The Winchester Family Business‘ “Inspired by Supernatural” article series showcases the amazing talent within the SPNFamily. The painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, quilters, artists and creators of unique craftwork we have interviewed enrich the fandom with their beautiful expressions of love and admiration for Supernatural and its cast. Through these interviews, we hope to spread the joy that is evident in their art, expand your knowledge of the vast diversity of the Supernatural fandom, and promote the work of these independent entrepreneurs.
Today I am thrilled to share with you the multi-talented Tedra Ashley-W. Part 1 of our interview presented Tedra’s amazing leather bound blank books, made with Supernatural themes and sold under the name Fine Blank Books. In part 2, we’re highlighting Tedra’s beautiful, custom made jewelry. Enjoy hearing her stories and seeing her homages to Supernatural, its producers and its cast!
Inspired by Supernatural: Custom Jewelry by Red Ember Forge
What got you interested in making jewelry? How did you learn the craft? Have you ever done anything like this before?
I took one metalsmithing class as an undergraduate in college to fulfill one of my many art degree requirements way back in the early 1990’s and I loved it, but never had time to take more classes…until I found myself at an emotional low point in life in the early 2000’s. At that time, I felt the need to find something to do that I could enjoy, something I could focus on to give my brain a rest from the stressful parts of my life. I remembered how much I had enjoyed metalsmithing. I found a night class at my local community college and took it, then I kept taking it, over and over for six years. Six years of night classes allowed me to learn a variety of metalsmithing techniques as well as which techniques I most enjoyed and which techniques I never wanted to try again.
I had a wonderful instructor who encouraged every interest I had and helped me realize every sketch I wanted to bring to life. He allowed me the freedom to explore and find out what I really loved to do in metal. When he retired from teaching around 2010, I stopped taking classes and decided to set up a jewelry studio in my home. I slowly gathered the necessary equipment and materials over the next three years until I had everything I needed. I started creating cold-forged (“forged” meaning “shaped with a hammer”) silver jewelry. “Cold forged” means that, unlike what blacksmiths do that you see on shows like Forged in Fire, the metal is NOT hammered when red-hot. I heat silver repeatedly to anneal or “soften” it between shaping, but the shaping done with a hammer is done when the metal is cold.
I decided I like to make jewelry that is made through an additive process, where I make all the parts and solder them together to build a piece (Additive as opposed to subtractive, where one might carve away wax to create a mold for cast metal pieces. Carving wax is not my forte).
I created basic designs at first, then more complex ones. I started selling at pop-up holiday art events in the homes of other local artists, then at a local farmer’s markets sharing a booth with another artist/friend for a couple years and through the Etsy store I set up. Fast-forward to now when my jewelry has been accepted into some of the larger, juried art shows in the area under the name “Red Ember Forge” jewelry.
I hired a designer to design my logo – Rachel Sinclair – someone whose work I first saw because she had done some Supernatural-themed pieces that I loved. She did a perfect blend of a vaguely automotive, vintage look for me.
“Red Ember Forge” was the name I picked because when you anneal metal before shaping it, you have to heat silver to a “dull cherry red” which, to me, glows like an ember.
What gave you the idea to start making Supernatural jewelry?
When I fell in love with Supernatural, it started to permeate everything I made. I saw Supernatural everywhere. My love for the show started to translate into jewelry designs that didn’t directly reference Supernatural, but were inspired by it. I made things like “road” cuffs (cuff bracelets made to look like a highway with a passing lane) and “protective” symbols (naja designs for evil eye protection and “sigils” made to encourage a specific personal goal). I also made “motel” pendants inspired by Jerry Wanek’s Supernatural motel room designs with shapes that vaguely referenced the mid-century modern style of motel signs used on the show.
Ultimately, my love for the Impala and other classic cars led me to incorporate vintage auto body steel and fordite into my jewelry (Fordite is a “stone” made up of hundreds of layers of car paint chipped from the paint booths in old auto plants and shaped into something that looks almost like an agate gemstone with swirling layers). My jewelry work has evolved into a style that is equal parts rugged hammered surfaces, vintage shapes, road trip themes, automotive influences, and amulet-inspired symbols.
Impala “road” cuff with black (chemically oxidized), rough-textured silver “road” surface with passing lane (the wearer’s skin shows through the cutouts to be the light passing lane dotted line), ’67 Impala cornering light “cage” trim in the center, vintage road sign terminals at the ends, and “secret” message stamped inside.
Here you can see the height of the cornering light cage design, made from triangular silver wire cut and shaped and soldered together.
One of the terminals with a retro sign design. Once side says “motel”, the other side looks just like this but says “diner”. The inside is stamped with the words “It’s the blemishes that make her beautiful” which is a quote I just love as it can apply to the Winchester Impala, to people, and to my jewelry where I always leave blemishes and hammer marks to make sure it looks unmistakably handcrafted.
The cornering lights are my favorite part of the Impala. Here they are featured in a pendant with a very 3-D quality.
Two examples of “naja” pendants that show the amulet side of the jewelry I make. The crescent shape of this ancient design seems to have originated with the Moors of North Africa who used it on their horse tack as a symbol of protection against the evil eye. The symbol migrated across the ocean to the Americas with the Conquistadors and is now most often seen in this country in the work of Navajo silversmiths where it is often the central focus of squash blossom necklaces. It is a symbol used by many cultures over the eons.
What different types of jewelry do you make?
I make pendants and cuff bracelets. I like to make pendants because they are not dependent on a size. Some cuff bracelets have very slight adjustability, but they still largely have to be made to size. I have even made a few hat bands and have considered branching out into boot embellishments for harness boots, once I can figure out a few remaining design/functionality issues.
Custom hat band with sterling silver embellishment on a leather strap. I have to make these to fit the actual hat (they are not adjustable and they are sewn onto the hat) so I would have to have the hat in order to make one.
Is your work mostly commission, or do you often make pieces for your online Etsy shop? Is each piece unique, or do you have some that you create frequently?
I currently do not accept jewelry commissions (and have only rarely taken commissions over the years). Because my custom bookbinding work is 100% commissions, I needed something that was purely directed by me. I rarely repeat an exact jewelry design since everything I make is created one at a time and, of course, no two hammer marks are the same.
What tools and materials do you use?
I use a variety of mostly vintage hammers (with a few that are new and specific to metalsmithing) that were used in many different trades. I use hammers made to take dents out of cars, hammers used by cobblers, and one of my favorite hammers is a carpenter’s “joining” hammer. They all move metal in a different way and leave different marks. I hammer my metal on top of other repurposed items when shaping it. I have a piece of railroad rail and steel bearings from trains that are both great surfaces on which to hammer and shape silver.
I stick to silver because I like the way it behaves. There is no casting, no mass-production of identical pieces, and I don’t use pre-made components like beads or pre-made settings.
I settled on using stainless steel “bead chain” as you would see on dog tags for the chains of my pendants because of its utilitarian, unisex look. I can replace that with a sterling silver bead chain for an additional cost. I try to make the “bails” (where you put the chain through) of most of my pendants oversized so someone can easily replace the bead chain with their favorite chain if they want to.
Besides being artistically appealing, I know you incorporate materials “authentic” to Supernatural in your designs. Would you explain what that means, why you do it, and give some examples? How do you acquire your specifically authentic materials?
In my jewelry work, my “authentic” materials are all from vintage cars. Many of my designs are influenced by the design elements of old cars. I go to salvage yards (like Bobby’s place!) that specialize in vintage car parts to salvage auto body steel. Sometimes I have to cut it out of the car with an angle grinder and lots of protective gear. The sparks really fly and those sparks are HOT! I had to get over my fear of some of those large power tools. The first time I cut a fender off a car body I had to be reassured that I wouldn’t hit a gas tank and cause an explosion. (It was patiently explained to me that a car that has not been driven for decades has had all the gas evaporate over time.)
Cutting into an old Hudson with an angle grinder and lots of protection!
I usually harvest old auto body steel based on the color I want. I don’t use steel from cars newer than 1970’s vintage. No one would know the difference – no one would know where the steel in my jewelry comes from before I tell them – but I like to keep it vintage. This includes leaving cracks and paint chips and missing paint areas. I do seal the auto body steel with clear sealer to keep the paint that IS there.
Someone who buys one of my pieces with vintage steel also receives an information card with a photo of the original car the steel was taken from as it appeared in the salvage yard. I even have some blue auto body steel I use that came from a ’67 Impala.
Motel sign inspired pendant made with metal from the body of a ’67 Impala.
Pendant inspired by retro shapes and vintage motel and diner signs featuring a piece of steel from the body of a ’61 Plymouth Valiant.
Three views of a sterling silver cuff made with the Valiant steel, stamped inside with the words “open road”.
Photo of the actual Valiant that the metal came from taken in a salvage yard field in South Dakota.
Information card I send out with pieces made from Impala steel.
Vintage sign-inspired pendant with body steel from a ’54 Hudson Wasp.
The other authentic material I use in my jewelry is also automotive. A couple of years ago I started adding intense color to the pieces I make by incorporating fordite. Fordite is a “stone” that isn’t a stone at all. As I explained earlier, fordite is layers of auto body paint that built up on the rails of paint booths in old car factories. That build-up had to be chipped off periodically and someone realized that if you polish this material, you reveal the layers of paint colors. It’s a gorgeous, swirling, colorful material that polishes up just like paint on a car when you wax it! I can shape it without having actual lapidary skills (Lapidary is a completely different specialty done by those who cut faceted and polished gemstones like diamonds and rubies).
I often attach fordite to my jewelry pieces with rivets to keep up the automotive, industrial look. Fordite (it’s called “fordite” whether it comes from a Ford, Chevy or Jeep plant) is a finite resource since cars are not painted in the same way now. All of the color in my pieces comes from either salvaged auto body steel or fordite. I don’t use traditional gemstones. Otherwise, my pieces are entirely sterling silver.
A pair of very colorful fordite pendants. You can see the hundreds of layers of paint along the thick edge.
I called this one a “comet” pendant because of the streaking hammered silver band across the front that is a design element and also protects the surface of the fordite.
More fordite with protective hammered silver bands across it. Fordite is attached to the base of the piece with a tube rivet.
How long does it take to create a piece of jewelry?
My simple hammered pendants can be created in about 2-3 hours. That includes shaping sterling silver wire with a hammer, polishing off the rough spots, tumbling it for a bright tumble-polished finish and extra rigidity, adding black oxidizing chemicals to highlight the hammer marks and rustic look, brushing most of the oxidation off with very fine steel wool, and finally sealing that oxidation with acrylic wax to help preserve it. I have also spent months…up to 100 hours…on a single piece.
Do you make non-Supernatural related jewelry?
My jewelry can’t be readily identified as Supernatural, but the themes are most definitely inspired by Supernatural or the elements found in Supernatural. I do stick to my vintage, retro, automotive, and road trip themes.
Once, I took a request for a specifically-Supernatural piece. A fan saw one of my motel pendants and liked the rugged, hammered style and asked if I could make a version based on the Astoria Hotel sign from “Lazarus Rising”.
My take on the Supernatural Astoria Hotel sign from “Lazarus Rising”.
What was the hardest piece of jewelry you worked on, and what made it difficult?
I once made a large cuff for a friend that incorporated two canine teeth from her beloved dogs (removed in medical procedures). That one was probably the most difficult for several reasons including just the technical difficulty of trying to figure out how to attach the found objects (the teeth) and then protect them from getting knocked against other things while the cuff was being worn so they would not chip or split over time. I ended up making curved “sides” to protect the edges. It was very difficult to create the compound curves by cutting and filing silver pieces so they would curve around the teeth and fit the curve of the cuff exactly in order to be soldered to the surface. I also added an over-arching curved silver piece to protect the teeth from a frontal blow.
This customer also had her own personal symbol she used in her own artwork as a painter – a version of a 4-directions symbol with lines crossing inside a circle. I incised the design into the terminal ends of the cuff with an engraving tool and something called a flex shaft that spins the small tool kind of like a dental drill. The addition of her personal symbol made it even more tailored to her.
Custom cuff made with two canine teeth.
Another special piece was not as complex as the dog tooth cuff, but meaningful in a different way. A customer who saw some of my pieces with auto body steel at an art sale asked if I could do something in that same style using metal from a piece of farm machinery from her family’s farm. I ended up making several pendants and several cuffs for her family members all using yellow steel, cut from a ditch digging machine that was defunct and sitting out in her family’s field. For some reason, the family always took their yearly group family photo around it. Even those family members who did not wear much jewelry ended up wanting one – I must have made three rounds of pieces for her and her family.
Pendant and cuff made from yellow farm machinery body steel from ditch digging equipment.
How do you think of the individual designs for each piece?
I usually do sketches in the winter and make the jewelry in the spring, summer, and fall. I do my silver soldering in an unheated garage and basically shut everything down for the winter months. I do pages of sketches with inspiration taken from photos of old motel signs online, pictures of old motels I’ve taken myself during my travels, or pictures of details from vintage cars, and I use those elements in my designs.
For pieces featuring fordite, I often design the piece around the size and shape of the existing fordite “stone”. I purchase much of my fordite in its finished form, already cut and polished by someone who has professional stonecutting polishing tools. I have only recently begun to start cutting my own fordite shapes from fordite rough.
Pendant sketch ideas.
Square pendant with fordite I cut from rough material.
A piece of rough fordite as it looks when it was taken from the paint booth of an auto plant.
Have you made any pieces that were particularly special to you? If so, what made them stand out from your other projects?
This one is easy. Another Supernatural fan obtained some super-rare fordite – fordite that came from the actual plant where ’67 Chevys were made. That plant no longer exists – it was demolished years ago – but a retired employee who worked there kept some fordite. This fan rough-cut a bunch of it into Impala silhouette shapes. I took two of these and refined them a bit, then created silver settings to make two key chains. They were your basic $350-worth-of-time-and-materials key chains! But as a Supernatural fan, I loved this project. In my mind, it merged fiction with reality. Yes, Supernatural is a fictional story, but I got to make some metalwork pieces with the actual material from the actual factory where “Baby” was made. I also made myself a motel sign pendant using some of the rare Chevy plant fordite.
Mass-produced (ordered online) dog tags were added to explain the materials used in the keychains. First one says, “Fordite from the demolished Janesville, MI Chevy plant” Second dog tag says, “Birthplace of Baby the 1967 Supernatural Impala”
Info. card that went with the keychains. The Impala photo is one I took of fan replica Impala “Mary” in Lawrence, KS.
Original piece of Impala fordite I shaped into a retro chevron shape for use in a motel pendant.
I also have to talk about a project that I loved that was more about the concept than about me actually making it.
I was in touch with another fan who wanted to have a trophy-style award made to present to Jared and Jensen at a convention – meant to be a physical trophy from fans to make up for the fact that they never got the Emmys they deserved. That project fell through when Creation (understandably) nixed the idea of any kind of onstage presentation during a con. But I had drawn up this cool trophy with a little bronze Impala at the very top and I couldn’t stop thinking about that little bronze Impala.
When the show ended, I wanted to create something meaningful that fans could give to other fans. The Supernatural Family has meant so much, and been so life-changing for so many. I wanted something fans could give each other, or something someone could give to their favorite fan fic author or anyone in the Supernatural universe that they wanted to thank.
I landed on the “Bronze Impala Fan-to-Fan Awards”. I tracked down a foundry in Colorado that could create a mold from a small model Impala car, then cast multiple little Impalas in bronze. I think they regretted taking on the job as the little Impalas were more intricate, larger and much heavier than most of the jewelry casting jobs they did, and some of the bronze cars had casting defects, but hey, it’s the blemishes that make her beautiful, right? It was a gamble – paying up front for the mold and casting and hoping that people would want to buy them.
I did a limited casting run of 20 and opened a separate Etsy store to sell them where fans could buy a little bronze Impala and a customized certificate to go with it. I printed the certificates with custom wording and did the gold foil stamping of the recipients’ name thanks to my access to bookbinding tools for gold foil hot stamping. They were sold at-cost. I advertised on Twitter and Facebook and I sold the entire first run, then had enough interest to have a second batch cast. In the end, I sold 40 in all and broke almost perfectly even on the project, which was the goal. I was very satisfied that project worked. I even sent one to Supernatural superfan U.S. Senator Cory Booker, but I never heard back so I don’t know if it reached him or not. I closed the Etsy store once all were sold. It was always meant to be a very limited-edition project in honor of the SPN Family and the end of our beloved show.
A little fleet of solid bronze Impalas.
Bronze Impala with sample certificate.
Do you have a “dream project” that you haven’t yet started?
I am fortunate in that I have made pretty much whatever I decided I wanted to try. Of course, it would be great fun to make a silver cuff bracelet with some meaningful phrase (something meaningful to each of them) stamped in lettering on the inside for Jared and Jensen, but I doubt they are in need of them! They seem well-outfitted in the jewelry department.
Has anyone from the cast or crew ever seen, or own, any of your jewelry?
Jerry Wanek has seen some of my motel pendant creations and reacted positively. I wanted to show him because it was his sets that inspired them! A fan also gave one of my commissioned accessories to Jensen and Jared.
Bullseye motel pendant featuring a piece of fordite as part of the design.
UFO Motel pendant. I fabricated the tiny silver UFO from sheet silver that I cut out with a jeweler’s saw, drilled holed with my mini drill press, domed with “dapping” tools (basically hammered each piece down into a circular depression to give it a domed look), and soldered all three pieces together to make a tiny 3-D UFO. The rest of the parts were also hand-cut, stamped, and hammered from sterling silver sheet and wire.
Lone Pine Motel pendant.
Between your Supernatural book binding, your custom jewelry and your other fandom artistic endeavors, you devote of a lot of your talent to Supernatural works of art. What is it about the show that inspires you so deeply?
I never really thought about this before! It just “is” and seems like it has always been a huge source of inspiration for me.
I think it comes down to Jared and Jensen; to the relationship they portrayed as Sam and Dean and to their real-life characteristics. They are kind to fans, hardworking, and good to their co-workers. They created these characters that made me want to be a part of that Supernatural family and that world, so little pieces of that world (as I interpret it) show up in my artwork. It’s a way for me to bring some part of the amazing Supernatural fandom experience to life (at least for myself!) in a very tangible way.
Making a person feel special by wearing something beautiful that celebrates their passion is enough by itself, but are there any special messages or feelings your hope to convey or spread through your jewelry?
I have a good story about that. I made sigil pendants for my con-going group of five friends several years ago. A sigil is a symbol that is thought to be imbued with some power by the wearer or the person who made it. I had to read up on creating sigils before attempting it and I also consulted with one of my long-time custom book customers who is a practicing Wiccan.
The process consists of coming up with a sentence about a wish or intention. In this case, mine had to do with keeping my friend group together. Once I wrote down that sentence, I crossed out any repeated letters and was left with a jumble of individual letters. I designed a symbol where every one of those letters appears somewhere in the symbol. Then I created five of those symbols using many small pieces of silver wire that I hammered flat and a few other elements combined with a lot of very picky and intricate soldering. (It can be a challenge not to completely melt small pieces of silver while soldering little parts together with a torch.)
As sigils are made, the maker is supposed to concentrate their mental energy on the wish or intention while creating the symbol. While I made the pendants, I thought about how loyal we are to each other, and how determined we are to keep our group intact long after the TV show that brought us together and the conventions we enjoyed every year were over. It took a few months to complete, but ultimately I successfully created five matching sterling silver sigil pendants for my friends. At the next Supernatural convention, they were lovingly and enthusiastically received.
Months later, one of the friends in my group was on a trip to New Orleans – a city she loves and is very familiar with. She likes to check out the voodoo shops while she’s there – authentic places, not tourist traps. She was wearing the sigil necklace I made her when she went into the shop and related this to me when she got back:
“(The shop owner) immediately gravitated towards the sigil necklace you gave us. She asked if she could touch it and I gave it to her, didn’t tell her anything about it. She weighed it in her hand and ran it through some ‘holy smoke’ and held it some more and then said it had a strong aura of love, loyalty and determination attached to it and was empowered. Cool, huh? She never asked anything about it. Just said it was special. So….there! You did it right!!! And it’s ‘authenticated’ now.”
I should add that I love all things supernatural and have been interested in them since I was a kid. Yet I have zero sensitivity to any and all supernatural entities that may be around me. I have never sensed or seen a ghost (as much as I would like to) and I have to take my wife’s word for it when she tells me that a place is “bad” or “creepy” because it just feels like a regular old place to me. Somehow, it seems, according to the lady in the voodoo shop, the sigils were imbued with exactly the power I intended. This sigil necklace is still the piece of my own jewelry I wear most often.
The sigil necklaces I made for my group (the five tiny circles represent our group of five friends) and also the piece of jewelry I wear most often.
While I won’t say the phrase that makes up the sigil, here is how you can find every letter of that phrase in the design.
Later, I made other sigils for friends using different meaningful phrases and am about to start creating some for sale in my Etsy store that have to do with words or phrases surrounding travel and adventure.
In a more general sense, I want people to feel empowered and comforted by the jewelry I make. I want it to remind them of something they value whether that is a road trip with friends, exploring, feeling comforted by some “protective” element of some of my designs, or honoring the great style and design of the past. I want those who wear my jewelry to know that each piece is unique and is theirs. I want them to see and feel the texture of the hammer marks and know that what they are wearing was directly made by human hands. One of my friends wears multiple pieces of mine every day. She calls it her “armor”. I love that.
Another sigil example. The number of tiny rings have significance to the wearer as well as the shapes that make up a variety of letters.
A sigil based on a combination of ancient symbols.
Would you give an idea of your pricing? Where can fans see samples of your jewelry?
Most of my pieces are priced in the $85 – $350 range depending on complexity. I am not taking commissions at this time, but all available jewelry can be purchased from my Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/RedEmberForge. I also share examples of my jewelry on social media:
Instagram: @redemberforge, and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RedEmberForgeJewelry
Is there anything else you would like to share with the fans?
I think the most important thing my jewelry work has taught me is that, if you can, JUST DO IT and don’t give up. I know it requires money and often training, but I was on the “long plan” for jewelry, taking years of classes, taking time to decide which metalsmithing techniques were my favorites (I don’t do metal casting or wax work or stone setting even though I had a chance to try all of those techniques in class) and then I took years to slowly gather the supplies I needed to do it – a full nine years before I made anything to sell. But it gives me so much happiness to have complete artistic control of my jewelry “line”. I have attempted a few partnerships with online galleries or resellers that have never worked out and I have decided that I am happiest when I keep it a solo operation. I do what I want. I design what I want. My jewelry isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. Some people will think it looks rough or unfinished and that’s okay too. I myself love it and love making it. Nothing makes me happier than to hear other people tell me that my work has such a distinct look and ask how I came up with such a coherent style. It was all about choosing what I most enjoyed and that included hammering metal and being inspired by all things Supernatural.
So if you possibly can, don’t give up on that thing you love doing, even if you never make a full living at it. You never know where it will take you. I don’t yet know where my jewelry making will take me. Wherever it does or does not go, it gives me great happiness.
Amazed as Tedra’s talent and inspiration? See Tedra’s custom Supernatural-themed leather bound books in Part 1 of this interview, “Inspired by Supernatural: Custom Books by Fine Blank Books”!
Tedra is also on Twitter as @waywrdaughter67.
Enjoy more Supernatural paintings, sketches, statues, Tarot cards, duct tape art, journals, dioramas, action figures and so much more by visiting The WFB’s Inspired by Supernatural article series!