At Gulfport’s Tuesday Fresh Market, I got a chance to meet a fabulous jeweler, Misti Bernard. She was busy stringing pink pearls with crystal beads to fill an empty space on her display.
She started Sea Song Designs a year ago to add extra income to her full time job as a musician and vocalist. She has been touring since 1990, after spending a semester at the University of San Francisco.
Misti has been traveling across the United States performing jazz, celtic and blues music in seven different languages. “Professional musician is sort of my day job or ‘real’ job,” said Misti.
However, she has been making jewelry since the late 80s. Her work had only been given as presents or giveaways. Occasionally a piece was commissioned, but very rarely.
Misti’s favorite gift she’s ever made was for her mother, whom she says is the biggest collector of her jewelry. This necklace was cream colored pearls and a large rough cut emerald as the center piece. “That one was painful to give up,” said Misti, “But my mother gets many compliments from it.”
Last year, her friends convinced her to sell some of her pieces at the morning market. As a vendor there, she has been able to purchase a home in the Marina District of Gulfport.“It is such a cool and relaxed vibe over here,” said Misti.
As shoppers trickled in and out of her tent, Misti with her sandy blonde hair swept to one side by a large red flower and sun-kissed skin, was finishing up a “Golden Snitch,” that opened to hold a small trinket. “In honor of Harry Potter!” she said.
“Hello darling,” Misti gestured to a woman fingering at the strings of pale pearls. Laura Poretti, wearing a large pink sun-hat, is visiting from Canada and hoping to purchase a home in Gulfport. After nearly half an hour trying on different sets, taking pictures and discussing local real estate with Misti, Laura couldn’t walk away without getting “at least one thing.”
“I do some really funky work. I take Grandma’s pearls and really fun pieces and make them all new,” said Misti.
Misti uses only good quality silver and real pearls to make her jewelry; she hunts thrift stores in St. Petersburg for unique, vintage accents. “I’ll maybe find one section in a piece and think ‘now that I can use.’ Whatever is the most out-there and funky, I want,” said Misti.
She also works with copper, silks and old pocket watches. Currently, Misti has a line of pocket watches that emphasize the working mechanisms as the art. She also uses bottle caps and scrabble pieces as focal points of her jewelry.
“I was fortunate enough to refund the initial investment for my business by doing the Renaissance festival in Kansas City, as well as turn a small profit,” said Misti. Her solo business has been smooth sailing ever since.
“If I had one piece of advice to give to someone attempting jewelry making, or anything creative really, it would be to experiment wildly and don’t be afraid to mess up. The best and most creative innovations often come from some royal screw-up that you are trying to salvage!” said Misti.
Misti has a small presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and Etsy.com, but says her business hasn’t suffered from it. “It’s really all about word of mouth. I have fabulous customers and friends in the area that like to wear my stuff,” said Misti.
“My jewelry is quirky enough that it’s really a specific personality type. I can often see them coming; the people that are going to stop in and love something,” said Misti.