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I met Vanessa Waltz a little over 3 years ago at a winter press conference for The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ). It was well below freezing and the team and I were practically blue after hours in the shadowy entrance of the New Jersey Statehouse. Vanessa walked up wearing nothing more than a light jacket with corduroy pants and a beautiful sign that said: “I’m a patient, not a criminal.” I’d never seen her before and it turned out she was back in New Jersey because she was being treated for breast cancer and at the same time was home to help her family cope with her father’s brain cancer. I asked her if she was cold and she said that chemo was affecting her ability to modulate her temperature. I complimented her on her sign and since that day we became close friends, like family really, and she’s become a board member for CMMNJ and Managing Editor of Ladybud Magazine.
Vanessa Waltz is not only a great activist, writer and editor — she is also an incredibly talented silversmith. After several months of nudging, my modest friend Vanessa finally agreed to grant me an interview about her art. You can also find her store SILVERKIND on Etsy.com.
Diane Fornbacher: How long have you been designing and creating jewelry?
Vanessa Waltz: Since I can remember, I’ve wanted to learn how to make silver jewelry and set stones. But I was always too busy with other things. In 2011, I was diagnosed with cancer and got so sick that I realized my farm management and horse training job wasn’t an option for me any more. I started taking silversmithing classes, and it developed from there into a new career for me.
DF: What are you favorite materials?
VW: I totally dig vintage style and all kinds of kitsch…I like browsing through antique malls, flea markets, and even eBay to find old ephemera of all kinds and make it into something new and different. I collect tin tobacco tags, which were manufactured in the US from the late 1800s through about 1930, and I use them in a lot of designs. I also love old vintage pins and buttons, and I re-set those in sterling or copper. There’s some great anti-prohibition stuff out there from the 30’s, as well as great hippie pins from the 1960’s. One of my favorite designs is a medical cannabis necklace I make using original Red Cross pins from the early 1900s.
DF: You have another shop online that offers themed jewelry as well. Can you tell us a little more about them?
VW: Ristra Ranch is really my main business, where I make and sell western and horse-themed jewelry. I retail through Etsy, and I also sell that line through stores in Texas, California, and Colorado, as well as online and in Santa Fe, where I live. I’m looking forward to getting Silverkind jewelry into retail stores as well.
DF: What is your artistic inspiration for Silverkind?
VW: Living in New Mexico, I am surrounded by amazing art, jewelry, and culture. I get a lot of inspiration from Native American jewelry design as well as the Catholic imagery that’s a big part of the local Latino culture. I’ve always been fascinated with the Sacred Heart of Mary – the flaming heart icon, it’s so beautiful. I may or may not have been enjoying cannabis when it occurred to me that the flame on a sacred heart looked a little like a pot leaf, and it got me thinking…Yup, I could make a similar design with a pot leaf – and instead of the Sacred Heart of Mary, it would be the Sacred Heart of Mary Jane™, which has become my signature design. I believe that cannabis is a sacrament, and the religious overtones in many of my pieces reflects that.
DF: Do you wear your cannabis jewelry often? How do people react to it?
VW: Lately, I’ve been wearing my Lepidolite and cannabis necklace every day. It’s very subtle, but many folks do notice the cannabis leaves. The reactions are often amusing…People will say, “is that what I think it is?” It usually leads to a great conversation – cannabis jewelry is an awesome conversation starter, for sure.
DF: Where do you create these wonderful pieces of art?
VW: I have a little studio in my house in Lamy, New Mexico, just outside of Santa Fe. It’s absolutely crammed with things I’ve collected over the years that I’ll make into jewelry someday. My studio is my happy place.
DF: What are your favorite ways to get into a creative headspace?
VW: I always listen to music in the studio – it helps me get motivated and keeps me happy. I don’t smoke pot when I’m working in the studio, but I’ve definitely come up with some great design ideas while under the influence of some nice, mellow Kush.
DF: You are a cannabis activist who has spoken at rallies in favor of medical marijuana in New Jersey and Smokedown Prohibition in Philadelphia as well as given testimony. What influenced to become involved with cannabis policy reform?
VW: I became a “silent supporter,” sending money to NORML and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) for the first time when I was a teenager, and I often talked about reform with friends over the years. It wasn’t until I got cancer myself that I thought about actually becoming active in the reform movement. But what really motivated me to become involved was my Dad’s terminal illness, Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) brain cancer. When I learned that studies showed cannabis could be an effective treatment for GBM, I got really angry that this treatment wasn’t available for terminally ill patients – and my activism grew from that frustration. Donating 10% of my Silverkind sales to reform efforts is a small way of giving back to organizations that are fighting for my rights as a patient and for all of our freedom.