“You never know how much your mother loves you until you have your own child,” Melania Schaefer shares. Her son, Silas Robert is now 10 weeks old and growing with each day. Before relocating to Harrisonburg, meeting her husband, and becoming a mother, Melanie found her creative passion in making jewelry, one that she continues to nurture through her jewelry business, Designs by Melanie, and its stall at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market.
As many people do, Melanie discovered her talent in college. She was working at a handcrafted goods store in Rutland, Vermont and her designs started through the discovery that ordinary necklace chains were breaking too easily. She began fixing them by twisting wire as a clasp, making it still delicate enough in design but stronger in structure than it was before. Once she had begun this journey, she started making jewelry regularly, joined the local farmers market in Vermont, and began her small business in 2005.
In 2009, Melanie decided it was time for a change and Harrisonburg, Virginia was her place of choice. Little did she know that she would find not only a place to live in Harrisonburg but a broader community that would embrace her wholeheartedly. For Melanie, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market has become a second home. And it was there that she met her husband Andrew, a fellow vendor at the market who sells organic vegetables from their farm, Wildside Farms. Now, she says, “the customers have become friends. They aren’t just customers anymore.”
Her experience selling at the market has also allowed her to do one of her most desired things in life – become a mother. Because her business had the opportunity to grow into a profitable form of support, she was able to take a hiatus from the market for a while this winter to enjoy being a mother.
Melanie is now back at the market on Saturdays selling her jewelry and she confesses that she missed her time away.
“People care about the earth the way that I do,” she observes of the environment at the market. “This market adds something really special to the community of Harrisonburg and is probably one of the best markets in Virginia. Harrisonburg is lucky to have this community of farmers who care about each other, the earth, food, and people.”
One of the most valuable aspects of purchasing jewelry from Designs by Melanie is knowing who is crafting each item. Melanie offers the ability to customize jewelry and create something personal for her customers. She also finds inspiration through her wire technique, which creates a dainty but extremely durable result. She wants to continue striving to make the jewelry stronger while maintaining its uniqueness.
Melanie handpicks each jewel that she uses, all of which are natural gems with no dyes. “I have all these beautiful shapes and colors to work with,” she says. “Combinations are virtually endless and I have a lot of fun.” Melanie has designed items for bridesmaid gifts, celebrations, and holidays, like Mother’s Day.
One of her signature designs is the Tree of Life. It is a particularly popular item for Mother’s Day, for which she often customizes the design with gemstones for the birth months of a mother’s children. This year, with Silas now in her life, this has become a more personal and special sentiment for Melanie.
Melanie feels Silas brings greater purpose to the work that she does and, with Mother’s Day on the horizon, she hopes to offer a way to show gratitude for all mothers.
Kari Owens is the Promotions Intern at Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and a senior Media Arts & Design major and Creative Writing minor at James Madison University.
All photographs by Swartz Photography.