I pulled into the driveway across from Hoover reservoir on a rainy April morning. The road was jammed with people coming to watch the regatta. Carole Bucklew welcomed me into her home and down the steps to her studio.
While she was getting us coffee, I looked at the pegboard on the studio wall where her many tools hung—wire cutters, files, hammers, pliers, and torches. I also noticed a rotary drill with bits and burs for cutting, shaping, and grinding—the removing of sharp edges, burrs, and excess material.
On the bench next to the vice, there were scores of metal pieces of diverse sizes, shapes, and textures—some of them engraved copper. Carole uses her tools to fashion various metals into rings, bracelets, barrettes, necklaces, and earrings. Her website intro reads:
A fascination with the unique features of metalsmithing and jewelry has captivated Carole for over forty years. Functional art that is aesthetically pleasing, unique, and well-made is her focus.
On the floor of her studio is a somewhat intimidating anvil mounted on a log. When she returned with the coffee, she saw me looking at the fashioning block. “I don’t use that much anymore. It’s cumbersome.”
I looked back at the tool wall, this time observing below the pliers a picture of a smiling young woman holding an infant. “Is that you and your son?”
“Yes, that was Lewis over thirty years ago. The other photo is my husband with our daughter Genevieve in 1987.”
Years ago, I was a teaching colleague of Carole’s, but I’d run into her a few weeks earlier. I’d been reading about people over 50 starting a second career, and Carole had embarked on just such a venture, so I asked her if I could interview her.
When we sat down, I asked Carole to introduce herself to my readers.
“I’m 65 years old, a wife, mother, grandmother, artist, lover of nature, and a follower of Jesus. I’ve been married to my husband David for thirty-seven years.”
Though I am a person of faith, I was somewhat taken aback somewhat by her “follower of Jesus” remark. But I decided I circle back to it later in our conversation.
For the last ten years, Carole has been a member of Studios on High Gallery (SOHG) in the Short North Arts District of Columbus, Ohio. At SOHG the members share all the duties of running the gallery and pay rent. Part of the Short North art scene for thirty-five years, Studios on High is the oldest artist-owned and operated gallery in Columbus, Ohio.
According to their website, “SOHG consists of twenty exceptional, local Ohio artists. A unique blend of fine art and craft, visitors will delight in our artists creating works onsite in oils, watercolors, mosaics, ceramics, jewelry, wearables, and sculpture.”
Carole recently retired after teaching art for forty-two years. Selling her beautiful jewelry at the SOHG is a second career filled with personal interaction and creative stimulation. “I love the folks I work with, and it has just been just delightful getting to know them. Everyone is very different. Their work is very different.”
The culture at SOHG is very collaborative. “We promote each other’s work, and we staff together. So, I always have the opportunity to ask my colleagues about their art, why they do it, what inspires them, their background, what they’re working on now. I really enjoy that.”
Carole loves meeting and conversing with the people who visit the gallery. “I really enjoy interacting with the people who check out our work. That’s really fun—to watch them look at something and see if they want to know more about it. Most people seem curious about the story behind the art.”
Carole has been making art since she was a young child. “My first jewelry-making experience was when I was 11 years old with my mother. We went to the Cultural Arts Center, which was then on Parsons Avenue. They had a casting class that we took together. The woman who taught it explained that in casting, you could take anything organic and turn it into metal. I was so fascinated.”
At the age of seventeen, after a period of difficulty and living in her car, Carole’s family urged her to take up an opportunity to study art and fashion design in France. She said yes and attended Atelier Martin and Chambre Syndicale De La Haute Couture Parisienne in Paris over a three-year period.
Not only was her time in Paris an immersion into language, art, and culture, it was pivotal for her personal development and maturity. “There were many things I gained from the experience. For one, I decided I needed to grow up. I needed to have a category for doing things I don’t want to do, which I previously did not. I purposed that I would finish everything I started.”
Carole’s time in France allowed her to face the pain and anger of her past, “Being away was also an opportunity to process a pretty dysfunctional childhood.” While many people avoid confronting past pain, Carole confronted the darkness head-on. “For me, it was a gift to be able to process, take stock, face things as they were.”
Her processing empowered her to stand for herself and level with her mother, eventually leading to deep healing. “My mom came to see me after I’d been in Paris for two years. I said, ‘You have been a bad mother, and I’m really pissed off at you.’ I had to say to her, ‘That is not Ok.’ My mom was taken aback, but we talked and worked through it.”
Carole’s time in Europe was also a period of questioning and searching. “I was trying to figure out what I believed. Both atheism and religion bothered me and sometimes made me frustrated and angry.”
“I came back to Ohio and realized I had not given God a chance. But I didn’t really know anything. All of my interactions with religion had been negative, so I was avoiding it. Eventually, my sister introduced me to a group of Christians who really understood my questions and helped me think through the philosophical implications.”
Around this time, Carole heard a message she’d never heard before, which she referred to as “the gospel.” She explained that for her, the gospel does not refer to a musical genre, but an old word for good news—the good news that Christ has accomplished what she could not and offered her the free gift of love, forgiveness, and a personal relationship with God.
“Every day, I know God is pleased with me because of the work of Jesus on my behalf. I don’t have to do anything to be more pleasing to him.”
At this point, I let Carole know that though I am also a person of faith rooted in the Christian tradition, terms like “follower of Jesus” make me uneasy. “It’s not that I don’t like Jesus, but the term seems to suggest a superior class of more committed and rigorous Christians. Plus, to say you follow him implies you can always know where Jesus is leading. Like you’ve got a hotline to Jesus.”
“Oh no, “ Carole said. “To follow Jesus is in an inward reality, a matter of the heart. It’s not about earning his love. It means to sit and his feet, so to speak, and learn, try to make Jesus central even though I’m weak and flawed. And it’s a personal relationship; it’s not about jumping through hoops.”
“Being a follower of Jesus means an ongoing relational thing that’s active every day. When I wake up, I’m like, ‘Here I am; what do you have for me today?’ It’s how I navigate and make sense of everything. In our marriage, it’s not David and me in a battle of our wills. We seek to defer to God on everything.”
Carole acknowledges there are times when she doesn’t know what God wants, and there are times when she knows what he wants and fights it or avoids it. And there are times when she moves ahead and tries to control instead of waiting for God. But her confidence is that Christ is working for her good even though she can’t always comprehend it or even embrace it fully.
A few weeks before we sat down in her studio, I had informed Carole I was interested in people over 50 embarking on new ventures, but even more so, people over 50 who were willing to tell their stories in a personally vulnerable way. It seems to me that art comes from places of wonder as well as sorrow—that beauty occurs in the midst of brokenness. I shared with her a quote from Henri Nouwen:
“Let’s look for our identity not where we are different or outstanding but where we are the same– our common human brokenness and our common need for healing.”Henri Nouwen
Carole, seemingly unfazed by the request to bare her soul, proceeded to tell me about some of her weaknesses and wounds, along with her sense of wonder and delight when she’s in nature.
Over many hours of conversation, Carole’s demeanor was nothing but kind and humble She’s not a “religious” or judgmental person. As she spoke and shared her story, I sensed the beauty and goodness of her spiritual experience. Her faith enables her to be comfortable in her own skin and shapes how she loves. She loves art and engages in the art of love—a love that is not in the least sentimental or cliché-ridden.
Carole told me two very moving stories that show how her faith works. The first was about her mother, who, as I wrote earlier, Carole had been straightforward regarding her disappointments. About ten years ago, she asked her mother to start getting together regularly—even though her anger at her mother still lingered. Until her mother’s death five years later, they spent regular time together. Gradually Carole’s anger diminished as deep healing occurred, and she grew to really enjoy her mother.
“I have good relationships with my children. But when someone I love is not OK, I’m not OK.”
Another moving story was about Carole’s relationship with her daughter. One of her statements that stood out to me was, “I have good relationships with my children. But when someone I love is not OK, I’m not OK.”
I thought to myself, of course, how can we be ok when a loved one suffers? Carole was naming a universal human struggle. We all are not OK when someone we love is not OK. And if we can be Ok when a loved one is not Ok, we are not Ok. We can’t detach ourselves from the lives of those we love, and we often react in ways that don’t seem like love to our family or friends.
I asked Carole to elaborate. She explained that she was not simply talking about empathy. “When someone I love is not Ok, I can’t sleep, I can’t rest.” Not only that, she realized that her love could be so intense that it gets her into trouble.
“I’ve struggled to learn that “my well-being can’t depend on how someone else is doing or how they are responding to me. And I’ve learned a lot about respecting boundaries.”
I’ve known few people who can admit their “love” is not always love, myself included. I’ll claim, “I’m just trying to help,” when, in fact, more is going on. Others may be tempted to detach themselves from loved ones in ways that they believe will lessen their vulnerability.
I admire Carole’s honesty that her love is impure. And fraught with complex and baffling motives. It quickly becomes control and overprotection. Even so, she doesn’t give up or distance herself from conflict or awkwardness.
Our conversation reminded me of what C.S. Lewis wrote of love:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to keep your heart intact, you must give it to no one… Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless—it will change. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable…”C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Carole’s love, rooted in Christ’s love for her, has depth, compassion, and patience—acquired wisdom that is only possible with decades of experience. I consider it a miracle when a person is not overtaken by bitterness, anger, or withdrawal.
As I thought about our conversation over the last few weeks, it dawned on me that Carole’s processes of making jewelry, and the tools that I saw in her studio (especially the anvil), are a picture of the processes at work in her life. Rough edges are smoothed, and pain that makes no sense at first forges a humility and approachability that creates a human connection.
I thought again about that faded picture of Carole in her studio with her infant son that hung next to the wire cutters from thirty years ago. She had no idea then of the cost of love or its rewards. And she had no idea she would be learning and growing as much as she was teaching and guiding her children.
Carole is a tremendous example of the benefits of aging. So much of what she’s learned and become good at is from time and challenging experience: self-awareness, empathy, embracing weakness as strength, friendship and family depth, healing, a broader and kinder understanding of people, and the repetition and hours to hone her craft.
Whether she’s making a ring, engaging in conversation, parenting, camping, or gardening, Carole Bucklew seems to be imitating her creator’s work in her. She said she’d never thought of that when I pointed that out, which is why it’s so beautiful to watch and listen to.
To check out Carole’s work, visit her website: https://bucklewc.jewelspan.com/home
For a look at Studios of High, visit https://www.studiosonhigh.com/
If you would like help telling your story through words and portraiture, please contact me.