About Me

About Me

Dawn Whisnant Vertrees

Go home and make me a flower...

...Those were the words said to me by Master Jeweler, Volker Kracht at the end of our first meeting. I had been looking for ways to take my porcelain work to a higher level, and upon seeing my work in porcelain; Volker gave me the challenge that changed my life. He handed me three pieces of wax and told me “to go home, make me a flower”. 

I went into this challenge with some confidence, thinking my techniques for sculpting porcelain would transfer to wax. I was right to a large degree, but in addition unlike porcelain that sets within hours, wax sculpting allowed me all the time I wanted to take in sculpting the finest detail into every facet of my work.  

It was truly an eye opening experience!

Upon completion of my first flower in wax, I presented it to Volker. He pulled down his optivisor and studied it carefully. I was sweating bullets. After what seemed like an eternity, he said in his thick German accent “we cast it now.” 

Volker took the time with me to explain every aspect of the lost wax process. What an exciting experience that was! And when he was through, he sat us down to talk about our experience. At the end he said, “I was going to retire, but I’ll give you three years to teach you ow to make jewelry.” What a gift! I will be forever grateful.  It’s been more than 3 years now since Volker took me under his wing. I've come a long way, but he will always be my teacher and mentor.

My first Orchid Pendant after being handed 
those three little sheets of wax.

Artist Statement
I was surrounded by artistic talent from an early age.  The first thing I hope you’ll notice about my work is the wonderful detail and faithful reproduction of each small detail that I put into each piece but I also hope that you will see the “personality” that I try to give each piece that brings it to life. I started sculpting jewelry originally from porcelain. This medium allowed me to sculpt very fine detail, yet shape my leaves and flowers in a very natural and realistic way. However, porcelain proved itself to be somewhat fragile. The solution was Sterling Silver! So I have successfully applied my sculpting techniques to sterling silver, producing flowing, natural designs. I have found a wonderful outlet for my artistic talents in the design and sculpting my unique jewelry. Every day is a new adventure, and every customer a new friendship.

Awards and Press

April 6, 2007 Fire Mountain Jewelry Supply Honorable Mention

September 20, 2007 Southern Women’s Show

Charlotte, North Carolina Best Product Display

November 21, 2008 CraftArt

St Petersburg, Florida Collector’s Choice

December 10, 2008 Woodstock

Sunrise, Florida Honorable Mention

February 27, 2009 63rd Miami International Orchid Show

Miami, Florida 1st Place 3 Dimensional Art Best of Show

April 18, 2009 Mainsail Art Festival

St Petersburg, Florida Award of Excellence

July 4, 2009 Fun Fourth

Greensboro, North Carolina Best Presentation/Display

March 6, 2010 Raymond James Gasparilla Arts

Festival Award of Merit


June/July 2009 Issue Bay Magazine

St Petersburg Times

St Petersburg, Florida “Elements” Pg 59-65 Biography

Artist's Bio

Born and raised in North Carolina, I was surrounded by artistic talent from an early age. My father, Hugh Whisnant, was an extremely talented and accomplished artist as well as a brilliant engineer…all self taught. I guess you could say it was in his genes. His artwork has been displayed in prominent public buildings throughout the South, including the Baltimore Zoo.

He instilled in me a deep appreciation for nature, color, form, and perspective…things that would stay with me the rest of my life.

At age 19, I began working in the family business, Mobilite Exhibit Systems. We designed and manufactured trade show exhibits for a national and international client base. During the 20 or so years I spent working for Mobilite, I learned many new skills, some of which are worth mentioning here. I was taught everything from silk-screening, sign painting, to vacuum forming. I was an early adapter of the Gerber Signmaker, the fist computer controlled vinyl graphics cutting machine. At the peak of my career at Mobilite I was named National Sales Manager, which meant that I spent a lot of time on the road, managing 45 distributors throughout the United States.

In 1991, looking for a diversion from the stressful life I was leading, I started working with ceramics. I found that I had a talent for sculpting 3 dimensional flowers and leaves that I used to decorate picture frames, sugar bowls, lamp bases, and candle holders. My work was even featured in several magazines. As much as I enjoyed my time working with ceramics, it had to remain a part time hobby due to my busy work schedule.

It was the fallout of 9/11/2001 that convinced me it was time to leave the stressful life of the trade show exhibit business, and pursue my love of sculpting full time. I started with what I knew, decorating vases and picture frames with sculpted flowers and leaves. But soon that evolved into ceramic jewelry. I found a particular market for porcelain orchid pendants which I fired with colorful glazes. I worked for a while with ArtClay Overlay Paste, which I used to coat my porcelain pieces. This technique allowed me to produce pieces that looked like they were solid fine silver, although they were actually only “plated” porcelain. I began to develop my little orchid line to include calla lilies as well as other flowers. I entered a few contests and won a few awards! I was pleased with my limited success, but I wanted more.

In my quest for something better, I happened upon a master jeweler, Volker Kracht. He expressed an immediate appreciation for my current work and offered his expertise in helping me to further develop my jewelry line. I have to tell you, he opened my eyes to a whole new world…the world of Lost Wax!

With Volker’s expert instruction, I’ve now learned to sculpt my jewelry designs in wax, then cast them in precious metals , retaining all the detail and personality of my design, yet durable enough to last a lifetime. This also opened the door for many designs that just weren't practical in porcelain. Rings, bracelets and earrings, can now be made with delicate detail and without fear of breaking!

I wake up every morning with renewed excitement for what I’m going to create. Through the lost wax process and my newly defined style, I've found my niche in the jewelry world and it fits me! 
It’s been said many times that artists see things differently than most people. I recognized that special insight my father had that allowed him to look at a picture once, and reproduce the scene in detail two days later. I admired that in him, and I guess that’s why it was cultivated in me as I grew up around his work. To put it another way, some people look at a flower and see a pretty bloom on a stem. Other people look at a flower and see delicate pedals with lacey wrinkled edges and deep red centers, graduating into lighter and lighter shades towards the outward edges of the pedals. Whether this ability is God given or cultivated over time (I think both) it’s a gift that fills my life with wonder and excitement. This very excitement inspires me in sculpting my work. I want those viewing my work to see the very fine details which I feel are the true essence of the subject.

For an orchid it’s the frilly, almost whimsical edges of the pedals and “attitude” of the way the center petal plays against the other pedals. It’s the “personality” I see in these flowers that’s exhibited in the way they grow and thrive. I feel compelled to express my vision through my jewelry. And I’m still learning and cultivating my skills for seeing as an artist.  

I’ve found that working in wax allows me to model the fine details that I see in nature into my work. I can use an assortment of waxes and different tools to get the look and feel I want to show. And because wax is so “workable” I’m able to achieve a far higher level of realism than with any other medium I’ve found.

Techniques & Processes

As is the case with so many of life’s changes, my introduction to lost wax and the making of fine artisan jewelry came out of a desperate search for the solution to a problem. I had been sculpting some beautifully detailed porcelain orchid flowers that everyone loved, but they were so fragile they were just impractical for jewelry. In my search I ran across a wonderful gentleman, Volker Kracht, a very accomplished master jeweler. I was so pleased when he took an interest in my work. On the day of our first meeting he gave me a few sheets of jeweler’s wax and told me to “go home and make a flower“. Well, I took Volker’s challenge seriously, and a few weeks later I brought him back a beautifully detailed Cattleya orchid in wax. From that wax flower Volker taught me the process of lost wax by investing my wax model, then casting it in sterling silver. The finished piece was impressive! And durable! And practical for jewelry! He must have been pleased too because he sat us down and offered us the gift of a lifetime! He said “I was planning to retire soon, but I’m going to give you 3 years to teach you how to make jewelry”. I still get goose bumps every time I tell that story. With Volker’s guidance, I’ve now learned to incorporate my botanical designs into jewelry pieces that not only have the look of hand sculpted art, but also the comfortable feel of jewelry you’ll want to wear every day.

The lost wax process is as old as the hills. In fact it was first used about 5000 years ago at the beginning of the Bronze Ages in Greece, Egypt, and China. Although materials and techniques have changed over the years, the process is still very similar to those used in ancient times.