Greenville artist Kate Furman is widely recognized for her organic, fluid jewelry design and metalsmithing. Much of her work is cast directly from the natural world: rings bud with texture, and gemstones sit organically in rough-hewn, intentional settings. Furman’s work is like a sketch that has been molded into wearable, gorgeous art—which isn’t happenstance because Furman is also an illustrator. Early in 2021, the artist collaborated with Asheville, North Carolina, writer Beth Roberts on her children’s book, Be a Smile Maker. The illustrations and the message of the book fall fluidly in step with Furman’s previous work: joyfully loose, infectiously whimsical, and rooted in nature.
Your metalwork and jewelry serve as a sketchbook, telling where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. Do most of your designs begin as actual drawings? My custom jewelry usually begins as drawings so the client and I can make sure we are on the same page. When I am making one-of-a-kind pieces, I often start making them without too much planning. I like to be “responsive” and to “draw” with the actual materials. It frees me up to come up with something different and unique.
How does two-dimensional art influence your work? I think of necklace chains, cast gold twigs, and wax carvings for casting as various forms of lines that I can draw three-dimensionally. Drawing, composition, and strong line are the backbone of most of my designs.
How did the illustrations for Be a Smile Maker come to be? What were your first inspirations and directions? The author (Beth Roberts) wrote a book about smiles. Her husband is an orthodontist, so she wanted to honor his career and all the various dental practices that a child can pursue. She wanted the imagery to include a variety of genders and races because everyone has a smile.
The book is called Be a Smile Maker. What is making you smile lately? Being pregnant is making me smile . . . a lot! I have always wanted my own child, and that dream is finally coming true for my husband, Ben, and myself. While we are waiting for our baby to arrive, the rest of our family, including my stepson, dogs, and cat, make us smile and laugh all of the time. I am lucky to have them all!
What are some of your hopeful plans for 2021? 2021 is a tough one that is full of changes for my family and me. My mom passed away on December 27, 2020, from a combination of stage 4 pancreatic cancer and COVID-19. My goal for 2021 is simple: I want to keep smiling, keep remembering her, and welcome my baby into this world. I also hope to make a lot of beautiful jewelry and maybe even illustrate another book. I am keeping it loose this year. There is a lot of healing and growing to be done.