| Contributing writer
BOONE, Ia. — While Sara Letsch was studying biology and anthropology at Iowa State, she never envisioned the life she has today: working as a bus driver for the Ames School District and founding a jewelry business.
“Life leads you in very weird ways, but sometimes it’s surprising how good it will end up being,” the Adel native said.
She completed her undergrad degrees with the intention of pursuing a master’s. Then her personal life “imploded.” She got out of an abusive relationship, enduring a painful divorce, then put her studies on hold and hunted for a job.
Time set aside for making art, which had been an important aspect of her life since childhood, was nonexistent.
“I spent a lot of time out at Ledges State Park in the mornings, hiking with my dogs,” she said. “It helped me center myself and start working through those things. It was a very peaceful place for me and helped me during that time period.”
She started a blog called Nymph in the Woods — a name inspired by her love of Ledges.
Letsch said she and her mother had enjoyed doing art projects at the former Ames-based Kil’n Time Studio. Having some experience working with pottery and mosaics, Letsch secured a job at the store.
“I had to learn how to make fused glass to be able to teach it to the people who came in to take classes,” she said. “Suddenly, there’s this new medium of glass that I just fell in love with. But it wasn’t to my personal style: gluing the glass (to make jewelry).”
Inspired by seeing artisans wire-wrap stones, Letsch got the idea to wire-wrap glass to “dress up” the pieces.
Nymph in the Woods became the name of her jewelry business, founded in 2016. It is headquartered in her home in Boone.
Letsch has two studio areas: one for glasswork, which she describes as messy with shards of glass everywhere and where her kiln is located; the other is an area where she wraps the finished glass in wire.
The glass must be completely cool before it can be shaped. Using a wet saw and grinder, she crafts the glass pieces to her liking.
“I don’t open the kiln until it’s close to room temperature,” she said. “I then clean and shape the glass. I use a kiln paper for firing, so the pieces will have a white, gritty substance on the back, and that has to be cleaned off.”
Some pieces are fired in the kiln multiple times until the desired look is achieved.
“You can see the changes in my work with what I’m learning and getting more comfortable with as I go along, in terms of the levels of intricacy and techniques,” she said.
Wire wrapping is its own art form. Letsch uses coil wire, which comes in copper and sterling silver, packaged as large spools or big loops. The wire is later oxidized and polished. Each piece is different from the last.
“Almost all of my pieces start out the same way: 3-5 base wires and a weaving wire. That’s it,” she said.
The jewelry’s style has been called Egyptian, organic and abstract. She said the most fulfilling aspect of being a jewelry maker is crafting pieces that “speak” to the wearer, giving the person a boost of confidence.
The eventual goal is to turn her jewelry making business into a full-time career. Letsch said the majority of her income typically comes from arts and crafts shows and festivals, many of which were canceled this year due to COVID-19. Selling her wares in local stores, online and through commissions has kept her business going.
“Shop local. It makes an impact. We’ve seen that more than ever how big of a difference a few sales can make, in terms of people being able to keep their doors open and pay their bills,” she said.
Despite the pandemic, Letsch still has plenty to appreciate.
“I have a supportive partner, a business I love and a job driving a bus that I love,” she said. “Sometimes, even the worst things can have a positive net outcome in the end.”
For more information, visit www.nymphglassjewelry.com.