Categories: Entertainment

Artist crafts masks with flair

MADAME MASK – Amy Skrocki and husband Tanner know that masks reveal as well as obscure.

It takes a formidable drive to create an exclusive product and promote it at a farmers’ market.

This week’s Market Place illuminates Amy Skrocki, a gutsy, imaginative visual artist who has adapted her artistic vision to fight an on-going personal battle with her health.

Skrocki and husband, Tanner, operate Paragon of Design, a tented stand at St. Albert Farmers’ Market selling one-of-a-kind handcrafted jewelry and home dĂ©cor.

At first glance the booth radiates a mystical, magical look that blends old world Norse-Greek mythology with futuristic science fantasy symbology. Think Stargate SG-1, the sci-fi TV series now in reruns.

That impression only deepens skimming the pendants, rings, earrings, cuff links, masks, journals, icons, guitar straps and cuffs.

“I use traditional leather, wood, glass and metal working techniques to construct the components in each art piece,” says the statuesque Skrocki.

For instance, the pendant case sparkles with necklaces sculpted from semi-precious rocks such as ammolite, quartz druzy or pietersite gemstones. Delicately crafted, they are supported with intricate wire wrapping to give it a New York dazzle.

The young couple works as a team. As the main designer, Skrocki envisions the pieces and painstakingly fashions the elaborate details. Tanner takes on the heavier aspects such as sanding.

On one glass case sits a studded leather mask of Odin, the Norse god of war. Framed with black raven wings, it appears ready to soar into the air and attack.

In a separate case is a pair of earrings embossed with the mythical Greek griffon, a legendary creature with the body, tail and back legs of lion; the head and wings of an eagle, and eagle’s talons as its front feet.

“We saw it at the Vatican on the sculpture of a sarcophagus,” Skrocki notes. That explains why Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons immediately springs to mind.

Skrocki and Tanner have travelled to 21 countries discovering inspiration from every culture’s artistic pinnacle.

To date, the couple has amassed a 10,000-photograph collection of the classic artifacts including the Orthodox icons she deeply loves.

Recognizable Byzantine crosses, ornamental Turkish tile work, and decorative Russian motifs are skilfully woven into contemporary materials and sleek design concepts that depict a 21st century vibe.

Raised on a quarter section dotted with forests just outside Rocky Mountain House, Skrocki started making jewelry and selling it through her father’s business at a young age.

“There was nothing else to do, but make things,” she grins.

At the age of seven she sold self-made beaded bracelets and key chains.

“It started at $20. Everybody thought it was too much so I lowered it to $7,” she adds chuckling at her early business dealings.

A multi-talented personality, Skrocki painted, drew and was an active athlete. But her life was temporarily placed in limbo after she broke her neck in a sports-oriented accident.

Undergoing corrective surgery, a surgeon inserted titanium plates at the top of her neck to support the spine.

“I had very little mobility for four years and my motor skills were very limited.”

Adding to the frustration was the neurosurgeon’s proclamation that “I would never do anything but a simple job.”

What saved her sanity was a fierce determination to outfox the situation. With great patience, Skrocki would sit in her bedroom struggling to pick up beads and insert them on wires to make earrings. A job that may have taken one hour prior to the accident stretched into a day afterwards. But she persevered.

“It was very fine work, but I was really determined and I increased my dexterity.”

Experimenting with numerous techniques, she often created several hundred copies before finding the right formula that worked.

To this day, she maintains a strict regime of acupuncture, massage and stretches that help her deal with some of the 18-hour days she works.

After graduation, Skorcki attended the University of Alberta enrolling in numerous programs. But it was the classics and art programs that struck a chord.

“A piece of art is like a beautifully told story about how people lived. I wanted to create my own art pieces that continue the history (of art and design), but I wanted to make it modern so it could appeal to a lot of people rather than a few.”

The chemistry classes she enrolled in also radically changed her approach.

“I am able to work with chemicals properly and I can safely neutralize them.”

Skrocki employs chemicals to create a patina on jewelry. Chemicals are also used as part of a colouring system and for etching and plating.

“You can get incredible colours. But they have to be neutralized or they keep on going. For instance, in chemical etching they keep etching. If you don’t neutralize it can cause horrible burns, rashes and blisters to the skin.”

Skrocki receives great pleasure from her customers’ feedback. And, why not? Her work exhibits a mystical artistic vision combined with an inner strength that is impossible to duplicate.

“I want my work to be powerful. When you look at it, I want it to make an impression so four or five years later you remember it.”

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.