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Steve Walker hammering a mokume bracelet circa 1988
Forging mokume at the Gram's plant, Rochambeau Ave, Andover circa 1985.
Sue Walker cuts up a mokume billet in the 1980s.
Christmas 2005 at One Main Street in Andover
Celebrates Silver Anniversary
A quarter century ago Stephen Walker left his job to try his hand at self employment as a craftsman jewelry designer and metalsmith. It was over the Christmas and New Year Holidays in 1983 that the transition of working as an hourly employee for Markusen Metal Studios in Kendall, NY to sole proprietor and aspiring artistic entrepreneur took place. At the time his dream of living the life as a silversmith or handmade jewelry craftsman seemed like the stuff of hippie fantasy.
Walker began working in precious metals more than a decade before, gradually beginning his career in art class at Andover Central School in the early 1970s. After a year tramping around Europe he enrolled in art school at Alfred University. He then transferred to Syracuse University where he earned his BFA degree in Silversmithing and Jewelry design in 1980. At Syracuse he met his wife Susan, who was a marketing and public relations major. After Syracuse the Walkers married and Stephen earned his MFA degree in Metals Arts at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1982. For the next year and a half Stephen worked for wages while he developed his own line of designs and a business plan.
In 1983 a successful sale at the Clothesline Art Festival in Rochester gave Walker the confidence he needed to quit his job and return to Andover to set up his own studio. Workshop space was offered on very friendly terms by Karl Wittie and later by Jim and Greta Gram, local entrepreneurs and community boosters. For several years the Walkers traveled to Arts Festivals around the US to market their “married metal” jewelry and vessels made by combining the colors of silver, brass, copper and bronze.
At first there was very little exposure to a local Allegany County audience, but this changed in 1986 with the creation of the Allegany Artisans Studio Tour. The Studio Tour helped Walker and many other local craftsmen and artists develop hometown appreciation for their art when they had previously relied largely on the sales at events in larger markets, further from home.
In the early 1990s Walker began to concentrate more on the Celtic heritage that had originally inspired him in High School. A Line of wedding rings based on medieval Scottish and Irish art were soon being made in Andover and bought by customers all over the US and Canada by mail order. This was a time of rapid growth when Stephen began to hire multiple employees and advertise nationally in Scottish and Irish cultural magazines as well as in Smithsonian Magazine. In 1992 the Walkers bought the same building at One Main Street where Karl Wittie had rented him a room eight years earlier. The building was used solely as workshop space until 1997 when a permanent storefront sales room was added. This was the same year that Susan Walker quit her position teaching math at Alfred State to work full time as business manager for the growing family company. The showroom also stocks work by jewelers and other Celtic craftsmen and artists from Scotland and Ireland with the Walkers making annual overseas trips for business and research.
The internet greatly changed the dynamic of Walker Metalsmiths as it offered a much more efficient way to reach the niche customers that make up a large portion of Walker’s audience. The Walker’s web page was soon very competitive on the search engines at a tiny fraction of the cost of magazine advertising. The web also put Walker in touch with many other Celtic artists and historical researchers around the world. Articles on Celtic art and culture that Walker originally published on his web page led to a sort of second career. Stephen has been invited to write for several books and periodicals on the topic of Celtic art and has also been invited to present at academic conferences on medieval and Celtic studies in Ireland and Australia. Perhaps the highlight of this adventure was when he was allowed direct access to inspect the famed 8th century A. D. Ardagh Chalice under the microscope at the National Museum of Ireland in January 2008. What he learned from this research will be presented to the Irish Medieval Conference in Limerick in June 2009.
After a lifetime of helping Dad at the shop and at art festivals, Andrew Walker, the oldest of the Walker’s six children, opened his own shop in Rochester in 2007 to help market the family line. In May 2009 the Rochester store relocated to Fairport, NY with Jeanne Walker as manager. The younger children have all showed various levels of interest and have each helped in their own ways, ranging from introducing new designs, helping with sales and crafting the jewelry and even getting involved in web page design.
The Walkers celebrated the silver anniversary of their business with an open house January 2 & 3, 2009. Free Celtic Music CDs were given to each visitor on those days. There was a special contest for whoever could bring in the oldest piece of jewelry that Stephen Walker had made. Many older pieces of jewelry were presented, but only one was older than 25 years. The prize, a $100 gift certificate, was won by Deb Padden, who brought in a pendant that she had bought for $5 from Steve in 1974. At the time she and Steve were both seniors at Andover Central School. The pendant was a Christmas gift for Deb's boyfriend Larry. Deb and Larry have now been happily married for over 30 years.