Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bernie Hebert, Fine Metals Jewelry Artist, Tells His Story

I have lived in Paducah, Kentucky, at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers for ten years, where there is a thriving arts and music scene. I have always had an affinity for moving water; ocean or river.

I watch my granddaughter several days a week, and this past summer we would walk to the Ohio River and gather stones and shells from the river’s edge. Throwing them back into the river is an activity she enjoys, and she always asks to go down to the river.  We often watch the barges pass by, and I delight in how the movement of the water fascinates her. We enjoy just being there, together.

This piece of jewelry represents fond memories of this past summer at the river.

Nu gold base, copper and sterling 34mm x 58mm

The textured brass element at the top of the broach represents part of Illinois. Below it is the Ohio River, which flows right to left, with the Tennessee entering from the right (by Livingston Point).  The silver element at the bottom is Paducah, right tight to the banks of the Ohio. Interestingly, the Ohio flows in a northerly direction as it passes by Paducah, before it turns south to meet the Mississippi.

My background in making jewelry began at a very young age when my mother, who had an elementary knowledge of the process, first showed me how to make a particular chain pattern. Formally known as a Byzantine weave, it is commonly called a box chain, or idiot’s chain. Individual jump rings are cut from a wound coil of silver wire and then assembled, following a pattern consisting of eight pairs of rings. It takes almost 50 feet of wire to cut approximately 700 rings. Once assembled, it makes an 18 inch chain which weighs just under 2 ounces.

Sterling Silver Byzantine Weave Necklace

Over the years I taught myself how to fabricate more complicated pieces, learning new construction methods and refining my finishing techniques. By my late teens I was making rings, bracelets and earrings for friends and friends of friends. In my 20’s I was doing flea markets and craft shows. I got married, started doing juried shows, quit my day job and started traveling the Northeast doing bigger and better shows. We lived on a farm in New Hampshire, had a couple of children, and we got by. 

The following three pieces were from that period. The chased and repousse box cover represents the landscape of southern New Hampshire, where I grew up.

Box- 78mm x 33mm


In 1980 the Hunt Brothers gained controlled of about 75% of the silver commodities market, and the price of silver shot up to almost $50 an ounce, from around $8 per ounce. Needless to say that pulled the rug out from under our operation, and it happened at a time of the year when most crafts people make the money they live on during the winter until the spring season starts. We packed up and moved to New Jersey where there was more opportunity.

Tube is 30mm long

I ended up getting a job in a well-known local restaurant, finding that I liked the work and that I had a knack for it. Within ten years I was running my own kitchen at a 200-year-old local inn with two outlets; one fine dining and the other casual. 

Twelve years in New Jersey plus one more child led to seven years in Phoenix, AZ. There I worked at The Phoenician Resort, a top 50 in the world destination resort. Then came five years as the chef of Sir Winston’s Restaurant aboard the RMS Queen Mary, permanently docked in Long Beach, California.

With the children now out on their own, we made the move to Paducah to be part of the local arts community. As part of a city-sponsored program, we acquired a historic house, renovated it and opened a café/catering operation, complete with a gift shop. Food and jewelry had combined and all was well for a while. However, changes happen and lives take different paths. Not everything is meant to be. Food and jewelry got left behind as I took on a full time job.

Ovoid is 30mm long

A few years later I retired. With extra time on my hands, I signed up for the jewelry/metals class offered at The Paducah School of Art and Design. The classes have given me a chance to better understand what I had been doing, as well as teaching me new methods and techniques.

Throughout my life, balance and harmony has been where I find peace. However elusive it might be, or even absent altogether at times, I keep trying. Working in metals has always seemed to be a part of that process. Interestingly enough, I am once again working in a restaurant. It all feels good together, here by the river.

This is Week 14 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Bernie's story today! To see more of Bernie's work, you can reach him at