Deep within the Shawangunk Mountains, there is a special place where herkimer crystals grow out of the ground, sparkling, waiting to be found.
This place is something of a secret and unbeknownst to many; but not to Val Walis, a fourth-year visual arts student who has her own jewelry business: Orion Jewelry Design. According to her Facebook page, all creations are handmade “in hopes of enhancing energy flow of the wearer or room.”
Very much inspired by and interested in the cosmos and astrology, Walis said that the name of her business is derived from the beauty marks down her face that resemble Orion’s belt, also associated with the orientation of home and being the first recognizable constellation on this side of the western hemisphere.
The 22-year-old artist has been fiddling with wire wrapping for five years now, selling for three, and began this practice to fill her time in the spring, counter to her busy winters spent as a ski instructor at Hunter Mountain.
When she was first starting out during the winter of 2011 in Hunter, New York, she would walk down to the stream to collect anything she could — oftentimes stones and even seaglass.
“At first I was using whatever scrap stuff was around and that I had,” Walis said. “Those pieces are really special to me because they’re just so experimental, and from that I’ve just been looking at what I have and developing [my jewelry] from there.”
From year to year, there is a constant evolution with her collection. The merchandise she sells today is a very different variation of the jewelry she’s had in years past.
“I want my inventory to be this ever changing upheaval of things,” she said.
Orion Jewelry Design specializes in wire-wrap bijoux, from necklaces to rings to bracelets and more. The process of making her creations is messy: she looks through her drawers full of beads and stones, sees which ones would fit well together based on color and significance, mixing and matching to find the perfect combinations.
For one of her closest friends, born under Taurus, Walis created a set that would help her during a time when she was quitting her job at a corporate radio station to bartend and make jewelry.
“I made a bracelet with all of the Taurus stones and made a necklace with malachite for courage and strength and lapis lazuli, which is associated with communication,” she said. “To have something on you that is a physical thing, you can feel it on you and have it remind you that we have the ability to access more than we think we know, that’s really it for me, to give an extra push in the right direction.”
Over the past year or so, Walis said that she has tabled in several marketplaces and festivals to get the word out about her business. She recently tabled at Student for Sustainable Agriculture’s Fall Fest on the SUNY New Paltz campus, as well as at their Farm Fest last spring. She continues to table at the farmer’s market in Tannersville, approximately one hour north of New Paltz, and has participated in several festivals and markets between New Paltz and Hunter, including last summer’s Cosmic Alignment festival in Saugerties. After graduation in May, Walis plans to travel the country in hopes of selling her jewelry from state to state.
Walis said she’s noticed that labradorite, a gray, somewhat translucent stone with a blue reflection, is one that most people are immediately drawn to, and it is one that she works with often.
“It’s a really magical stone,” she said. “It’s connected to your psychic abilities and strengthening your intuition.”
Aventurine, a “lucky,” light green stone, is one that people are also often drawn to — especially children. This is interesting, Walis said, given that aventurine is also known for being a protective stone for children.
Her motivation may lie in making some profit from her business, but it is mostly derived from her desire to help people and to give. She recalled an encounter with a woman she knew local to Hunter whose mother had passed away a few days prior, saying she came to her in the form of a butterfly.
“I had these little stone-carved butterflies and a little pendant,” Walis remembered. “She didn’t have enough money for it and I just gave it to her, and it got me to tears. It was so special, and being able to give something that will brighten someone’s day every time they look at it, that’s really powerful. That’s why I do this.”
A struggle she’s faced with her business is having to let go of so many pieces that mean so much to her, but this practice has helped her as an artist and in general.
“You put so much time and energy and your whole self into something and then have to let it go,” she said. “I finish a lot of pieces and say, ‘This is priceless to me,’ but then you have to be able to let it be someone else’s.”
Orion Jewelry Design can be found on Facebook for orders of any kind, including custom, perfect for gifts and good luck charms.
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on November 10, 2016.