My mother and I during my graduate thesis exhibition
Photo: Erin Younge

CRAFTHAUS: Where did you grow up? What’s your background?

DANIELLE: I was born in Delaware and grew up in a little town right in the middle of the state. Baltimore is really close, DC and New York are close. My dad worked a blue collar factory job at a Delaware Chemical Plant. They make bleach for Clorox. He knows a lot about bleach [laughing]. My mother worked at a newspaper called the News Journal. I remember going into the back room where the newspapers were printed and watching them slide down all the way to the floor. Like in the game “Shoots and Ladders.” Then workers came in and put the papers on trucks for delivery. My mom would let me hang out with her while she was getting her work finished. It was a great environment to be in. It was really cool.

CRAFTHAUS: Neither of your parents is involved in art, craft or design. Where does your interest come from?

DANIELLE: My dad is an artist of sorts. Not in the academic sense, but he was always into building stuff and making things himself. I remember him building his own canoe once and we would go to a little swamp close-by and collect native American artifacts. We picked up pottery, airheads, old bullet cases and milk jugs. Just weird things that would wash up on the shore. I learned about making things from him. There was always something happening around the house, and I had a certain natural curiosity about how stuff works. My dad was always willing to explain things to me in a way that I could understand, even as a little kid.

"Chocowinity NC Brooch" - Copper, brass, powder coat, champlevé enamel, led lights.
Photos: Danielle James.

CRAFTHAUS: How did you get your start in metals? 

DANIELLE: When I was in High School we had ceramics and painting classes but no metals. It wasn’t exactly a super exciting art department, but my art teacher was great, passionate and understanding. If I had issues in school, which I always had, I could go to the art studio whenever I wanted.

Studio theater also took a lot of my time, especially technical theater. I stayed after school for hours and painted finishes on canvasses to make them look like a wooden bar for example. I loved making the sceneries for our High School theater. I continued to do that later in college too and then, eventually, for a professional theater. I created theater backdrops for about 10 years total, which was great because I learned how to build something well. Some of the props we built needed to be sturdy and safe enough for people to walk on. It was important nobody would get hurt.

The metals aspect didn’t actually happen until I was half-way through my undergrad time, during my art education degree. My parents, as supportive as they were of my art work in general, had suggested I go into art education rather than fine art, and I did. The bad part was that I didn’t like my art ed professor very much, and I didn’t like the classes I was taking. It felt like I was in scrapbooking school and I was paying way too much money for it.

Lucky for me, at the time, Christina Miller from Ethical Metalsmiths taught in the metals department and suggested I take a class with her. I took her class, it was very hard and I failed. It was awful, Christina made me cry [laughing]. I never had as rough a time in art ed as I had in her metals class.

At ECU. Saw, file, solder.

I guess I was kind of a lazy kid when I started in the metals department and Christina told me I should probably NOT be taking Metals II - which was, in retrospect, the absolute best thing she could have done for me, because I actually liked metals and was, like, f*** **u! Now I’m gonna take ALL these classes! I am a bit of a contrarian, I guess.

I ended up switching my major to jewelry/metals a year after that, but I was still doing theater props at the same time. I had to do a lot of juggling with my time. And I started selling some of my work. That’s really when I tasted blood and realized I could probably make a living out of this metal thing. I wasn’t getting anywhere close to that kind of positive attention from any of the painting I was doing in art ed. This was different, a new experience for me and I kind of really got off on that. All of a sudden, people were excited about what I was making, it was like a drug and I got addicted.

Next post: Danielle James - (2) Undergrad & Mustaches

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Replies to This Discussion

Making art (making metal objects/making jewelry specifically) starts your/my body making endorphins.Wooohooo, it's such a high, with no downside and legal! It IS an addiction and a most beloved one for me. 40 years and counting and still loving making my stuff. Danielle, you are so lucky to have found your 'addiction' so early. You GO, Girl!


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