Tag Archives: silversmith

John Hargiss

August 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Master craftsman and stringed instrument maker John Hargiss learned the luthier skills he plies at his North Omaha shop from his late father, Verl. In the hardscrabble DIY culture coming from their roots in the southern Missouri hills and river bottoms, people made things by hand.

“I think the lower on the food chain you are, the more creative you become. I think you have to,” Hargiss says.

He observed his late father fashion tables and ax handles with ancestral tools and convert station wagons into El Caminos with nothing more than a lawnmower blade and a glue pot. Father and son once forged a guitar from a tree they felled, cut, and shaped together.

These days, the son’s hands are sure and nimble enough to earn him a tidy living at his own business, Hargiss Stringed Instruments. His shop is filled with precision tools—jigs, clamps—many of vintage variety.

JohnHargiss2Some specialized tools are similar to what dentists use. “I do almost the same thing—polish, grind, fill, recreate, redesign, restructure.”

Assorted wood, metal, and found objects are destined for repurposing.

“I have an incredible way of looking at something and going, ‘I can use that.’ Everything you see will be sold or used one way or the other.”

In addition to instrument-making, he’s a silversmith, leather-worker, and welder. A travel guitar he designed, the Minstrel, has sold to renowned artists, yet he still views himself an apprentice indebted to his father.

“He was a craftsman. Everything I know how to create probably came from him. Everything I watched him do, I thought, ‘My hands were designed to do exactly what he’s doing.’ On his tombstone I had put, ‘A man who lived life through his hands.'”

Hargiss also absorbed rich musical influences.

“(I was) constantly around what we don’t see in the Midwest—banjo players, violin players, ukulele players, dulcimer players. There are a lot of musicians in that part of the world down there. Bluegrass. Rockabilly. Folkabilly. That would be our entertainment in the evenings—music, family, friends. Neighbors would show up with instruments and start playing. Growing up, that was our recreation.”

He feels a deep kinship to that music, and his father had a hand in his musical development.

“My daddy was a good musician, and he taught me to play music when I was about 9. By 11, I was already playing in little country and bluegrass bands. I can play a mandolin, a guitar, a banjo, a ukulele, but I’m pretty much a guitar player. And I sing and write music.”

Hargiss once made his livelihood performing. “I like playing music so much. It’s dangerous business because it will completely overpower you. I knew I needed to make a living, raise my children, and have a life, so playing music became my hobby. I worked corporate jobs, but I kept being pulled back. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. I’d no more get the tie and suit off than I’d be out in the garage making something else.”

JohnHargiss1It turned into his business.

Hargiss directly traces what he does to his father.

“I watched him repair a guitar he bought me at a yard sale. The strings were probably three inches off the finger board. I remember my daddy taking a cup of hot coffee and pouring it in the joint of that neck and him wobbling that neck off, and the next I knew he’d restrung that guitar. I think that’s when I knew that’s what I’m going to do.”

The memory of them making a guitar is still clear.

“The first guitar I built, me and my daddy cut a walnut tree, chopped it up, and we carved us a dreadnought—a traditional Martin-style guitar. I gave that to him and he played that up to the day he died.”

Aesthetics hold great appeal for Hargiss.

“I’m fascinated by architectural design in what I create and in what I make. I study it.”

He called on every ounce of his heritage to lovingly restore a vaudeville-house-turned-movie theater. It came attached to the North Omaha buildings off Hamilton and 40th streets that he purchased five years ago. The theater lay dormant and unseen for 65 years, like a time capsule, obscured by walls and ceilings added by property owners, before he and his girlfriend, Mary Thorsteinson, rediscovered it largely intact. The pair, who share an apartment behind the auditorium, restored the
building themselves.

Preservation is nothing new to Hargiss, who reclaimed historic buildings in Benson, where his business was previously located. He was delighted to find the theater at the North O site, but knew it meant major work.

“I’ve always had this passion for old things. When we found the theater, I remember saying, ‘This is going to be a big one.’”

Motivating the by-hand, labor-of-love project was the space’s “potential to be anything you want it to be.” He’s reopened the 40th Street Theatre as a live performance spot.

Hargiss is perpetually busy between instrument repairs and builds—he has a new commission to make a harp guitar—and keeping up his properties. Someone’s always coming in wanting to know how to do something, and he’s eager to pay forward what was passed on to him.

The thought of working for someone else is unthinkable.

“I get one hundred percent control of my creativity. I’m not stuck. I’m not governed by, ‘Well, you can’t do it this way.’ Of course I can because the sound this is going to produce is mine. When you get to control it, then you’re the CEO, the boss, the luthier, the repairman, the refinisher, the construction, the engineer, the architect. You’re all of these things at one time.”

Besides, he can’t help making things. “There’s a drive down in me someplace. Whatever I’m working on, I first of all have to see myself doing it. Then I go through this whole crazy second-guessing. And then the next thing I know it’s been created. Days later I’ll see it and go, ‘When did I do that?’ because it takes over me, and it completely consumes every thought I have. I just let everything else go.” Encounter

Visit hargissstrings.com for more information.

Silver of Oz

August 16, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Welcome to Silver of Oz, a handcrafted silver jewelry shop owned and operated by jewelry designer Levent Oz. (At the time of this interview, the store was located in Benson. It has since relocated to Montclair  on Center in West Omaha).

Oz’s personal story is dramatic and intricate, much like the antique silver cigarette cases, pill boxes, decorative rings, and dangling necklaces and earrings on display. Oz, who was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and lived in Vienna, Austria, before moving to the United States in 1998, has been influenced by a combination of Ottoman court jewelry and European modern style.

The son of a Turkish museum supervisor, who cared for the royal jewelry collection in the Topkapi Palace Museum, Oz had the chance to study the impressive court jewelry collection not accessible to most visitors. His awareness of and contact with classic silver pieces—such as Irish and Spanish swords designed with Nioello silver patterning and with Armenian black metal (which is tricky to work with and can shatter easily)—helped influence Oz’s silver-crafting style, fusing old and new, east and west.

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Oz’s own jewelry designs play with the surface of the metal. He creates unique pieces which embrace precious and semi-precious stones. His creations are made in a rectangular workshop at the back of the Maple Street store where he also teaches silversmith classes.

From a small burner in the studio space, Oz stirs the dark, thick Turkish coffee, Nuri Toplar; and just when the bubbles pop, he pours the sugary mixture into two demitasse cups with bright Turkish designs and tiny spoons.

After one sip, Oz excuses himself during a recent Saturday to greet customers Beth and Leon Wassenaar from Orange City, Iowa, who drove into Benson specifically to meet him. “Our friend owns this building, and we really like the wedding rings he made for them,” explains Beth.

An hour later, the Wassenaars left Silver of Oz with big smiles after buying a lovely pair of silver tassel earrings and a stunning silver and coral necklace Beth promptly wore out the door.

“The main point,” Oz said, smiling, “is not really selling. I love to interact with my customers.”

Not only does Oz enjoy talking with and getting to know his customers, he also likes to share a specialty from his homeland—coffee. With his mother still in Istanbul and a sister in London, Oz tries to visit Europe and the Middle East, but his teaching and designing schedule is hectic.

Doug Kuony took Oz’s beginner’s silversmith class a year ago when he found he had extra time on his hands after his father’s death. Oz teaches three levels of classes, two hours a week each in four-week sessions. Kuony, who lives close to the shop in Benson, said his experience with Oz “has been great.” He learned how to use the jeweler’s saw and the fusing torch, and now Kuony routinely makes his own silver designs.

For Oz, the journey to owning his own business has been a long one.

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While in college in Turkey studying English Literature, Oz worked at an antique store where he was introduced to the European art. After immigrating to Vienna in 1992, he learned how to produce the jewelry he designed since he no longer had the support of the workshops that finished his pieces.

In 1998, he decided to move to the United States and become a citizen. After landing in New Orleans where he worked as a waiter, Oz and his wife, Yeshim, a child, adolescent, and family therapist, were on their way to the west coast when they “got stuck in Omaha.” Oz ran a silver jewelry kiosk in the Oak View Mall for three months until he closed that operation.

Instead, he went to work at First Data in 2001. Oz ran a machine that inserted credit card statements into envelopes. He stayed in that position for 10 years, all the while knowing in his heart that he was an artist.

He finally got up the courage in 2008 to open his tiny shop in Benson. The following year, he moved Silver of Oz one block west into a much bigger space, adding a workshop and small art gallery. This April, Oz relocated his store once again to Montclair Shopping Center at 13013 West Center Road under the clock tower.

Perhaps the framed dollar bill he keeps superstitiously in an office drawer, signifying the first dollar he made in America, has brought him good fortune after all.

Silver of Oz
13013 W Center Rd
402-558-1307
www.silverofoz.com