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Heavy metal

Delicate silver balls dangle on the slimmest of chains. A fine pendant seems to be carved, not forged.

But there is heat, strength and sheer force behind these intricate pieces of jewelry. And the artist, like her work, is a study in contrasts. One of her most well-known pieces is the beautiful but prickly necklace she calls “Elegant Defense.” So imagine their surprise when people meet the young and curly-haired Erica Stankwytch Bailey.

Step into her studio and you might find her, hair tucked behind her ears or twisted into a ponytail, bent over an immaculate – and perfectly flat – sheet of sterling silver. Flat for now, that is. A 20-ton hydraulic press sits waiting for Bailey’s next move. An array of tools – hand tools, power tools and unpronounceable tools – is laid out on the counter. A kitchen Crockpot has been drafted into service, not for stews, but as a safe place to strip away layers of oxidation. Bailey’s studio is a cross between laboratory, gallery and workshop where a motorhead might feel at home.

When they were first dating, Bailey once went shopping with her husband Brian. At the checkout counter, other women accepted the clerk’s offer to keep the drinks or chewing gum they had just purchased in their handbags. Bailey asked to put the handful of drill bits she bought into her own purse.

Brian Bailey just looked at her and said later, “That’s when I knew I loved you.”

Erica Stankwytch Bailey is a wife, mother and metalsmith.

She makes jewelry that is tiny and carefully etched in addition to huge pieces that aren’t so much meant to be worn but displayed. She has work, right now, in museums and galleries across the country, not to mention the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She teaches at Fayetteville Technical Community College and mentors others artists who want to market their work on the Internet, a new horizon for many older artists but a natural fit for someone who’s just as comfortable blogging as she is banging out pieces of metal.

Bailey always wanted to be an artist, from the time she was a child growing up in Hope Mills. Her parents were – and still are – artistic, too. Bailey’s father, Mike Stankwytch, played bass for a popular local rock band called Badge. Her mother owns The Chopping Block, a hair salon on Owen Drive. In high school, Bailey earned a place at the prestigious North Carolina School for the Arts and, honestly, never expected to look back.

To her surprise, Fayetteville turned out to be the perfect place for her three passions: family, art and teaching. She and her husband have parents and both sets of grandparents here, a built-in support network for raising their toddler boys, Luke and Elijah. Bailey is a member of the board of directors at Cape Fear Studios, where her FTCC students held a show this summer. She also leads workshops at the Fayetteville Museum of Art.

“There is great community here,” Bailey says. “I don’t know if things have changed or I’ve changed, but there’s a lot going on in Fayetteville.

“A lot of the success that I’ve had is because I’m home.”

Her husband Brian built a studio behind their Haymount home. Between teaching, making art and raising two small children, she travels to shows around the country. She has been invited to participate in an American Craft Council show and was featured in Metalsmith Magazine.

And here lately, she’s been thinking even bigger (literally) and is contemplating creating pieces that might resemble something closer to sculpture than jewelry.

Metal, you see, is all in the making.

Ever since she discovered metal during art school East Carolina University, there was something about it. What seemed cold, unyielding and inflexible at first touch turned out to be just the opposite: malleable, warm, even intimate. In her hands, flat metal became a pair of earrings, a bracelet or necklace someone might wear year in year out. And that’s what captured her imagination: “To create what people wear and then take with them through all their lives,” especially women.

Look closely, and you might discover there is more to Bailey’s bracelets, necklaces and earrings than surface beauty. One of her pieces is a beautiful necklace of airy silvery knots. It looks whispery and light but is actually quite heavy, a sly comment on the conflicting expectations placed on women.

And then sometimes, a broach is just a broach. But even then, there’s no telling what inspired it, the swirls of a broken shell discarded on the beach or a branch from her backyard magnolia.

“I actually want you to feel that,” Bailey says. “It’s still, for me, about flow and pattern and texture.”