Her jewelry finds roots in Rome, NASA - The Explorer: El Sol

Her jewelry finds roots in Rome, NASA

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Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:18 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Special to The Explorer

Julie Holtry creates colorful jewelry with its roots in ancient Rome and in NASA technology.

Holtry's favorite medium is dichroic glass, which gets its name from the way it splinters light into pure colors, rainbow-like but more intense. Some artists have compared this material to black opals from Lightning Ridge, Australia—gems which are priced from $10,000 to $100,0000 each.

"My dragonfly pendants are my signature pieces," Holtry said, "but you don't have to spend thousands of dollars to get one. Depending on size and color, they average about $35 each."

How does Holtry form glass into a dragonfly you can wear? She buys her glass in small, thin sheets of different colors and patterns. On the back of a sheet, she'll draw the main parts of a dragonfly—the body and the wings. She cuts these shapes out (using a traditional glass cutter), shapes their edges (using a diamond-coated wheel), and positions them on clear glass, gaining additional strength and support. Then, using tweezers, she adds tiny pieces of dichroic glass, giving the dragonflies their sparkling eyes and other details.

The final step is to melt, or fuse, these pieces into a solid glass dragonfly. Julie does this in a kiln, bringing the pieces to about 1,400 degrees, where they begin to flow and bond together. After a gradual cooling process, the dragonfly is ready to be wrapped with jewelry wire, as its final step to flying off as a piece of wearable art.

Holtry recalls how a swarm of her dragonflies flew to California.

"I was sitting in a restaurant, Sweet Tomatoes, and a total stranger came over to our table and asked, 'Would you please tell me where you bought your dragonfly pendant? I saw it from across the room, and I'd love to have one like it—I'm from Modesto, California, so nobody would see us both wearing one at the same time and place,'" she said.

That conversation started a whole dragonfly migration.

About the dichroic glass Holtry uses: The ancient Romans developed a primitive form of dichroic glass, using colloidal gold and silver, but they didn't have today's technology, tools and techniques for applying layers of ultra-thin coatings of metals and metal oxides to glass. It's these coatings that transform light into such strong rainbow colors.

NASA can claim credit for today's technology, but it takes an artist in Oro Valley, and centuries ago in Rome, to transform technology into visions of dragonfly jewelry—or goblets that celebrate Mother Earth, Dionysus and Pan.

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