Erica DelGardo comes from a family of artists but she resisted making the same career choice. "I always said I wasn't going to be a starving artist," DelGardo tells us. "But I guess it was in my blood and I became an artist any way."
DelGardo was born in the Patagonia region of Argentina. At age 18 she moved with her family to the United States and settled in San Antonio. Her mother owned a jewelry store there and when DelGardo was starting college, as a very non-starving-artist international business major, she happened to see a listing for a metalsmithing class. "I thought, maybe that will help me fix stuff for Mom's store so I took the class. That was my first semester; by my second semester, I had more art classes than business classes. Finally, my mom sat me down and said, 'Don't you think you need to switch your [major]?' And that was it."
DelGardo was already selling her work at art fairs around San Antonio when she met her future husband. He lived in Houston, so she moved here and started selling at the monthly art festivals in the Heights area. "Eventually, it made sense to get a permanent place and we got this shop, Erica DelGardo Jewelry Designs, on 19th Street. It's been six years now."
What She Does: "I am a metalsmith," DelGardo says.
Her store is called Erica DelGardo Jewelry Designs, but DelGardo makes the distinction between people who design jewelry and people who produce it. Not that one is better than the other, she's quick to point out. The two are just different.
"A lot of people can design jewelry, but that doesn't mean that they can execute it. They can draw it but that doesn't mean that they can sit down, bend the metal and forge it and solder it to make it into a piece of jewelry. I know people who design jewelry but they have someone else execute the designs. I take a piece from the design to the creation and finishing, all the way up to the time it gets sold in my store."
Why She Likes It: "I enjoy working with the metal. I love working with silver because it's very malleable and it's also inexpensive enough that lots of people can afford it.
"The malleability and conductivity of the metal appeal to me. I love that I can take something completely solid and transform it, bend it and shape it. Most people look at a piece of metal and think, 'Oh, metal is really hard.' But I know that if I heat it up, it's going to be as soft as butter for me to bend. My husband tells me that I need to outsource my work and have somebody else do the production. But for me the thrill is to make the pieces, not just to draw it and hand it to somebody else.
"I get a thrill with every single piece I make. And the best thing about metal is that if you don't like the results you just melt it down and start all over again."
What Inspires Her: "The metal and the stones inspire me. Architecture really interests me; I look at the shapes of buildings and think 'If that was metal [instead of concrete and glass], what could I do with it?' History is also something that inspires me. The fact that I'm doing something that the Greeks and the Romans were doing hundreds of years ago, that's incredible to me."
If Not This, Then What: Early on DelGardo considered a career as an American diplomat. "I love to travel and I love to talk, so I figured that would be the perfect career for me. As an ambassador, I would travel and talk for a living." She was dissuaded when she realized that most posts were open only to native born Americans. As a native of Argentina, she would be ineligible. "I thought, 'Oh, well, there's no point for me to do that if all I'm going to be is a clerk. Either I'm the ambassador or I'm not," she laughs.
If Not Here, Then Where: Asked where else she might like to live or work, DelGardo answers quickly: "Southeast Asia. I lived in Singapore for a year and a half with my husband and daughter. I just loved it. It's a very expensive place to live, so you have to live there with somebody else paying the bills, which we did. I really like the lifestyle and culture of Asian countries, especially [metropolitan] cities like Singapore."
What's Next: "I'm transitioning into fine jewelry and working with gold, especially my custom work. I see that happening."
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DelGardo says she hope to fit more training into her schedule, maybe a few metalsmithing classes in Italy. "I would love to say, 'I'm going to Tuscany for a week to learn chasing and repoussé, I'll be back.' That would be great."
You can find Erica DelGardo Jewelry Designs at 329 W. 19th St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. For information, call 713-802-1977 or visit the store's website.
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