NEW YORK, NY – The Women's Jewelry Association has awarded its 2016 Female Veteran Grant to Tara Hutchinson of Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry, San Antonio, TX. Each year, the merit-based grant, which is offered in partnership with Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company, goes to a deserving U.S. military veteran to use toward her professional growth within the jewelry and/or watch industries. The grant was established to lend support to women veterans who continue to serve their communities through their work in jewelry.
Hutchinson, who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, served a 10-year tour in the U.S. Army as a military police officer, retiring as a Sergeant First Class. While deployed in Iraq in 2006, an explosive device severed her right leg, causing a significant blood loss that left her with severe limb movement disorder, third-degree burns, permanent back injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite suffering from severe depression, the veteran decided to make jewelry after an occupational therapist suggested trying a hobby that might help her gain back some control in her hands.
At first, Hutchinson's dexterity was so compromised that stringing a large wooden bead onto a leather cord was almost insurmountable. "Nonetheless, I've never been one to give up, and a stubborn need to succeed demanded I keep moving until I mastered this task," she says. "This achievement ignited a spark for jewelry creation, and practically in a frenzy, I began teaching myself everything I could about the craft. I gradually built a library of materials and techniques, and eventually my garage turned into a fully furnished jeweler's studio. I began practicing all day, every day, and shockingly, within a year, my movement disorder had almost vanished." Today, she uses many techniques, including forging, soldering, stone setting, chasing, fusing and patinas.
Hutchinson sells her jewelry through her website and social media, as well as at juried shows, both local and national. She specializes in two finger rings, open-top rings and jewelry that incorporates organic shapes. The jeweler also creates jewelry that caters to women with swollen knuckles, or who have difficulty opening and closing clasps. "I am inspired by natural gemstones and those with a rough finish. I feel they are a good representation of myself, and what I want women to think about when they wear my work: rough around the edges and certainly not perfect, but still bearing something beautiful to give to the world."
Hutchinson plans to use her grant to create custom packaging and displays. She is expanding her business into the wholesale market, and one of her enduring aspirations is to be featured in Sundance Catalog. Other goals include opening a new climate-controlled location with more space that would allow her the option to teach. A much shorter-term goal is simply the need for an air conditioner in her present studio, located in high-temperature San Antonio. The jeweler also aspires to use a portion of the sales of her jewelry to give back to charities that help others who have suffered and survived like her. Since her injury, she has skied, sailed, white water rafted, kayaked and completed two-hand cycle marathons.
"This business has truly given me the phoenix rising that helped me rediscover the 'old' Tara's self-esteem and confidence," says Hutchinson. Her aim, she adds, is to help women with similar issues to become independent and self-reliant. "As each piece is created, I purposefully breathe this ethos into it, along with a pinch of courage, force of character and self- confidence. I truly thrive on giving back the beauty the world has shown me and reaching out to the people who have been in dark places like myself. I want to prove to them it's possible to move on after a devastating injury and that believing in yourself will never fail you."
The WJA Female Veteran Grant is administered by the WJA Foundation, a 501(c)3 corporation. Applications were reviewed and the winner selected by WJA Foundation Veteran Grant Chair Isabel Cajulis, retailer account manager, JCK Tucson and JCK Las Vegas shows; Sheri Ihde, manager of industry relations and trade shows for Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company; and WJA Foundation President Lisa Slovis Mandel, owner of Lisa Slovis Metalsmithing.
To raise funds for next year's WJA grants and scholarships, WJA is hosting its annual Awards for Excellence gala, on Monday, July 25 at a new location: the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, 311 W 34th St., New York, NY. In 2015, the event raised $60,000 for WJA grants and scholarships. A raffle will again be mounted in 2016 to raise additional funds for these awards, which invest in the future of the jewelry industry.
At the annual gala, WJA will also present three honorees with awards: Sissy Jones, owner of Sissy's Log Cabin will receive the WJA Lifetime Achievement Award; Peter Engel, president of Fred Meyer Jewelers, will receive the Ben Kaiser Award; and Ben Bridge will receive the Corporate Award.
In addition, WJA will bestow Awards for Excellence in 10 categories including Design; Manufacturer/Dealer/Supplier; Retail – 15 Doors or More; Retail – Fewer Than 15 Doors; Retail – Non-Traditional; Sales and Merchandising; Marketing & Communications; Editorial Media; Special Services; and Watches. Once again, the nominees for these awards will only discover if they won on the evening of the gala.
To purchase sponsorships or tickets for the Gala visit www.womensjewelryassociation.com/awardsforexcellence.
For more information about WJA member grant opportunities, visit www.womensjewelryassociation.com/grantscholarship.