  of which are very different skill sets! I hold most workshops in my studio at the Union, but I travel with them as well!  I started these workshops because I love to share the art form.  There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student’s face when they try their creation on for the first time! It is also a wonderful way to bring awareness to what exactly goes into making a piece of jewelry. I don’t think people quite understand the amount of time and physical labor it takes to make a piece from start to finish. I feel like each student gains a whole new respect for the art of metalsmithing by the end of each class.

My workshops are small – just six people and an assistant. Otherwise, projects would take all day. I update information about workshops on my website, and on my social media.

To learn more about Stefanie Wilkerson and Archetype Collective, visit https://www.archetypeco.com/

For more photos from our shoot with Stefanie, visit our Flickr archive here.
Click here for Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s YouTube channel and our new feature on Stefanie and Archetype.


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