My Farmer’s Market Day alarm failed to go off. Market Manager Karen’s car pulled a flat tire. Some improv scrambling on my part and able tire-changing prowess from Karen’s husband, and we both arrived at City Plaza only a tad behind our accustomed schedules. Only to find unwelcome litter! Bits of paper, spat out chewed gum, sticky drink spills, widely scattered dry cereal, and a busted chair. PLEASE, people — the Plaza is public space to be enjoyed, not “wasted”!
By mid-morning, I was eager for a change of pace — a visit to the Artisans at Mugler Plaza. Upon my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see “The Peaceful Pisces”, Arlee Hooker and her craft, among the artisans. “Arlee, might you have time to tell me a little about yourself and your intriguing jewelry?” I asked, approaching a young woman chatting with a friend near her booth.
“Of course,” she replied as she and her friend said their good-byes.
“How did you happen upon Teton Valley?” I started off.
“I’m originally from Chico, California. I finished college the spring of 2015 with an A.A. in psychology, but I knew I wasn’t ready to commit to a regular career. So that summer, my boyfriend at the time and I headed to Alaska to work with a rafting company. Actually, I had told the owner of the company my boyfriend and I were a package deal — both together, not one without the other. He hired us both, and I worked in the office while my boyfriend helped the owner with odd jobs. Turned out to be a great summer, but by the end, I had a feeling I was ‘escaping’ too much, and I headed back to Chico.
“However, the ‘seasonal work’ bug had bitten, and I knew I wanted more. So, I applied to a bunch of resorts in the Northwest, and was hired by Grand Targhee. I was to start on November 13, 2015 which was a Friday, and also my father’s birthday. But it felt right — guess I’m a believer in synchronicity.
“For the next three winters, I worked at Targhee — and also learned how to snowboard! During the summers, I work in Jackson three times a week with a small landscaping business where I do home gardening for some big estates. I prefer gardening for myself, though. Here at my home in Driggs, I have a small in-ground flower bed, and also a raised bed where I grow vegetables — squashes and tomatoes.”
I looked up from my notes and noticed a lady studiously poring over Arlee’s jewelry. “Don’t hesitate to get up and tend to your customers...” I’d hardly finished before Arlee was up and interacting with the customer.
“What kind of stones are these?” asked the lady.
“This one is wild horse picture jasper,” Arlee replied. “These over here are Red Creek jasper. I’m happy to see you back again!”
“I’ve been visiting from California. Santa Cruz, actually, so I can’t go back right now because of the fires. I felt I needed a little something for myself today, and here I am! I so appreciate what you do,” the customer told Arlee as she put on her new “little something”.
By this time, another customer had been looking, and had made her selection. After the transaction, she also put it on and was broadly smiling as she left.
“I keep a notebook here to jot down what people buy and what they like,” Arlee explained to me as she reached for a good-sized book lying nearby. “There are so many virtual ‘sales’ now, particularly with Covid. What I like about ‘real’ sales is I can see the happiness my jewelry gives people. Even with masks, I know they’re happy.”
A man and his wife arrive. She loves an unusual “Crazy Lace” agate necklace, and her husband is encouraging. However, she decides against the purchase. They turn to leave, but momentarily the husband is back — to purchase the necklace. “I know she wants it but won’t buy it for herself. So I will!” he told Arlee. Another happy exchange.
When there was a lull in customers, I asked Arlee how she got into making jewelry. “In the beginning, I made thread bracelets with lots of knots. I followed patterns. But it was too confining, and I wanted to create my own shapes.
“About two years ago, I began making earrings. I’m self-taught, using references I find along the way as well as YouTube. Trial and error, you know. Each piece is an expression of how I feel at the time. Or, sometimes it’s like meditating where I’m just in the present moment, creating. The end result is the appeal for me more so than the actual process.”
“Where do you get your supplies?” I asked.
“Mostly online from Etsy. The metals are easy — the brass for the hoops, the 14K gold and the sterling silver for the earpieces, and the gold-plated and sterling silver chains. The stones are hard to buy on line, although I do. My dream is to go to Tucson for the Gem Stone Convention they hold there every February. Maybe next year...”
“You have some very lovely stones here today,” I told her. “For instance, what’s this interesting aqua-colored stone over there?” I asked pointing to good-sized stone in her display.
“That’s chrysoprase,” she replied. “And an amethyst over here. Even though I’m still enjoying the seasonal work to make money — and having fun snowboarding in the winter — I know I’ll always have to have time to create my jewelry.”
“It’s apparent from watching you with your customers you enjoy sharing your creations almost as much as you do in creating them,” I told her with a smile.
She returned my smile saying, “And I’ll have another opportunity — here — on September 4th!”