The kiln is turned on, handcrafted glass beads are removed from the previous day and Val VanSandt is ready to go. Every morning, this glass jewelry artist from Eaton Rapids gets down to business in her basement studio spending hours creating beautiful, one-of-a-kind jewelry. “Anytime you’re running a business for yourself, there is no slack,” VanSandt said. “You have to do it yourself or no one else will.” Growing up in a family of artists, VanSandt was born with a creative side. She began attending craft shows with her mother, and now business partner, just after graduating from high school. In 1994, VanSandt’s mother, Denise Houck, opened Chickadee Studios where she and VanSandt share their passion for creating handcrafted glass beads and jewelry. Today, “pretty perfect,” is how VanSandt, a mother of two, describes her career. “There are not many people that can say that they love to do what they do every day,” she added. One small bead can take VanSandt about eight minutes from start to finish to create, but the process doesn’t end there. The beads then need to be fired in a kiln for hours and then cleaned. Sometimes larger pieces, such as necklaces, can take up to a week to create. VanSandt finds inspiration for her jewelry virtually anywhere. She said, “Nature is forever inspiring.” Her business features everything from wearable, everyday jewelry to more extravagant pieces. Customers can expect to find everything from necklaces, bracelets and earrings all which have been hand-designed. Chickadee Studios also features a separate room to showcase the jewelry where clients can host private parties. VanSandt said the most difficult thing about running a business is having to wear every hat and oversee all aspects of the business. She not only creates the beads, but also does photography for the business, updates the website and is constantly applying for various craft shows across the country. “Most people see us as a ‘beader,’ making fun money in our spare time or playing around at our hobby, but we work so hard,” she said. The proudest moment in her career so far has been her recognition as a finalist for the Niche Award, an annual competition for handmade fine crafts. The piece that she entered into the competition took her over two weeks to create. “You get what you put into it,” said VanSandt. “I have never worked harder for anyone else than I have for myself.” When she isn’t attending jewelry shows with her mom, VanSandt serves on the Eaton Rapids School Board where she enjoys reading to kindergartners and attending board meetings. “Working with my mom is amazing,” she said. “We think and see things design wise the same and it’s a collaboration.” In five years, she hopes to have grown her business and focus more on online sales as well as take on more traveling to shows. To see more jewelry from Chickadee Studios, visit their booth at the 51st annual East Lansing Art Festival on May 17-18 or visit their website at www.chickadeestudios.com.
A senior at Michigan State University pursuing a career in communications and public relations, Danielle enjoys cooking, traveling and all Middle Eastern food.