PHILLY NATIVE Taunya Benton has always been creative, but when she began making jewelry for herself and her daughter, she realized that people wanted to buy her designs. She launched Taunya Benton Designs about ten years ago to sell her handmade work.
Benton moved to Savannah from Gainesville, Georgia, five years ago after loving it as a vacation spot. She’s a self-taught artist who learned how to solder from YouTube, and she takes pride in the fact that each of her pieces bears her personal touch.
We spoke with Benton last week.
1. How did you start your business?
I started making jewelry for myself and my daughter. I’ve always made stuff—I’m a seamstress, I’ve dabbled in making furniture, I love making stuff out of necessity because we used to be broke.
My dad used to wear a tool belt to work and I was fascinated with it. I started making jewelry out of little broken pieces from my jewelry box because I hate to throw away stuff. I’m always like, “Oh, it’s going to be something else one day.”
That’s how it started: thrifting pieces and redoing them, before I could actually buy real supplies. People kept wanting to buy them right off me, so I had to get a website and Facebook.
2.Why is it important to you to make your art by hand?
I consider myself a jewelry artist. I do make things in repetition, but I’m not a jewelry manufacturer. Every piece you get resembles the other piece, but it’s always going to be a little different because today is a little different than yesterday.
I had a lady order a freeform ring; it’s called Flow. She said, “Well, it’s not exactly like the one in the picture.” And I said, “Well, the one in the picture is almost eight months old, and we’ve evolved since then.”
A lot of people are vibing with the whole handmade, bespoke type of vibe. I’ve been doing really well this past year; it’s really been blowing my mind. I was chugging along and doing pretty good; I was doing every market and craft fair I could get into. And when COVID hit and a lot of makers didn’t have an outlet to sell things because everything was shut down, I was very grateful that I had a good online presence that I started when I lived in northeast Georgia because where we lived, there were no markets. We had maybe two boutiques in Gainesville.
3. What’s your philosophy behind making art?
I say that my jewelry is inspired by my past lives because I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve never done this before. I look at some stuff I make and I’m like, “Damn.”
I believe in reincarnation, that we come back as someone else or something else. I definitely was a jeweler down the line.
4. What’s your creative process usually like?
I try to sit down and do little collections. People say you’ll make more money if you do things that relate to each other. I tried to do that and hit a wall—I’d sit there and not be able to do anything. But sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I have to write down my notes because I’ll dream of a necklace and if I don’t have a pen or pencil, I’ll pick up my phone and write out in words what it’s supposed to look like so I can go back later.
I’m influenced by color and the seasons. I think about how a piece of jewelry is going to look in a turtleneck. What are you going to wear it with? I don’t even know if this is how other jewelers do it. I don’t know if I’m doing it right.
5. What are your future plans?
When I first moved here, I thought I wanted a brick and mortar. But Sears closed down, so who am I?
The future would be doing more of the same, maybe creating for TV or movies. I’m a little upset that Beyonce didn’t use any of my pieces in her new video, but I’ve got her for next time.
I’d love to open a jewelry boutique, some place that would be my studio, my workspace and my retail space together. I don’t know whether that’ll be here or at the house because I have sizable studio space, but my daughter’s living in it now.
Now that there’s this [virus], nobody knows what it’s going to be. This year I was asked to be a part of Craft Scout. I wanted to do my own market, but I didn’t know how, so when they asked me I was like, “Yes, now I can learn how to do it!”