Arts Fashion Lifestyle

Feature Artist: Melinda Lawton

Jewelry by Melinda Lawton. Photo by Helen Joy George

By Gina Malone

Melinda Lawton’s father once likened her becoming an art major to trying to make a living weaving baskets. But when, after three years of majoring in broadcasting at the University of Florida, Lawton decided to take two art classes and aced them, she took every art class she could, graduating with a BA in graphic design, and subsequently finding her way to successful careers in the arts.

Her knowledge of a brand-new (in 1982) computer graphics workstation, the Quantel Paintbox, gave her a decided edge. “It cost $500,000, and I was one of 12 people who knew how to use it,” Lawton says. “It was because of this that I was hired as art director of WABC-TV in New York City at the age of 27.” She went on to work in Los Angeles creating main titles and animated openings for films and television shows. In the course of her career, she earned two national Emmy Award nominations for work in Main Title Design for film and television and also served on the Board of Governors of the Television Academy, in Title Design and Special Visual Effects.

(From left) Signature Ring of Diamonds in 14K Gold; Carved Mother of Pearl and Pave Topaz earrings; and Indicolite Tourmaline, Diamonds and 14K Gold. Melinda Lawton, artist

These days, however, she has traded the glitz and glamor of the entertainment industry for a different kind of brilliance. “As a designer for film and television for almost 30 years, I have always seen the world in color, texture, form and movement,” Lawton says. “This background was perfect as I transitioned into jewelry design.”

Twelve years ago she left Los Angeles for Hendersonville, where she opened Sweet Magnolia Gallery, the flagship studio/store of Melinda Lawton Jewelry, established in 2003. Although her father’s career as an Air Force test pilot had taken her family all over the world while she was growing up, she felt home again.

“I’m a southern girl at heart,” Lawton says. “My ancestors were from the Lowcountry near Charleston.”

Carrie Underwood wearing Italian Red Branch Coral Earrings by Melinda Lawton. Photo by S. Buckley

She had begun making jewelry out of gemstones for herself, but quickly realized it could be another creative outlet for her. “My jewelry is one of a kind, handmade with precious and semi-precious stones and metals,” she says, “worn by Carrie Underwood when she won American Idol and featured in many national magazines including InStyle, Lucky and Modern Bride.”

Designing jewelry for Underwood was a turning point for her business. “I was invited to bring my jewelry to the set of American Idol, the last three weeks of the season,” Lawton says. “They had a roomful of designer jewelry that the girls could choose from. If they picked your jewelry and wore it on camera, they got to keep the jewelry, but you got the rights to use the images of them wearing it. Once my jewelry arrived, Carrie Underwood started wearing my jewelry for every performance. She would meet me as I walked off the elevator at CBS Television Center so she could get first pick of the new jewelry I brought each week. On her last performance, she walked out in a coral-colored dress and I knew my coral earrings were in the latest box I had dropped off. I knew she would be wearing my earrings and that she would win—and she did!”

A customer recently told Lawton wearing her jewelry helps create a feeling of bravery when it’s needed. “The creation of these treasures is truly my life’s passion,” Lawton says. “My goal is to empower women—one at a time!”

Magic Necklace of multi gemstones. Melinda Lawton, artist

Lawton generally creates fine jewelry every day in her studio, often going back to her graphic arts roots to design her work on the computer. “The gemstones I work with are my greatest inspiration,” she says. “The energy they give off is amazing.” Her style is influenced by antique and vintage jewelry, notably that from the Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian periods.

During the pandemic shutdowns, with her studio and gallery closed, she continued making jewelry, designing a line of vintage-inspired rings to her collections.

“Now this is an integral part of my work, and I have been having so much fun designing these rings,” she says. She found the demand for jewelry high once she was able to open her studio again. “People were definitely looking to treat themselves and those they loved,” Lawton says.

Find Melinda Lawton Jewelry at Sweet Magnolia Gallery, located at 1406 Greenville Highway, Hendersonville. Hours beginning February 8, are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Learn more at or on Instagram @melindalawtonjewelry and Facebook at Sweet Magnolia Gallery and Melinda Lawton Jewelry.

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