At Krista Tranquilla’s Glenshire home, belt buckles in the shape of the world along with pendants of Lake Tahoe, bracelets with poetry and hand-drawn sketches etched on them, and earrings with trees are placed around the living room during an open studio tour.
Inscribed in a pendant is a John Muir quote: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” On another a comforting John Muir quote states: “The world is big and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark.”
Tranquilla has hundreds of pieces of jewelry featuring the great outdoors, constellations, topography maps — whatever inspires her. She started creating wearable art as a hobby when she lived on the East Coast decades ago. She studied business at Pennsylvania State University and worked a college internship at a phone company in the mid-1990s. Tranquilla didn’t really know anyone and was looking for something to do after she ended her shift.
“Everyone there was at least 20 years older than me and I happened to find a jewelry class,” she says, adding she learned the foundations of metal and silversmithing and fell in love with the craft. “It was just a hobby at the time, so in any kind of gift-giving scenario people would always get a handmade metal piece from me.”
After graduating from Penn State, Tranquilla moved to the Bay Area and got a job at a manufacturing company where telecommuting was allowed in the early 2000s. She often traveled to the Tahoe Sierra to enjoy the outdoors and eventually moved to the Truckee area, married and had children.
Tranquilla took a year off to raise her family in 2012 and contemplated what she wanted to do career-wise moving forward. Fortunately, with a supportive husband, Tranquilla could pursue her hobby of jewelry making fulltime and was able to turn it into a small business.
Around that time, Bespoke opened in Truckee. She went in with five pieces of jewelry and owner Heather River agreed to carry her line. That was the boost Tranquilla needed to get off the ground; now she has hundreds of pieces in many places in California, as well as Oregon, Washington, Texas and Washington, D.C.
“I went from being the breadwinner of my family to doing nothing, so I was motivated to make this work,” she says. “But it took a while to figure out what working smart was and have that balance.”
In looking at Tranquilla’s nature pieces, it’s hard not to imagine the outdoors from where they originated. She agrees that Tahoe influences her products and that everywhere she looks she finds inspiration.
“Anything with trees in it were from photos taken in my backyard. I need to get outside to relax and here I can walk out of my front door and immediately have a sense of peace. Living in Tahoe helps me promote that message through my jewelry. It’s a constant reminder to take a break and get outside,” she says.
When making a piece of jewelry, she admits that most of her time goes into the artwork and that her designs started out simple but are becoming increasingly more complex.
“Some with the constellations I’ve spent over 40 hours to just design one piece,” she says. “I love my Orion [jewelry] I think because that was the crossover for me going from one technology to the other — that’s when I started directly imprinting onto metal.”
The constellation jewelry sells the most, along with quote-embedded pieces and jewelry that implements waves, topography maps and, of course, Lake Tahoe.
Making jewelry is a physical job — the repetitiveness of filing down hard metal took a toll on her flesh and bone. “Now I have a grinder. And I used to cut everything with a handsaw, but now I have a guillotine. I took a few classes [on how to make jewelry], but I’m mostly self-taught. So now if I’m experiencing physical pain, I’ve realized that I just haven’t found the right tool yet.”
She is also intent on using natural products and ethically sourced metals that are environmentally friendly, such as certified recycled silver.
Krista Tranquilla jewelry is sold at Bespoke in Truckee, Trunk Show in Tahoe City and Blue Wolf Studios Tahoe in Kings Beach. You will also find her at Truckee Thursdays this summer. View her collections at Glenshire’s annual holiday open studio sale in early December or on her Web site. | kristatranquilla.com