Tracey Beale has lived in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Germany. Her handmade jewelry has been worn by artists like Floetry, John Legend, LL Cool J and Common. Her designs have even been featured at the Sundance Film Festival.
But, the 44-year-old attributes her artistic spark to the education she received at Bel Air High School in the early 1990s.
"Harford opened the door that I was an artist," she says while sitting at the wooden carpenter's table in her living room workspace. Here, Beale works countless hours shaping metals into ornate pieces for her company, Tracey Beale Jewelry, that range in price from $50 for earrings and a simple necklace to $200 for glass pieces, which she considers “sculptural” in design.
"In art class I was able to give my perspective. My thinking was appreciated," she recalls. "If I hadn't gone to high school in Harford County I don't think I would have discovered my creative potential at that time.”
Beale is among a number of designers — some homegrown, others transplants — shaping Harford’s burgeoning jewelry scene. Many sell their wares at local shops and the outdoor Belle Aire Market during its May through October season, and they say the county has been a welcoming space for their creativity, despite limited resources and slow adoption of trends.
Meet three jewelry makers whose designs are setting the tone locally.
Tracey Beale Jewelry
Tracey Beale now has an affinity for Harford County, but when she moved to Bel Air from Baltimore in the middle of eighth grade, “it was such a culture shock,” she says.
“There wasn't a lot happening out there for a teenager from Baltimore. It was so different. Baltimore is a predominately black city. Harford County is a complete flip-flop. It changed the way I looked at the world.
At Bel Air High School, Beale says her artistic side blossomed, and her teachers encouraged her to apply to art school.
"Going to MICA, I was like, 'There are other cool weirdos here.' It wasn't cool to be weird back then,” she recalls.
After graduating in 1997 and traveling the world as a makeup artist, metalsmith and jewelry designer for more than a decade, Beale moved back to Maryland in 2010 to be closer to family.
Though she lives in Baltimore —she also works as the marketing and events director at The Real News Network — she visits Harford County at least twice a month and uses the basement of her parents’ Churchville home to complete bigger metal wall pieces.
"I like creating in Harford County—especially my larger work as I have more space. It's much more peaceful, and the landscape in Churchville is beautiful," she adds. And her jewelry, which she describes as being influenced by the Egyptian and Byzantine empires, is sold in Bel Air at several boutiques. Beale said she’s worked with the owners of Urban Pearl since 2016.
But overall, the outlets for artists and designers in Harford County trail other areas, she says.
"That's the one thing that Harford is missing," Beale says. "There are a lot of places to eat and shop. But when it comes to art and jewelry, I really don't know where to go."
Soft C Studio
Forest Hill couple Susan and Tim Cukr love the Belle Aire Market.
The two, who have been operating their jewelry company, Soft C Studio, since 2012 have been participating since last year.
"It was easy for a first-timer like me. If you do a really big market it can be pretty strenuous. This wasn't an ordeal. Everyone was so friendly," Susan says.
The Market speaks to the jewelry-making industry in Harford County, according to the couple.
"There are some wonderful places to sell, like Julie Ellyn Designs [in Bel Air], and some good craft shows. And I’m seeing a great community of artists," says Susan, 70, who started making jewelry in the late 1980s after being encouraged by her husband. She specializes in wire wrapping, chain mail and beadwork. Pieces range in price from $20 for a pair of earrings to $180 for a fine silver or gold-filled woven bracelet.
Tim, who specializes in silversmithing and woodwork, describes himself as “more of a mechanic and technician.”
“Sue's a very good designer. She's very good with colors. When you combine the two together it works real well,” he says.
The two, who have been married for 41 years, moved to Harford County from New Orleans in 2007 to work in the IT department at McCormick.They turned their four-bedroom home into their studio space.
Though Susan laments the scarcity of jewelry-making supplies locally (“Sometimes you want to see the stuff in person,” she says), Harford County has been receptive to her work.
"I know there is a market there," she says. "I have a couple who are always buying from me. Sales are always good."
Street native Brandy Everett lived in Colorado and California for 15 years before returning to Harford County in 2013 to care for her mother, Kathy, who was fighting cancer.
“She was my creative partner in crime,” Everett, 43, says. “She was always a craft person. When she was sick, we would do jewelry all day long.”
After her mother died five years ago, Everett decided to stay in Harford County to sell costume and upcycled jewelry, in addition to hand-blended aromatherapy products, through her company, Design9 Imagination.
Everett’s pieces, which range in price from $9 for simple costume jewelry to $200 for agate and amethyst, are sold in shops and at craft fairs throughout the county and region.
“It is a little [bit] of a small-town mentality with stores. I got a following. Sometimes if you live in the big city, you don’t get the following you get in a small town,” she says. “But I also like doing a pop-up show in New York where people don’t know who you are.”
Other than the dearth of bead shops nearby, Everett says one of her biggest challenges as a local designer is waiting for consumer trends to catch up with those on the West Coast.
“A lot of the things five years ago that were popular on West Coast are now popular here,” she says. “I do aromatherapy and jewelry. People think I’m hokey. People are just now getting into that holistic lifestyle.”
But Everett says that Harford County is a maker’s world.
“We don’t have a wholesale mentality here,” she says. “There is love and effort in everything we do.”