Telling Stories: A Jewelry Makers Journey to Find her Passion

Words and Photos by Andrea Westerlund

“At 21, my naive goals were: join the military and save the world,” explains Sabrina Nussbaumer. In her early 20s, Sabrina saw the Air Force as an opportunity to go back to school and pursue her dreams of studying anthropology and religion.

What followed for Sabrina was not a career in the military or anthropology. Like so many other millennials, it took her time to figure out where she fit in a seemingly homogenous system. The recipe appeared simple: get good grades, go to college, get a job. The end.

Unfortunately, none of these tasks came easily for Sabrina.

“We couldn’t afford pre-school, so my mom put me in kindergarten at four-and-a-half,” she explains. “The teachers were like ‘she’s great, but she has a really hard time focusing.’ They called in the school psychologist, and they said I had ADD and recommended medication. My mom was like, no way, that’s not happening.”

Ah, the heyday of everyone and their cousin being diagnosed with ADD. Remember those days?

“Sixth grade was rough,” she explains. “I did not transition well from a single classroom to multiple classrooms.”

This difficulty with routine disruption would later make sense to Sabrina when she was diagnosed with autism. And because of it, things got harder for Sabrina before they got better, but I promise this story has a happy ending.

She worked in factories, tested her skills as a photographer, and even installed signs, but nothing ever hit home quite like jewelry.

“I ended up buying a couple of chasing hammers and beads from the craft store, thinking, ‘someday I’ll use this.’”

Luckily for jewelry devotees everywhere, “someday” came and Sabrina started her own business: SNJD Boutique.

“I’m a big creator in the moment,” she explains. “I like to get inspiration from the stone. Sometimes I’ll have all my stones out on a table, and I’ll just look at the stone and take in the colors and the textures or the shape of the stone. What does it want to be? Does it want to be a pendant? Does it want to be a ring? And then sometimes I’ll break out the sketchbook.”

The pieces that Sabrina creates are story pieces. Each collection has a theme that is tied to Sabrina’s life experiences or travel. For example, her “Fossil and Canyon” collection features materials that contain fossils or connect to her ancestral roots in Arizona. But she’s quick to point out that although her pieces tell a story, the story isn’t just hers to create.

“I’m the initial creator, but a customer is attracted to a piece for a whole other reason. They don’t know the story. They don’t know why it screams to them. And if they buy it, that piece has a whole new story. They get to tell their own story now.”



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