Tucked away in a quiet South Lake Tahoe neighborhood overlooking the regenerating Angora Hills, artist LoRita Ungar spends her free time making metal enamel jewelry, botanical watercolors and soft leather handbags. She has been making silver jewelry for about 15 years. She picked up the craft after retiring from teaching middle school in Washington. She had a friend in Santa Barbara and went there for six months to take art classes at the community college.
“People appreciate my work and that motivates me to try new things. I never run out of ideas, I only run out of time.”
— LoRita Ungar
“I took every art class I could. I had great teachers and then got into enameling more because I love color. I paint on the side and do botanical illustrations, but jewelry is where it’s at. There are so many techniques and styles with jewelry,” she says.
Ungar enjoyed the classes so much that she continued going back to Santa Barbara every winter for nearly 10 years to continue studying art. She was looking to move back to Washington when one of her children encouraged her to swing by South Lake Tahoe to visit him, thinking she would like the local artist scene.
“I was thinking of going back to Seattle because I didn’t want to deal with heavy winters, but I came to Tahoe in a mild one, so I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she says. “But I like it here.”
She soon joined Tahoe Art League and learned about how best to sell her work. She enjoys working in her studio in South Lake.
“I have a lovely room that I work in. I paint in there, I sew in there, I make my jewelry in there. People appreciate my work and that motivates me to try new things. I never run out of ideas, I only run out of time,” she says.
Ungar continues to refine her process by seeking out jewelry makers whom she admires and if possible, she’ll take a workshop with them. She hasn’t found many other artists in South Lake who are into silver enameling, but she does belong to a few Facebook jewelry groups and has a jewelry maker friend in Southern California whom she visits every year.
“I get my wildest ideas while driving and then will get home and think: ‘What do I want this to look like? What am I trying to do here?’ I’m a Gemini and I’m drawn to jewelry because there’s just so many materials to work with and ways to do it,” she says.
Aside from making jewelry, Ungar makes botanical illustrations and leather handbags.
“About 5 years ago I found that my shoulder was hurting from carrying commercial leather purses that were heavy and had metal in them. As a quilter, I quilted some bags, but they wore out quickly. Then one day I was in San Francisco and I found a shop that carried lovely soft leather colors, so I bought a few swatches. I just had a regular sewing machine and it took me some time to figure out how to make them,” she says.
After a lot of research and trial and error, Ungar started creating soft leather purses that can also be considered functional art, but she hasn’t found the right home for them so far.
“As fabric people do, I have collected lots of leather, but I haven’t found a market for the handbags yet,” she says.
Since making art is her hobby, Ungar works when she’s motivated or learns something new that she can apply to her craft.
“There are a couple of techniques I’d like to do better. I have a small kiln for enameling,” she says, adding she plans to apply her silversmithing and enameling skills into making wall hangings and bigger pieces of art. “That’s one thing I’d like to work on this winter.”