Jewels That Dance’s Paula Dawkins on Art and Asheville
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If that holds true, any eyes that are lucky enough to gaze upon the exquisite jewelry of Asheville-based goldsmith and designer Paula Dawkins know they have seen something truly special. Since the ’70s, Dawkins has honed her craft with her signature laser focus and in 1983 her seminal design studio, Jewels That Dance, was born.
Fast-forward thirty-three years; the magical exterior on Haywood Street in bo-ho downtown Asheville is positively enchanting. Patrons are drawn inside to experience a collection of the most stunningly beautiful and uniquely original pieces in the country.
Inside, Dawkins has managed to pull a blend of themes together. Enter to a Zen-like serene trickle of a fountain under the presence of Ganesh (a statue of the Hindu elephant-headed god stands nearby). Spread throughout the shop’s multiple showrooms are individual display cases allowing each piece its own mini-stage upon which to star. Under the shining lights, the sparkles of the gold, silver and platinum, along with a myriad of gems from all over the world, truly create jewels that dance!
A native of Eastern North Carolina, Dawkins migrated farther west after college. She arrived armed with a degree in psychology and an innate ability to create art through blending metal and fire. “I am from a blacksmith background on my mother’s side—genetically I have a gene for fire, the gene for metal,” Dawkins says. In the early seventies, during the burst of the craft movement, Dawkins found her calling—as did Asheville.
“I made $1,000 selling jewelry from my first craft show in 1972 and I never looked back,” Dawkins remembers. As Dawkins honed her craft as a goldsmith and jewelry designer, her attention to detail helped carve her impeccable style. From the clean, simple influences of nature in Asheville Inspired, to the addition of world-renowned jewelers such as Simon G., Todd Reed and Alex Sepkus, Jewels That Dance has earned a reputation for quality, one-of-a-kind pieces that discerning patrons appreciate.
In addition to being a gifted artisan, Dawkins is also a keen observer of the amazing evolution of this sleepy little Southern town. She watched as it transformed over the past decades into a mecca for talented artists.
“It’s exciting to be part of this explosion,” Dawkins admits during a busy Wednesday at Jewels That Dance. She adds philosophically, “It’s both good and bad.” With a typical artist’s sensibility, Dawkins goes on to connect that the very beauty that blesses her financially and inspires work—like her recent collection Asheville Inspired, an homage to the local flora and fauna—the massive popularity and influx will eventually erode the breathtaking natural beauty that inspires the art.
Over the past three decades, Dawkins has helped create more than a high-end jewelry shop or a design studio for her own work. Jewels That Dance has become a collective of talented individuals coming together to do what they do best. “I am a jeweler—others in the store do other things better than I do. My partner Carol Schniedewind manages all aspects of the business. My time is better spent with the hat that fits me the best.”
Jewels That Dance boasts a staff of nine, including Dawkins and Schniedewind, a mix of professionalism and artistic perfectionism with a touch of Southern charm. Perhaps that’s the difference between Jewels That Dance and other high-end fine jewelry establishments: though the quality and craftsmanship are world-class, there is a lack of pretentiousness that is part of what makes Asheville so endearing.
When Dawkins is asked about her future goals, she smiles with a jeweler’s twinkle in her eye and replies, “I’m still waiting to make the perfect piece!” Touché.