Katherine Thornton – Sometimes You Are Lucky Enough In Life …

Artist, Teacher, and Friend…

Sometimes you are lucky enough in life to meet someone who changes you for the better. These people may be teachers, coaches, or mentors, but one thing they all have in common is, heart- a large caring heart that spreads their passion. These people powerful because they take an interest in you. They teach you, they encourage you, and they push you because they can see something in the making. I can count on one hand these special people who have come into my life and Giovanna Gavaudan is one of them.

In my experience, it seems that as quickly these people come into your life, you are forced to part with them far quicker than you would like. They are those rare shooting stars who illuminate, inspire, and move on. I am nearing my final month of studying abroad in Rome, and one of the most difficult things to accept is saying goodbye to one of the most incredible artist, teacher, and friend I have ever known. I can undoubtedly say that my time spent interning at Bottega Gavaudan where I have studied jewelry design with Giovanna Gavaudan has been the highlight of my time spent abroad.

The Beginning:

I can distinctly remember my first week in Rome and the nervous excitement I had for my first interview at Bottega Gavaudan. The internship seemed like an ideal fit. I had developed a passion for jewelry design over the past four years and have been pursuing my gemology degree on the side through online courses. I had the experience and the passion, but there was one issue I feared would ruin my interview- my lack of Italian. I tried to learn as much as I could over the Christmas break, but the holidays are not always the most conducive to studying, and unsurprisingly I was not exactly where I hope to be in my Italian communication when I had arrived. Fortunately, Simona, the internship coordinator reassured me that everything would work out and even accompanied me to my internship to make sure the schedule and communication worked out.

The location of Bottega Gavaudan is on a charming cobblestone street in Trastevere. I remember thinking that I could not have imagined a more desirable location. Away from the hustle and bustle that is constant in the center of Rome, this location I found peaceful. Twisting vines grew upon terra cotta buildings, and away from the cars, I could even hear the trickle of water from a spout along the side of the road. Then I noticed a painted sign that read, “Women at Work” and noticed the shop name- Bottega Gavaudan. When I walked in, there were many artists at work. One lady was refurbishing furniture, another painted on canvas, and one seemed to be sculpting an object. One of the artist showed me to the back where I saw Giovanna for the first time. She was focused in craft of sculpting gold and gems into one of her intricate artisan pieces.

When Giovanna noticed me, she sprang up from her bench with a smile. I immediately felt her warmth and her passionate artistic spirit. Giovanna greeted me with a hug as I introduced myself. Originally, I had prepared an entire introduction in Italian. I had learned a list of gemstone in Italian. However, I found myself blanking on the majority of my introduction and only formulating the very basic greetings in Italian. Fortunately, Simona walked in, and I discovered that Giovanna’s English was better than I expected. We chatted for a while, and I became captivated listening to her as she explained the inspiration behind each of her creations.

I soon discovered that Giovanna was more than an artist or designer. She is also a re-inventor! Many of Giovanna’s new pieces are re-designed family heirlooms for customers who wish to keep the gem and it’s sentiment but want a new design that better reflects their individual personality. For Giovanna, this idea has been a great success. Not only do her customers love the opportunity to have something custom crafted to suit their style, but it is also affordable. Even in economically difficult times, this idea has allowed Giovanna to maintain a steady flow of business in her shop.

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”    -Woodrow Wilson

The Journey:

Monday, February 18th was my first day.  One thing I will never forget is how warm each woman artisan was towards me from the start.  I remember walking into the shop on my first day, and at first I didn’t see anyone in the front of the store.  I heard voices and walked in a bit further to see the women gathered in a circle at the back of the shop enjoying a nice Italian café and enjoying conversation before beginning their crafts.  When the women recognized I had entered the shop, I was joyfully welcomed with Giovanna’s enthusiastic, “Ciao Katherine”!  As Giovanna came to greet me, one woman offered me a café while another pulled out a chair for me to join their circle.  I am not typically a coffee drinker, but in Rome, it seems to be rude and unusual to decline a café.  So, I responded with cheerful, “si, gracia!” and joined the women in their morning circle.

I was immediately struck at how different this work environment was from any places I had worked at before traveling abroad.  In America, there always seems to be a rush.  When it comes to our morning café, the only conversing we take on is with a Starbucks employee who rushes our order so we can take them on the go and gulp down our morning caffeine during our car ride to work.  On busy days, a nice conversation with a co-worker may not take place until lunchtime because, in America, “time is money”.   Growing up in the American culture, I have been conditioned to think this way.  Joining the ladies in the circle, I find that my mind seems to wonder towards thinking about what work I may be doing.  I do envy the Italian’s ability to effortlessly flip their switch from social mode to work mode and then right back to social mode.

After the morning Café, I joined Giovanna in her jewelry workshop at the back of the store.  The space was closed off with a door to enter, but it had a window screening so that Giovanna could see when a customer enters her shop.  Her workstation had similarities and differences to shops I have seen in the past.  She had the same basic bench tool- torch, hammer’s, pliers, ect., but I also noticed some machine I had never seen before- one of them was a large green metal machine that occupied the left part of the room.  Giovanna explained to me that the machine is used for making wire from scraps- a process that she said she would soon guide me through.  Instead of ordering wax from expensive jewelry supply shops, Giovanna used a candlestick. “Duh,” I remember thinking to myself, and finally glad I had realized the resourceful idea.  Overall, Giovanna seemed to have a much more resourceful shop than ones I have seen in America.

During the first few days, Giovanna reviewed the basics with me.  She had a bench station set up for me next to her so I was able to watch and work with her side-by-side, and she ran through the Italian names for the bench tools as she asked me for the English name in return.   On my first week, Giovanna had me help her set a bezel around a stone with a gold ring she was working on for a client.  As she held the piece to in-close the bezel, she had me hammer as the held the slanted tool in place.  I might have been a little less nervous if it was silver, but she already trusted me to take on the golden task.  She could tell I was a little hesitant with the hammer and she told me to always be calm but assertive.  She taught me to listen to the sounds- that they are often the most telling.  I liked that she was not afraid to let me know when I was off.  She would often say, “no Katherine” and then take the hammer to show me the correct rhythm.  I began to feel the rhythm and recognized the sounds.  As I kept the hammering at a consistent rhythm, the most rewarding sound was Giovanna’s, “Brava Katherine” as we both worked in-sync to complete the bezel on her ring.  At the end of our first week, Giovanna sent me off with the task of bring in my own designs and sketches.

A Design of My Own:

Looking forward to my second week at Bottega Gavaudan, I compiled many design sketches that I had brought with me along with some new ones that I had sketched after being inspired by Giovanna’s unique designs.  I brought my sketches in with me Monday morning, and Giovanna surprised me by telling me to pick out my favorite design.  I chose a recent necklace design that I sketched in Rome after being inspired by Giovanna’s style- a large circular pendant with rays that surround the center stone and hangs from the bottom of a rectangular bail.  As Giovanna glanced over the design, she seemed to approve it, and then she surprised me by saying, “okay, we can begin”.  When I asked her what we were going to begin, she told me that she was going to help me make my design with sterling silver.  When I first heard her say this, I was completely shocked.  I couldn’t believe that she was going to be generous enough with her time and supplies to help me design my own necklace.

My shock quickly moved to excitement and gratitude.  Giovanna smiled at my many “thank you’s” and simply said that I could only truly learn by doing.  Many people understand this, but few are as generous as Giovanna has been to teach me the necessary skills to design my own necklace without expecting anything in return.  We began by “realizing” (as Giovanna called it) every component of the design.  The next day, I brought in an Ocean Jasper cabochon that I had brought with me from home.  Giovanna agreed that it would work nicely as the focal of the piece.

After Giovanna and I sorted through the components needed for the piece, she guided me towards creating each component.  In the past, I would have purchased many of these supplies because I did not know how to make them myself, but Giovanna quickly taught me to be resourceful by melting down spare scrap sterling silver and going through the process of creating each piece.