A Medford couple's creative and lifetime partnership results in distinctive pieces of art.
The spark from the metal striker ignites the Medford jeweler's torch with a flaming whoosh.
Balancing the mix of oxygen and propane, Bob Sharp directs the blue-tipped flame toward his latest creation.
Fire licks at the pendant's sterling silver base. Flux hisses as water turns to steam. The silver square glows red as tiny flecks of precious metal solder turn molten.
"There she goes," Sharp says with a satisfied smile.
The tiny chips morph into a thin liquid bead, flowing to form a perfect seal between the pendant's bezel and base. A pair of long-nosed tweezers plop the piece into an acid bath "pickle," with a splash.
Back at his studio, Bob wipes his sweat-beaded brow and heads out to his garage shop. The stone for the pendant in the pickle has been cut, polished and faceted. But more are waiting.
"This is God's creation," he says. "No two are exactly alike. It amazes me to cut a stone."
Across town, Carol Sharp, his partner and wife of more than four decades, sits at a table in her air-conditioned shop on Main Street. She is wearing an amber ring and an agate pendant which she designed and her husband created. The Sharps brought the amber back from Denmark a decade ago. The silver pendant's graceful shape combines Carol's nod to contemporary Celtic design with Bob's silversmith skills.
"I've never soldered a thing in my whole life, so I have never done any of the silver work," she says. "And I don't cut or polish stones."
In a nearby jewelry case sit dozens more pieces — earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces. Carol created several three-dimensional chokers using knitting needles and crochet hooks to weave multiple wires, glass beads, shells and fresh-water pearls into lacy creations.
"I like experimenting," Carol says. "I like the idea of crocheting with a slightly different application, using four wires instead of just three. And using only glass or crystal beads and mostly natural elements."
Bob is quick to credit his long-time bride with the designer label for all of their work. But Carol demurs. They inspire each other, she says, and simply go about their creative processes differently.
"He designs things, too," Carol says. "We play off each other's ideas. I'm usually the one who draws things up with notes. He's more likely to come up with an idea and just do it."
Carol has been creating art since childhood. Bob was more interested in machinery and tools. The pair met as high school students enrolled in an Illinois Junior Achievement program. When he invited her to a Valentines Day dance, Cupid did a little soldering on their hearts.
"I wasn't particularly excited until I started telling some of my friends who I was going with," she says smiling. "They sounded like they were going to take him away from me. So I decided I'd better take a closer look."
They married in 1966 on Easter Sunday while the former Seabee was on leave. Carol returned to college, living in her sorority house. Bob would serve two tours in Vietnam in a construction battalion.
The veteran with the industrial arts background became a knifemaker upon his return, creating custom hunting and fish-filleting knives, as well as kitchen cutlery.
"That becomes an artistic process," Carol says. "Then we started making jewelry."
Knife shows were their domain. And scrimshaw was the decoration of the day. Carol scratched and scribed the designs for the knife handles and their jewelry.
"To tell you the truth, (my inscribing) was pretty bad at first," she says.
But when others at the shows had a good sales day, it invariably meant a good day for them, too, she says.
"If (the salesmen) would make money, they wanted to take something home to their wives," she says. "That's why we started making the jewelry."
The mid-1970s and early 1980s were full of Renaissance faires. Their two sons, Steve and Bobby, had a grand time making new friends, particularly with the food booth vendors, Bob says.
"They'd come back to the booth with free turkey legs," Carol says, shaking her head.
The Sharp family moved to Medford 21 years ago. Carol says the mix of their jewelry business, Sharp Design Studios, and her interior design firm, Medford Interiors, is a good one.
"I've probably become a lot more contemporary in my tastes," she says. "Not just in my jewelry, but also in my decorating."
The pair make about 500 pieces of jewelry a year, and they teach their crafts in workshops. Carol offers beaded crocheting classes at her store. Bob teaches silversmithing privately at his home studio, and also at the Crater Rock Museum. They both continue their cross-country travels, participating in various art shows.
The recent sale of her favorite $300 crocheted necklace was a bittersweet experience, Carol says.
"I was happy but sad," she says.
Bob's favorite is whatever piece he's working on.
"That's got to be your favorite," he says.
Next month Bob will head to Park County, Indiana for "The Covered Bridge Festival." Pulling from Chicago, St. Louis and as far as Tennessee, the 10-day show will garner 4 million people, he says.
"But they don't all stop at my booth," he adds.
Their favorite show occurred this month in Shady Cove, Bob says.
"I love the River Art Walk," he says. "You're right there by the water, in the shade. What could be better?"
The economy could be better, says his wife. Last year Shady Cove was their best-selling local show. But knowing times are tight, Carol came up with the idea of offering a 30-percent discount this year. They sold 25 pieces, but they were less expensive and discounted, she says.
"And I don't think we'd have made that if we hadn't offered the discount," Carol says.
In order to cut costs, as well as to control design creativity, Bob learned to cut the stone cabochons at the Central Point rock museum. Now the silversmith is the club president, and can make virtually any design he and Carol create. A recent trip to Quartzsite, Ariz., resulted in a haul of both rough and polished stones.
A hunk of turquoise the size of a softball sits on a table alongside thinner slabs of picture, poppy and leopard skin jasper. The large opaque stone offers cool shades of greenish blue. The other stones sport colorful undulating striations, round red blooms and irregular black spots
"I had never seen so many stones in my life," Bob says. "I spent way more than I should have. But I sure had a good time."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail email@example.com.