The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Tommy Wells
Seward Phoenix LOG 

Making Mermaid Magic

Accidental jeweler adds magic with creation of crowns


Log Photo

Brenda Ballou places a piece onto a crown she is creating for this weekend's Seward Mermaid Festival. A jewelery-maker, Ballou is one of several talented local artists working out of Twigs & Tweeds.

Tommy Wells

The Seward Phoenix LOG

Brenda Ballou never really intended to become a jeweler. It just sort of happened while spending time with a friend in her home state of Connecticut. The friendship lasted a long time. The passion for making jewelry lasted much, much longer.

In fact, it still going and on full display for residents of Seward – and the thousands of visitors that will work their way through the community this summer – at Twigs & Tweeds. Inside, the shop Ballou shares with several other artists, hundreds of hand-made pieces can be found, many featuring natural gems and Alaskan-made beads highlight a wide array of works and items.

Local residents will get a chance to see some of Ballou's handiwork this weekend at the 2017 Mermaid Festival as she created crowns that will be worn by the mermaids. The pieces features natural gemstones and numerous seashells.

"I enjoy doing this," she said. "I really like working with natural stones such as pearls and real metals like sterling silver and gold. There is just so much variety in gemstones, and that is something that I love to work with."

During the festival, Ballou said a mermaid will be hidden in her shop – celebrating the official opening of the Seward Small Boat Harbor and the festivities in the community. The hidden mermaid – because mermaids are always hard to find - will also offer up savings for shoppers.

"It's just something fun to add to the event," she said.

Twigs & Tweeds is by design an exciting mix of artistry. It might well be the only place in the state where a shopper could find everything from an engagement ring to survival gear.

"You can find almost anything in this shop, from jewelry to custom frames, to survival gear and Devil's Club salve," she said.

Making jewelry is the endeavor closest to Ballou's heart. It has been ever since she first stepped into that class.

"I didn't really plan to start making jewelry," she said. "I just took a $15 class with a friend after work and found I liked it. It was fun, so I took more classes and started going to shows and trying to learn other skills. I found I liked making jewelry."

That passion for creating things has always been in her – she has been a maker of hand-made items her whole life. She grew up in Connecticut and left to attend the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and then Washington State University where she obtained her Bachelor's Degree. Her job transferred her to Colorado where she obtained her Master's Degree, and before she knew it she was back in Connecticut. In 2010 an opportunity arose for her to come to Seward, where she now serves as the Deputy City Clerk for the City of Seward.

"I had an opportunity to make a life change and I took it," she said.

The move brought happiness to her life ... and hand-made jewelry to the eastern Kenai Peninsula.

"I really like Seward," she said. "There's nothing like walking out your door and smelling the sea water and being surrounded by the mountains. Plus, this is a really great community. The people are friendly and they really watch out and care for each other."

Shortly after arriving in Seward, a friend urged – no, practically demanded – that she open a small shop to allow others the see and purchase some of the jewelry she was making as a hobby.

"Iris (Darling) practically forced me to open a shop," she laughed.

After working out of a small shop in the DLK Building for a year, she had the opportunity to move into a larger space in the old Sylvia Sexton building, which had recently been purchased by Tom and LaDonne Mudgett, a couple from Kerrville, Texas.

The Sexton family was an early pioneer family in Seward. Through the years, the shop occupied by Ballou has served in various roles, including as the photography studio for Sylvia Sexton and, later, as an ice cream soda shop and, most recently, it was the home of Serendipity, a consignment store.

As part of the opening of Twigs & Tweeds, Ballou offered space to several other artists as a way to make sure they had a venue to showcase their wares, and to ensure she always had someone available to operate the store when she was called away for city business.

The meld of artistry has worked well. Each artist combines to offer shoppers something different and unique.

"We're a collection of makers here and it has worked for us," she said.

Joining Ballou in the shop are Ron and Mariann Phelan, who operate The Frame Cottage; Julie Allison, who produces the popular Devil's Club salve; Karen Corrigan, who makes paracord products for everyday wear and survival needs; and Raylene O'Connor, who specializes in knit products, including "upcycling" sweaters into mittens.

For her, the shop has enabled her to showcase a passion for jewelry making.

"Before moving to Seward, I was attending 40-50 craft shows a year and that gave me an outlet for what I liked to do. There aren't as many craft fairs in Seward, so I made a lot of pieces but didn't have too many places to show them. This gives me a place to put the pieces I make."

That passion has been something the residents of Seward – and countless visitors – have enjoyed, too.


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