Jim Mazurkewicz, who spent decades teaching silver and goldsmithing at the Cleveland Institute of Art, was influenced by Fred Miller and John Miller, both renowned artists who created for Potter and Mellen during its rise to national prominence. Mazurkewicz retired from Potter and Mellen, Cleveland's renowned jewelry studio. His legacy stretches far and wide, in the hundreds of rings, brooches, necklaces and other works he's crafted, from a $10,000 gold and diamond sunburst pendant purchased by Abu Dhabi royalty to an $80,000 piece featuring a 167-carat aquamarine gemstone.
"You put everything in a piece that you can," he says. "It was what Mr. Potter wanted. I just felt that I had to do it. Every piece you did was its own little work of art. It wasn't something that was tossed off quickly just to get money. Sometimes you didn't make money on a piece."
Mazurkewicz spent his lifetime creating intricately detailed pieces of jewelry that have been purchased by royalty and regular folks alike. "I've got a folder of thank-you's, and whenever I'm having a particularly discouraging day, I'll go back and read one and lift my spirits a little bit," he says.
If our city was born of the industry of Rockefeller and Hanna, governed by Garfield and Stokes and entertained by Szell and Freed, then it was Potter and Mellen that sparkled from our lapels and shone from around our necks. Horace Potter opened the Potter Shop in 1899. There, he showcased his elegant jewelry and silver and brass work, created with detailed design and world-class craftsmanship. Today, his pieces are handled with white gloves by museum curators across the country. Along with the likes of Louis Tiffany, Potter and his crew of artists helped spark the Arts and Crafts Movement in America, a push-back against the factory-produced products of the day. Like Cleveland itself, Potter and Mellen expanded throughout the early 20th century, adding fine china, silverware and even garden accessories to its store near East 105th Street and Carnegie.
In 1989, Potter and Mellen was purchased by Ellen Stirn Mavec. Soon after, she met Mazurkewicz, who was ready to make a change after 20 years of teaching metalsmithing at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Not only did Mazurkewicz offer Stirn Mavec, and her customers, a link back to the old-world craftsmanship of Horace Potter, his artwork was "spectacular," she says. "He was, quite frankly, a gift from heaven," says Stirn Mavec.
When Mazurkewicz designs a piece, he first does a pencil line drawing. From that rough sketch he creates a very detailed drawing, to scale, that allows him to figure out how much gold he needs. "Everything is designed and thought out," he says. "When you're working with precious stones and gold you can't just start hammering. I cannot do that. My nature will not allow me to do that."
A master goldsmith needs the magical hands of an artist and the unique mind of a designer, one that knows how to make an inspiration a reality (do-overs are tough when you're working with 18-karat gold). He needs an uncanny ability to sit for hours and focus. Perhaps most of all, he needs to have almost an obsession with perfection. Mazurkewicz had them all.
Before joining Potter and Mellen, Mazurkewicz visited some monasteries and came close to becoming a monk. The idea of meditating the mysteries of life appeals to him. "If I were to come around again," he says, "that's what I would do." He admits that his work is the cathartic perfection, the "balance, beauty and completion" that are often missing from other parts of his life.
From “Treasured hands: Potter and Mellen goldsmith Jim Mazurkewicz retiring as Cleveland institution closes its doors” by John Campanelli for The Cleveland Plain Dealer