BY KATIE MATTESON
When is a jewelry store more than a place to buy jewelry? When it’s where jewelry creation takes place. Art Metals Studio, 332 Main St. in downtown Racine is such a place.
Co-owner and lead metalsmith Christopher Sklba opened his store 14 years ago in the very place where he learned his craft and found his passion.
Beginning in 1982 when he was a student at Case High School and later as an art student at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Sklba worked part time at the Village Smithy – later known as VSO Ltd. After he transferred to the Milwaukee Art Institute, now known as the Milwaukee Institute for Art and Design, he still commuted to Racine to work at the shop and went to full time after graduation.
It was there that he learned how to repair jewelry and began creating his own designs, along with learning the business from owners Lenore and Hal Sydnor.
When the Sydnors retired in 2004, Sklba and his wife Stephanie had the opportunity to start a new business in the same space and invited three of Chris’ co-workers to join them. Diana Krause, store manager and Mallory Olesen Willing, production assistant still work at the store, while Laura Swetish recently retired and moved to Bellingham, Wash.
Production assistant Emily Jones joined the staff soon after the new store opened and has been there ever since. Other production assistants are Michelle Ulilnski and Riley Koenen.
Stephanie works behind the scenes as the store’s business manager when she’s not working her day job as the vice president of communications and government affairs for Gateway Technical College.
Sklba estimates that about 70 percent of his business is custom work, repairs and service.
His niche is creating jewelry for memorable occasions. For those who don’t plan ahead for the eight weeks it can take to create a custom piece of jewelry, he has a beautiful assortment of rings, necklaces, earrings and more in his store.
In addition to his own work, Sklba shows jewelry created by staffers Mallory and Emily. They each have their own studio as part of the 16th Street Studios inside the Racine Business Center. Recently, Sklba has also purchased select works from other well-known metalsmiths which complement the Racine-made work.
He explained that his custom design process typically begins with choosing a stone and discussing design ideas. From there, Sklba does drawings that are either made into models carved from wax or CAD designs for the customer to preview.
Sklba has an extensive collection of gemstones and uses diamonds, platinum, gold and exotic metals from which customers may choose to create wearable artwork that lasts a lifetime.
He also works with customers who would like to update their own jewelry or create something new from an inherited stone.
In recent years, Sklba has been creating a lot of pieces using mokume-gane, a Japanese metalworking procedure that produces a mixed-metal laminate with distinctive layered patterns which take on the appearance of wood grain.
After working downtown for 36 years, Sklba still loves being there and participating in special events and contributing to Racine’s creative community.
The store is open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday.
For more information, call (262) 633-0545 or visit artmetalsstudio.com.