From Welder to Artisan, Entrepreneur Inspired By Love And Nature

By Elizabeth DePompei The Evening News and the Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After an accident left her house-ridden, Dawn Middleton says she started beading jewelry, learning from a friend how to make earrings. A few months later, she was setting up at bazaars to sell her work (she laughs at the audacity now).


Dawn Middleton was in her 20s when she made the continental-sized leap from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest.

Armed with a degree in computer programming, a 20-something-year-old Dawn set out to find a job in her field.

That proved difficult, and she soon found herself stepping through the doors of the Ford Motor Company in Louisville.

"And I was one of the first women in the plant," Dawn, now 48, remembered. "I ended up working in the body shop and they trained me to be a spot welder. ... so I built trucks."

It was another leap, only to be followed by another 14 years later when Dawn sustained a spinal injury on the job and underwent surgery.

Finally pain-free but temporarily house-ridden, she started beading jewelry, learning from a friend how to make earrings. A few months later, she was setting up at bazaars to sell her work (she laughs at the audacity now).

When Dawn went back to Ford, they offered her a buyout package that included four years of college tuition.

"... It was a big choice because it was a really steady income and good pay and benefits, but I didn't hesitate really for more than maybe a moment, because I thought I had an opportunity to do something else."

That something else became interior design school, where Dawn fell in love with art. She thought she'd eventually work in interior design, but once again, the path veered.

"I didn't feel like it was my calling and then when I started working with beading pieces and selling them, I fell in love with the stones, really. I'm fascinated with stones and rocks and found objects," she said. "I just felt like it was my path."

Dawn realized she'd need more skills to get into the fine art jewelry market, so she studied under a metalsmith for two years. The fire she once used to weld together trucks she now uses to solder intricate pieces made of stones, fossils, silver and copper.

The backdrop of her childhood -- first in Washington and later in Alaska -- inspires what she creates today.

"I was always outside, I was a super adventurous kid and I loved the woods and moss and mushrooms and flowers and, yeah, so I loved nature," she said.

Whether it's the elements themselves that make up her pieces, or imprints of gingko leaves and cast branches form her own yard, Dawn's jewelry is interwoven with nature. Instead of the Pacific Northwest, it's Greenville's lush grass and the gardens surrounding her home that inspire her.

But there's something even bigger than nature that influences Dawn's work: love. With each piece she makes, Dawn feels a connection, as if she's creating for a specific person she's yet to meet. When she does meet them, the payoff is almost divine.

Kathi Crowe, who lives in Lexington, Ky., met Dawn about five years ago at an art show.

"She's very personable and she made an immediate connection with me, almost like a spiritual connection," Kathi said. "[There's] a light in her eyes that drew me to her. I think she's very intuitive, and you can see that through her work."

Kathi has bought at least 25 pieces from Dawn (many of them custom made), and she wears at least one nearly every day. She's even been able to visit Dawn's studio and watch her work.

Beyond admiring Dawn as an artist, Kathi has come to see her as a friend.

"If we lived closer, I'd just go hang out with her," she said.

Dawn feels the same, and meeting people like Kathi is one of her favorite parts of the job. Her least favorite is the business side of things -- paperwork and taxes. Nevertheless, Dawn says business is good.

"Our online store doubled in sales last year and ... our sales have already doubled this year so far -- they've more than doubled," she said.

In 2014, Dawn was juried in as an Indiana Artisan, an exclusive group of the state's best craftspeople. She can attribute some of her success to loved ones -- including her partner of five years, Nathan Lynch, who handles communication and marketing, and her mom, Diane Cartwright, now a bench assistant in the studio. They also help her with the roughly 25 art shows she sets up at every year.

From Alaskan to Hoosier, spot welder to artisan, Dawn has landed the leap.

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