Studio Notes: How to Win a Halstead Grant

Want to win a Halstead grant? At $7,500 in cash plus $1,000 in store credits plus tons of publicity, it’s one of the most desirable in this industry. But the process isn’t easy. Any grant application takes a lot of work. And you need to have multiple talents as well as thick skin.

However, the basic act of working through a grant proposal can provide you with valuable insight: you’ll see where you are as a jewelry maker. You may also discover the path to take your skills further.

This is according to 28-year-old Kristen Baird. She won this year’s Halstead Grant and was happy to share her experience of preparing her entry. But it started with a loss. In 2016, she was only a top-five finalist, missing out on the big prize. Undaunted, she soaked up feedback from the judges, and spent more than 6 months working toward a second application, redoing her business plan, her web site, her designs, graphics, packaging…

Here are some of her observations:

On writing. “I did a lot of writing and a lot of editing by myself, which I’m proud of. In business you have to be able to write and communicate. I wish colleges focused more on writing for things like this than on how to write an art history paper. As a jeweler you have to write pitches to get into shows or pitches for magazine articles.”

The importance of precise answers. “I had to answer 10 short questions in one to two paragraphs, and they had to be concise and to the point. There were five long answers of one page each. Each answer had to be on an individual page.”

Branding the application. Everything Baird submitted for the grant, including the 15 questions, had to stylistically look and sound as if they were a natural extension of her jewelry brand. “The judges look at presentation of the materials and use of your brand look. I spent hours and hours and hours on the application packaging, layout, font, spacing….”

Business and design excellence. “You can have all the talent in the world and not understand numbers. Or the reverse – people can understand all the numbers but have no aesthetic talent and they’re not going to get very far either.”

The value of feedback. “They told me I didn’t have my aesthetics down. I had a lot of bench talent and a lot of business savvy, but I had to decide if I was going to be more of a jewelry store owner and do repairs and redesigns, or create my own designer jewelry brand and aesthetic.”

Planning. Baird had 10 months to rethink and revise her practices as a jeweler before submitting her 2017 Halstead grant application by the July deadline.

Planning way, way, way back. Baird discovered jewelry making in 2010 while she was a student at one of the best design schools in the country – The Savannah College of Art and Design. Later, in 2014, she was accepted into the graduate bench jeweler program at Blaine Lewis’ New Approach School for Jewelers. “That gave me the skill sets to get my work to the level that it needed to be in business.”

Talent. While growing up, Baird excelled, especially in sports. Later, she began receiving artistic recognition, which certified her talent. When she graduated from Savannah at the top of her class in 2012, the school’s president bought 10 pieces from her senior year collection.

A unique vision. “Jewelry is a competitive industry and I’ve really tried to differentiate myself in some way – make it my own in my own way.”

Now what? “There’s a bit of pressure. There’s this money you worked hard for and people are going to see how you use this grant to help your business. They awarded me this grant and I want to make them proud.”

Check out Kristen’s own Halstead grant story on her website.

Next week, see Betsy’s report on a new grant she received to study industrial techniques and craft with jeweler Don Friedlich. Her story on how to get a grant will appear in the March 2018 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. Her story on Colorado diamonds appears in the September-October issue and she will be writing about her experience in Kate Wolf’s class in 2018. You can reach her at [email protected].

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