Metalsmith Martha Fitzmier forges community through her art practice

Martha Fitzmier creates everything from vases to serving spoons and candlestick holders to decorative storage boxes.
Martha Fitzmier smiling in her studio
Photo by Nikki Hansen

Martha Fitzmier found her true artistic passion in a class catalogue.

After years of trying all sorts of crafts, she was hoping to improve her drawing skills and picked up that fateful catalogue to find a course. But it wasn’t a drawing class that piqued her interest — it was the beginning metalsmithing course.

“When I looked at this description of this metalsmithing course I thought, ‘I could do that. Why couldn’t I do that?’ ” Fitzmier says. “I enrolled and figured if I didn’t like it, I’d take drawing or something else, but I took one class and I was hooked, and that started the whole journey.”

Martha polishing a bracelet

Photo by Nikki Hansen

That first class was in 2007, right after Fitzmier moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta. She had owned an antique shop in California and collected antique silver jewelry. For a long time, Fitzmier admired the way people crafted those pieces.

Once she got into metalsmithing, she used basic techniques — sawing, piercing, soldering, doming metal and setting stones — to craft a necklace pendant similar to the antique pieces she admired. The tools and the skills kept piling up as the years went by.

Somewhere along the line, she decided that she wanted everything in her home to have a specific purpose. “It had to be practical, it had to be useful, to be worthwhile,” Fitzmier says. “Somehow that influenced my wanting to make useful objects.” While she still makes jewelry, her passion is for hollow forms, flatware and useful household items.

Tessellation silverware

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Fitzmier creates everything from vases to serving spoons and candlestick holders to decorative storage boxes. Many of her pieces are inspired by other artists working in various mediums, including painters, printmakers and tapestry weavers.

She developed a line of flatware incorporating tessellations on the handles, inspired by printmaker M.C. Escher. Tessellations are art formations featuring different shapes that fit closely together. It took her a year collaborating with others to establish the original Honeycomb Tessellation Form, a tool that other artists can purchase from her. Fitzmier has also been inspired by architecture — after a tour of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, she created a double-hinged box based on the famous architect’s designs.

“There are many, many ways you can go with metal arts, but I like to try them all and I like to push myself outside of the boundaries,” Fitzmier says.

Martha Fitzmier holding a torch

Photo by Nikki Hansen

She moved to Verona three years ago to be closer to her children and grandchildren. Even before moving, Fitzmier says she was looking for fellow metalsmiths and programs in the area. Dismayed to find very few options, she decided to establish Wisconsin Metalsmiths, where she is president. “I knew I would not be happy until I found a group of people to work with and to collaborate with,” Fitzmier says. The group has grown to 17 members and formally formed as a guild in January 2021. She also joined the Madison Art Guild and is a board member.

Fitzmier’s Verona studio is her first space dedicated to her craft — previously, in Georgia, she operated out of a two-car garage and had to keep moving her tools and workstation to make room for vehicles. In Wisconsin, she turned the lower level of her home into a studio — she, her husband and her son-in-law renovated it themselves. She opened it up for other artists to come in, collaborate and learn through workshops. A group of five meets once a week in the studio to teach each other new skills. “We’re there for critique. We’re there for encouragement. We do a lot of problem-solving,” Fitzmier says.

Community is very important to her personal and professional development, and she thinks the same goes for any artist.

A retired educator, Fitzmier offers 10 different workshops including etching with electronics, tessellation, introduction to forging and a couple classes that teach students how to use a hydraulic press — something a lot of metalsmiths don’t typically work with.

Despite working with metal for nearly 15 years, she aims to constantly learn new things and advance in the craft. As the self-proclaimed “Take-Apart Queen,” Fitzmier will take something apart and try again if she doesn’t like the result. If the next attempt doesn’t work, she’ll try again until it reaches her standards of quality. There’s no procedure too daunting for her — she’ll give any technique a chance just to advance her metalsmithing craft, and then she’ll pass it along to others in the community she created.

“I never want to be stagnant,” Fitzmier says. “I never want my art to be pigeonholed. I really want to learn new things.”

Find Martha Fitzmier Designs:
marthafitzmier.com
Paoli Road Mercantile,
6904 Paoli Road, Belleville

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.