23 Apr OMG Florence opens doors on: Sara Amrhein
OMGF: Florence is a long way from California. How did you get here and were there any stops in between?
Sara Amrhein: Yes, Florence is indeed a long way from California! 17 years ago I came on a study abroad program through my university. I’ve always studied art in one form or another and I loved the idea of being able to study art and history up close in a city like Florence. The year before the program two friends and I took a two month backpacking trip around Europe during our summer break, I never lived anywhere else but I had definitely explored Europe and knew I loved it and wanted to come back as soon as possible, when the study abroad program came up I jumped right on the opportunity.
OMGF: What made you choose Florence? What made you stay?
Sara Amrhein: Well it turns out the story isn’t quite so simple. When I arrived for the study abroad program and began exploring Florence in depth I loved it immediately and just felt comfortable here, like I was home. After the program ended I returned home to finish school and then I decided to come back and give Florence a real try not as a student but to live. Things fell into place almost immediately and I stayed for almost four years. After a while though, I felt like something was missing which was a real contemporary artists community. As much as I love and appreciate the art and history, as a non-traditional artist something felt stagnate about my position here. I decided to return to LA where I enrolled in a second degree program in Contemporary Art Theory and Practice. I was still returning to Florence every chance I could get during those two years and after completing that program I realized how much I missed living here and that’s when I decided to return and this time stay.
OMGF: What made you choose Polymer Clay as your medium?
Sara Amrhein: After returning to Florence I lived in a very small studio apartment with my husband and our cat Michelangelo. I had just come from a decent sized studio space at the school I attended and I really needed to keep working but there certainly wasn’t any space to do that. I was creating small drawings at the time but the work I had been doing was collage and installation so I began searching around to try and figure out how I could continue this on a smaller scale and that’s when I discovered polymer clay. I tried several versions and different types before I found the one that I liked best. I love what I am able to do with it, it is exactly the kind of material I need to realize the ideas that have. It’s also a quite accessible material and unlike ceramic it doesn’t require high temperatures or expensive kilns, it’s also much lighter weight and less breakable, so it is really quite perfect for my needs.
OMGF: From BFA to a workshop in Sant’Ambrogio and Via dello Sprone, as an artist and artisan. Tell us a little about these two roles and how you came into jewelry.
Sara Amrhein: Hmmm, this answer is a little long… I really consider myself to be an artist first and foremost. I come from a fine art education not a jewelry education but art, craft, fashion, and making things by hand has always been part of my life. My mother is incredibly creative and has always encouraged me and supplied me with materials to create. I grew up watching her do everything from making incredible cakes, to wrapping the kind of gifts you don’t even want to open because they are works of art themselves, it’s always been in my life. She and my aunt are also very fashionable women, they’ve always had (and still do) extensive accessory collections, I grew up with an intrinsic understanding of the importance of details and what a difference they can make. Art and jewelry have been two constants in my life for as long as I can remember. The progression happened naturally and gradually and before I knew it my collage paintings and installations became jewelry. After working in that tiny studio apartment for a while, I was finally able to convince my husband and his brothers to let me use a room in their construction warehouse/office as a studio. A couple of years later they closed the business but we kept the space and the work began on Via di Mezzo (Sant’Ambrogio) slowly, very slowly, we were able to turn it into my first real studio with more space then I could have ever imagined. It was glorious. I love the space but the foot traffic isn’t ideal for selling jewelry. In August of last year I was introduced to Tiziana Salvi who has a shop in Via dello Sprone 9r, she was looking for someone to share the space with and I was looking for a location on the Oltrarno it was perfect timing and I couldn’t be happier with the decision to move. My work space is smaller but it’s definitely worth it.
OMGF: Is Florence an easy place to be a creative running a business?
Sara Amrhein: No, it’s definitely not easy. It’s really confusing actually and the taxes are really high for a small independent designer. Italy in general really could use some improving in this area especially since it’s such an important part of the culture to have independent artists and designers and make sure we are able to prosper and succeed. For me finding a shared space was really the only option if I wanted to move to a better location. Anything else on my own in the same area was really out of reach. Without getting too political about it, I think that’s a big administrative mistake on the part of the Italian government. Easy is probably the last word I would use to describe it!
OMGF: You have now been selling your work for 10 years. How do you do it? Does an artist and artisan like you rely on technology?
Sara Amrhein: I think it’s really different for everyone. I know some artists and designers who do really well online and through the use of technology, however, for me it’s never really been a big selling tool. I do much better in person. I think people like to touch and feel and try my work. Polymer clay is still a relatively new material and many people are not sure what it is. They think it must be really heavy since some of the pieces are big but they are surprised when they pick it up and realize how light it is. Prior to moving into the Via dello Sprone store I worked mostly doing shows, fairs, and markets. This is the reason why it was so important for me to move to a better location. I use technology and social media for fun but I know it’s not really going to bring me much business. Creative People in Florence has payed a huge role in the progression of my practice and the development of my business. Having a network of others artists and designers to help spread the word, share ideas, and talk about and recommend upcoming shows has been invaluable to me. It’s because of CPiF that I am in my current location. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people with the same goals is incredibly powerful has opened many doors for me. I don’t believe I would be where I am without that community. Essentially yes, that comes from the use of technology but not as a direct source of income but rather the technology is used to get people together in a real way.
OMGF: What do you see for the future? Where do you see Florence in the future?
Sara Amrhein: For the future of my brand, well I hope to continue growing and developing and I hope to be able to help give the public a better understanding of my material and all of its possibilities. I would like to expand into other accessories as well and already have some ideas in the works. For Florence, I’m really excited about what’s happening in the city right now. There has been a big change from 17 years ago when I first got here. That stagnate feeling has since gone and I see so many new and innovative things happening. New artists and designers, new artisan workshops are popping up all over the city and the Oltrarno is really undergoing a resurgence. The city has also become much more international than it was before. It’s exciting and fascinating to me to see different cultures form literally all over the world converge on a historic city like Florence and see how each one interprets it and how they respond and are inspired by it and what they then do with the inspiration. And I don’t mean the tourists, I mean the community that comes to live here. What I originally felt was missing is now beginning to take shape and I think it’s a really wonderful thing. So, I see the future of Florence as being extremely bright and innovative.
OMGF: Thank you so much for letting us open a door on your world. We are sure that this will be the beginning of a great journey together with a lot of inspiring projects!