Walking on Sunshine

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ℹ️ Bethany Lauren pinches the slender band of an amethyst ring between her thumb and forefinger and holds it up to the light of her third-floor studio window at ℹ️ Chattanooga WorkSpace. “It starts out as a tiny little wire and a piece of amethyst and, in the end, it’s a 14-karat gold ring,” she explains, motioning toward a long table of bottles and jars filled with chemical potions. On one end sits a rectifier, a small mad-scientist-looking box that emits a low electrical voltage.

Electroforming, a process that allows Lauren to coat her “dipped” arrowheads and other wearable art pieces in copper, nickel and gold, is the reason she took up jewelry making. “Through electricity, I move metal, basically,” she says. “I move that metal through a liquid with electricity…onto the piece. The metal is growing inside of a solution, so it gives it this very smooth, organic and extremely one-of-a-kind look to every single piece.”

Not all of her delicate, lightweight wares, however, require a chemistry lesson. Her three mainstay “Tiny Tag” pendant collections— zodiac signs, Wanderlust travel patterns, and her newest line, Sedona, with a cactus, a full sun, and a rising sun—are among her most popular sellers. So are her dangly, hammered-metal arrow earrings, cuff bracelets, and stackable rings—all of which she wears herself nearly every day, no matter what. The chevron symbol—an inverted V—permeates much of her art and is tattooed on her wrist. “The meaning attached to it is: Believe in your dreams and go for what you believe in,” she says. “It is a constant reminder to find those mountaintops, figuratively and literally.”

This Chrysoprase raw stone ring was electroformed in copper for up to 16 hours to create this one of a kind, organic look.

A tomboy from the Appalachian town of Elizabethton, Tennessee, Lauren, 34, is no stranger to scaling new heights. “I grew up hiking and I was not the doll-playing kind of little girl,” she says. “I was building fires and playing with sticks and building forts for my woolly worm collections and fishing at age 3.”

Unsure what she wanted to do with her life, at Mars Hill University in western North Carolina, she majored in both art and fashion/ interior merchandising, with a minor in business. “But I definitely never believed in my ability to make a living as an artist, so I fell into retail management. Looking back, I really appreciate my eight or so years in corporate America, running businesses for other people, because I feel like it’s really given me a leg up now that I’m running a business for myself.”

When her marriage to her college sweetheart didn’t work out, she took refuge on a 90-acre farm in east Tennessee until the feeling that “there was more out there for me” grew too strong to ignore. For a decade, she shelved her artistic ambitions until one day, a few months after meeting her now-husband Tommy Wilson in Nashville, he surprised her with a pottery-throwing date. “It had been 10 years and I could still center that clay and make the mugs,” Lauren recalls. After Tommy gave her a potter’s wheel as a wedding gift, she began crafting earthy ceramic plates, bowls, pitchers, planters and mugs in the attic of their small East Nashville cottage.

“Meadow Earrings”- hammered 14k gold fill earrings with moonstone and adventurine.

She eventually taught herself how to make bangles and necklaces and earrings with wire, 14-karat gold and sterling silver, and raw, semi-precious stones such as turquoise, jade and citrine. “I’ve always adored jewelry, so I always collected it. Sometimes I’d find that it would last a really long time, and sometimes I would find that it would not perform as you would hope that it would,” she says. “I started by just really inspecting pieces that I had. I had all this stuff sitting around since college—rocks and stones and beads—and had intended to make jewelry, but just had never done it. So I just started playing around with materials and looking at pieces that I owned and trying to duplicate the wire wrappings.”

In October of 2015, Lauren officially launched her own jewelry and ceramics business, dubbing it ℹ️ Bela Begonias after her favorite Grateful Dead song, Scarlet Begonias, and her chocolate Labrador retriever, Bela, named for bluegrass band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. A year
later, her husband, a video producer, landed a job at an advertising agency in Chattanooga, and the couple moved to Red Bank.

“We wanted to get back to somewhere that had outdoor activities that we love: camping and hiking and getting out on the water,” says Lauren, who opened a studio in the Chattanooga WorkSpace building last April.

“Moving to Chattanooga was a little bit hard for me, because it’s a new city. I didn’t have any friends here and I was working out of my home, so I wasn’t getting any social interaction. I didn’t know any other artisans in town, so getting connected in the community was hard,” she says. “So we decided to find a space for me to get out of the house, and I found Chattanooga WorkSpace. This is amazing, being surrounded by artists. I love it.”

She has also garnered a loyal fan base of customers who often discover her work at Open Studio Nights, then come back later to make a purchase or order a customized bracelet or necklace with a child’s name, favorite Bible verse, or motivational phrase.

Artist and founder of Bela Begonias, Bethany Lauren.

Drawing artistic energy from the sea, the mountains, and the landscapes of the Southwest, Lauren prefers giving each “bohemian inspired” piece a natural, organic look. She also prides herself on creating everyday, wearable art that lasts. “I would say that my jewelry is adventure-ready. I want people to put it on and leave it on,” she says. “Wear it hiking. Wear it camping. Put it on and wear it in the ocean. Quality over quantity is super-important to me. It always has been. I would rather pay a little bit more money for something and have it last for a long time. My designs will shift with fashion trends, but they’re always rooted in a very classic style that isn’t going to go out of style next year or 10 years down the road.”

“The most outgoing of the introverts,” according to her Myers-Briggs personality test, Lauren recharges by working alone but relishes meeting new people at art shows. Her husband, she says, refers to her as an adventurous “butterfly” who often flits away from a project, then floats back to finish. She loves to garden, even in chilly weather when the garlic, onions and organic lettuces begin to emerge from the ground. “I’m a sunshine person,” she says with a smile. “I say sometimes that I’m like a solar panel. I literally need the sun to recharge, so on a cold winter’s day I’ll go sit in my car just so the sun can shine on my skin.”

This year, Lauren plans to teach herself how to set stones using the raised bezel method and hopes to expand her wholesale presence in Chattanooga. In 2019, she’d like to open a storefront downtown. “I thought that I would get about three months’ run out of all this. I was so used to a salary paycheck, and it just seemed all very idealistic and ‘dreamland’ to me,” she admits. “And it turns out I was good at it. I am hard on myself, so a bona fide business? I’m allowing myself to believe that right about now.”

For more info see belabegonias.com. Bethany Lauren’s work is also sold at Homegrown Silver and Stone in North Chattanooga and at the Chattanooga Market.

Photography by Steven Llorca and Courtesy of Bela Begonias

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About Author

Nancy Henderson is an award-winning writer and the author of Able! and Sewing Hope. Her articles have appeared in Smithsonian, Parade, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. She is a longtime member of the prestigious American Society of Journalists and Authors and often writes about people who are making a difference through their work.

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