A happy medium

Georgette Fortino has expressed her creativity with everything from flowers to wax, but she’s finally found her niche with Precious Metal Clays.

Georgette Fortino launched her business, Designs by Georgette, in 2004, working mainly as a floral arranger, but in 2006, she expanded her interest in the organic arts to Precious Metal Clays, or PMCs, a relatively new medium with unique properties.

“[PMCs] fueled my jewelry interest and launched my business in a new, beautiful direction!” she says.

PMCs are compounds of a precious metal (such as gold, silver or copper) and a binding agent. Upon firing, the organic binding agent burns off, leaving behind only the precious metal. This may not sound like a revolutionary concept, but with PMCs, artists can craft detailed items of gold or silver without the pain of working with molten metal.

Fortino works mainly in copper and silver and uses gold mostly for burnishing because gold PMC is very expensive (3 grams of gold PMC cost about $400).

Interestingly, the silver included in the PMC Fortino obtains from PMC Connection, a supplier of PMCs and associated products, is recycled from discarded machines such as computers and pieces of hospital equipment.

Fortino, a level-three certified PMC instructor, says: “Jewelry-making is one of the most creative outlets I’ve ever been drawn to. The flower industry
is certainly creative, but with jewelry, I can sculpt almost anything in my head, and it can be worn as a fashion accessory.”

A former bench jeweler, a production job entailing refining and polishing pieces, for Mignon Faget, Fortino says she learned her craft largely through practice. 

“I’ve been sculpting out of wax since I was 10!” she says. “Since then I’ve come a very long way, though.” 

Fortino’s designs have certainly grown up, as has her method of jewelry-making. To begin, Fortino hand-sculpts an object out of a durable polymer clay and then uses this object to create a likeness in a rubber mold. Once the rubber mold is hardened, the PMC is pressed in. “And voilà!” Fortino says. “The piece is ready to be refined and then fired in the kiln.”

Fortino says her designs are influenced by New Orleans and its quirky, avant-garde nature. “I feel like I change a lot but always love going back to my older stuff and rearranging,” she says. “It might sound like a mess, but I love every minute of my constantly shifting attention span.”

Fortino also finds inspiration in her roots: Her grandmother’s old buttons inspired her Mema’s Button design; her aunt’s old house inspired Aunt
Mil’s Shotgun.

“I wear my Mema’s Button ring every day to keep my grandmother close to me,” she says. “It’s probably one of my simpler designs … but I would have to say that ring is my favorite.”

Her immediate family –– which includes her husband of 19 years, John; daughters Madeline, 18; “suddenly 13-year-old” Jessica; and Caroline, 9; and a dachshund named Gustav –– also provide inspiration. Fortino says the Madeline’s Cameo and Frankenstein Stitches designs were both inspired by her daughters.

As a visual artist, Fortino also does a great deal of commissioned work; in fact, commissions make up about 60 percent of her work, she estimates. “I just love customizing my clients’ thoughts and adding my own special touch,” she says. “I love adding clientele, finding new associates and –– as clichéd as it sounds –– making new friends. Every time I go to an art market, it seems I find a new artist who really catches my eye or a new client whose imagination I love to capture. But I’d have to say that my biggest dream is to increase my students. I love teaching my friends and clients how to work with the PMC and create their own designs. I’m also attempting to go back to school in the very near future to finish my degree in fine arts and education.”

Fortino fully acknowledges that her schedule is hectic: “I’m always busy, busy, busy. With my family, the business and my continuously growing and changing catalog, I’ve decided to sleep when I’m 80.”

She sums up her goals well: “Expand! Grow! Teach!”

Eventually Fortino hopes to incorporate a gallery at the front of her Gretna studio to show her work as well as work by her talented students.

For information about signing up for one of Fortino’s classes or just for a closer look at her designs, call 813-6113 or visit her Web site, designsbygeorgette.com. Her work is also available at b-native.com (a Web site featuring artwork by local artists), RHINO Gallery at Canal Place and art markets such as the one at Palmer Park at the corner of Carrollton and Claiborne avenues. “Look for me on Etsy.com soon, too!” she says.

Categories: Masters of their Craft, Theatre + Art