For this, the second in a series of oral history interviews on Jewelers’ Row in Philadelphia, we speak with Rona Fisher of Rona Fisher Jewelry. Rona is a jewelry artist and designer who has been working on Jewelers’ row for a decade. Trained as a fine artist at the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), Rona found jewelry design through a passion for crafts and has built a successful business that thrives in the Neff Building on Jewelers’ Row.
On September 28, 2016, Kevin Wohlgemuth spoke with Rona about how she got her start in the jewelry industry and made her way to Jewelers’ Row. Rona also discussed how her business works in the context of the industry and her thoughts on the proposed development. This interview was transcribed by Angelina Jones and Kevin Wohlgemuth.
PART 1: BECOMING A JEWELER
Kevin Wohlgemuth (KW): Tell me, how did you get into the jewelry business?
Rona Fisher (RF): I started off as a fine arts painter. I went to Philadelphia College of Art, now University of the Arts. I think a lot of people that go to art school after they’re out and then introduced to life in general and the realities of it. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, nobody really cares that much except me and my other artist friends.” So, you can choose to be an artist part-time and do something about your economic reality. Or you can take the chance of trying to bring both together, which I did… I didn’t want to do that with painting, because I don’t like the gallery scene that much. I went to a fine craft show in Berkeley when I was living in San Francisco, and all these great glass blowers were showing and selling their work, starting the glass movement from Seattle, they were coming down the coast and doing shows… the work just blew my mind. This is fine art and it is craft, because they’re making kind of functional things. The pieces are gorgeous . I realized that they don’t know what’s going on [over] on the East Coast. They have no idea about this. Because the fine arts department was very concerned that we stay with fine arts instead of deviating to these lower, lesser kind of kitschy, crafty things. I was like, “they don’t know about this, they don’t know this is happening.” Amazing work, amazing. Right then and there I thought, “Okay, I’m going to spend my year just scraping by financially, living as cheaply as I can, working as little as possible, and playing with different media and find out what else I want to do besides be a painter…” It’s kind of a shame to waste yourself on a menial job just because you need to pay the rent. I wanted to devote my whole life to being creative, not just part of it.
KW: How did you then focus in on jewelry in particular?
RF: I played with a whole bunch of different things and that was the intent, just to play with a lot of different things and see what would fulfill [me]… one that I wouldn’t get bored [using]. If I’m going to do something for the rest of my life, I’m not going to get bored with it… it had to be challenging, to have many layers, so that was pretty much it. Don’t get bored with it.
There were a lot of things I played with, they were fun, but for some reason I took a piece of silver to play with it one day… I knew nothing about jewelry making, but I just had a feeling. Now, twenty-some odd years later… it’s still amazing.
There are so many techniques and if you get bored, you just try to learn a new technique and suddenly you’re in student mode again, discovery mode and you get all inspired. Even if you never use it for anything. You’re in the inspirational mode and it just kicks on the creative juices again. From just making things by hand, doing all my wax models by hand, with simple tools, or fabricating from sheet and wire and then going all the way into CAD/CAM [Computer Aided Drafting/Modeling]…the adventure continues. Continue reading