silversmith and cancer survivor
Some people want to be firemen or doctors: I’ve always wanted to be a jeweller!”
And though she took a circuitous route through cake decorating, graphic design, secretary-ing, painting and store clerking, Shawna Whiteside, owner, designer, engraver and creator extraordinaire of Sweet Iron Silver Company eventually found her way to silversmithing and jewelry design through a happenstance encounter with a customer at the feedlot where she was working.
Shawna explains, “Our vet mentioned needing a gift for his wife and I said, ‘Why not get a custom made watch from Olson’s? I’ll design it for you!’ When the people at Olson’s saw my design, they said, ‘You’re really good! Have you ever thought of doing this?’ And I answered, ‘Only every day of my life!’”
As serendipity would have it, the Olson Silver Company in High River — a highly respected silversmithing company with a very low employee turnover rate — had recently had a seasoned engraver retire.
“I have always had a passion for fine engraving! It’s absolutely my specialty.”
And, like so many stories of intention and passion meeting opportunity, the rest, as they say, is history. But not quite.
Shawna spent the next few years driving the two hour each way commute from her home near Didsbury to High River learning the ropes with Lana Figuera whom she credits for showing her the ropes and letting her hone her enthusiasm for engraving 40 hours every week. Eventually, she knew the time was right to cut her commute and launch her own venture. Sweet Iron was born in 2001 and the rest, as they say, is history. But not quite.
In 2006, Shawna got the potentially devastating news that her body from bow to stern was fighting cancer. But Shawna’s not the devastating kind, and she took the news in stride, not feeling sorry for herself for a minute, instead finding gratitude in that she worked from a home base and could schedule her custom engraving and jewelry making around the little inconveniences like surgery and chemotherapy.
“I was really fortunate that I had a job where I could do a belt buckle and then go lay down, do a ring and then go lay down. The chemotherapy gives you insomnia, so I could work at two in the morning if I wanted and then crash till whenever. I mean, I’m very lucky: I went through this, and I could still work and take breaks, I didn’t have any dependants to support meanwhile… I could have been a single mom and a waitress needing to be on my feet all day and that would have sucked.”
With an aplomb that’s as inspiring as it is incredible, she adds, “I never thought I’d die from it or anything. It was just something I went through… something for the Christmas letter.”
Shawna is one plucky woman and clearly puts all her passion into her custom engraved jewelry, buckles, instrument bling and knives because she doesn’t put any of it into personal dramatics. She takes her life in stride, with a dry humour and a shrug of her shoulder.
Amidst glowing accolades in testimonials on her website, you’ll see Anders Svensson claiming, “I think people would be extra impressed if they knew you did all of this using only a Bedazzler. Blindfolded. Underwater.”
And, a surprising celebrity injection (“Shawna who?”) straight from the cowboy’s cowboy, George Strait, show just how much Shawna’s not willing to take life so seriously with a lighthearted humorous approach after surviving cancer and numerous surgeries that could have taken a less plucky woman down a whole different survival path.
Sweet Iron designs are all intricately designed and truly lovingly created by an artist who simply loves what she does.
“I’m so proud when people choose to spend their money on my creations. I feel like I’m a part of the special moments they’re commemorating with designs we conceive together. I know I’m not the only game in town and I know what an honour it is to get to be invited in to a creation that people love wearing.”
For more information about Sweet Iron and to inquire about your own custom silver engraving ideas, surf to www.sweetiron.com or phone 403 816 4370.