By Gina Malone
Deb Karash, an Illinois native, fell in love with Western North Carolina’s beauty and mild climate when she took a teaching job at Penland School of Craft. “As I left Illinois in March, the ground was covered in frozen snow and ice,” she says. “I arrived at Penland to beautiful spring weather. My love of the area started right then, though I did take a bit of time to get used to the mountain roads, and eventually I had to admit that my 3” heels were not going to get much wear here.” She moved to Marshall when she was 52, found space at Marshall High Studios and, a few years later, moved to Bakersville with her partner David Trophia, co-owner at the time of Crimson Laurel Gallery. Today they live in Asheville, where Karash creates and sells the jewelry that was a later-in-life creative discovery for her. “I was 30 when I went to art school,” she says, “and 40 before I began making jewelry full-time.”
Craft, however, was in her blood. “My grandfather was a tool and die maker and both of my parents were engaged in making,” she says. “My dad was a gunsmith and built model airplanes, and my mother sewed, knitted and crocheted.”
Until she began creating, Karash worked in retail. “I love fashion and I did retail display work for many years prior to becoming a full-time artist,” she says. The decisive moment for her came when the company she worked for asked that she work full-time for them, or not at all.
“I chose ‘not at all’ and have been a full-time artist ever since,” she says. She supplements her jewelry making by educating others. “My teaching takes me all over the country and I’ve had the privilege of teaching in Australia, England, Mexico and Canada,” Karash says. She sells her own work online and through regional galleries, including The Lucy Clark Gallery & Studio, in Brevard, and at Ignite Jewelry Studio and Marquee, both in the River Arts District. In March and April, Marquee will exhibit her new mixed media wall pieces, a combination of acrylic painting with removable jewelry components, in a show titled Beyond the Body.
Along the way in making jewelry, she has invented helpful tools for jewelers. “I think my tool-and-die grandfather would have been pretty excited about that,” she says. Sales of these tools helped with income during COVID shutdowns when she was figuring out how to resume teaching by offering online classes.
Innovativeness has helped her hone her technique as well. “I developed a process for drawing on metal with colored pencils and that is how I get the color in my jewelry,” Karash says. “Color, texture and pattern are all essential elements in my work. My imagery ranges from geometric to botanical with a bit of sci-fi from time to time. I’ve even done some steampunk pieces, which was really fun.” She uses mainly silver and copper in her work, and often finds herself inspired by colorful and textural fiber. Recently, she began creating painted backgrounds for her jewelry so that it can be displayed on the wall.
“Deb’s work is fluid and vibrant, with her exceptional skill and mastery of metalsmithing shining through every piece she creates,” says Lucy Clark, artist and owner of The Lucy Clark Gallery & Studio. “The refinement of her work can be seen throughout each finished edge and detail. It’s a delight to be able to represent her in the gallery.”
Her jewelry career, Karash says, has guided every aspect of her life. “I’m fortunate to share my life with my partner David, who is also very creative, and we enjoy designing for our home, visiting museums and galleries, searching out interesting architecture and traveling as much as possible,” she says. Meanwhile, she is always thinking about her work—present and future. “I keep a sketchbook with me most of the time,” she says. “If I can’t be making jewelry, such as when I’m vacationing, then I usually have some embroidery to work on. I need to be doing something creative most of the time or I get a little twitchy. I’m trying to make some time to work on becoming a better painter and so have been taking some painting lessons when I can.”
Learn more about Deb Karash Jewelry at DebKarash.com, and find on Instagram @DrawingonMetal and on Facebook at Deb Karash Jewelry. Contact the artist via email at dkjewelry@DebKarash.com. Among the regional galleries representing Karash’s work is The Lucy Clark Gallery & Studio, in Brevard. Karash will teach several workshops in and around Asheville this year. Check DebKarash.com/workshop for details.