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Brandy Thomason McNair launched Bella Vita jewelry in 2008, and today her work can be found in more than 100 brick-and-mortar stores across the United States. One of those stores is McNair’s own Bella Vita store in a century-old building in downtown Little Rock, making McNair a vital part of the ongoing revitalization of Arkansas’ capital city.

McNair’s jewelry is known for incorporating hand-stamped charms, natural stones, hand cast bronze and sterling silver pendants, and vintage baubles into unique, small-batch jewelry items that provide a distinctive sense of fun to everyone who wears them. In addition to being one of Arkansas’ premier artisans, McNair is also something of a treasure hunter, collecting vintage pieces both as an inspiration for her work and as a source of raw materials for her craft.

What drew you to your craft? How did you learn it?

I was highly influenced by my grandmothers and encouraged by my parents when I was very young. My grandmothers were both entrepreneurs and dabbled in jewelry in different ways. One had an antique store with loads and loads of antique jewelry. The other had a gift shop and was always stringing new pieces to put out for sale. Fast forward 4 or 5 years from my initial interest, I started working at a bead store in Eureka Springs. This took my interests to a whole new level. Most of my skills were learned early on from working in the bead store. But I have taken a lot of metal working classes over the years and have learned from some very talented artisans. 

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What are tools are essential to your craft?

I can't live without my hammers, assorted pliers and cutters, my rotary tool for drilling holes and polishing and my kiln. There are a lot of essential tools in this craft. I am also very protective of my hands. I'd say they are my most essential tool!

Is there a certain aesthetic you aspire to with your work? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I am most inspired by the materials I work with and my collection of antique jewelry and buttons. I am also inspired by words, quotes, conversations, music and my daily life. 

Has there been one piece that you’ve worked on that has been particularly challenging? Is there one that you liked so much when you finished it that you didn’t want to sell?

I've been working on my metalsmithing skills more these days. I picked up a batch of stone slices at a gem show in Arizona last year. They aren't drilled so I've had to come up with creative ways to set the stones. The process I use to set these stones has struck interest in more technical designs that have to be soldered and such. Because of this, I will be adding new rings and bangles to my collections in the near future.

Do you listen to music while working? If so, are there certain songs or artists that you tend to listen to most often?

I listen to a lot of stuff when I work. I usually start with a few hours of NPR, then switch to music which could be anything from Taylor Swift to Drive By Truckers to New Orleans Jazz, and sometimes you might catch me listening to movies on Netflix.

Is there any advice you’d give aspiring artisans looking to make a business from their craft?

Try to pick a craft and do things that no one else is doing. Be confident and believe in yourself. 

How do you combat creative blocks?

Creative block happens from time to time. To combat it, I often pull out all my boxes of beads and trays of antique jewelry. This usually gets my creativity flowing. If not, I might take a trip over to Argenta Bead Co. or visit the Arkansas Arts Center or simply take my dog for a walk in downtown Little Rock. 

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In this day and age of instant gratification and mass-produced goods, do you see people yearning for unique, handmade products like yours more as a way to express individuality?

I do! I do a lot of custom work especially custom stamped pieces. My buyers really appreciate that they can come to me to get exactly what they want stamped out on a pendant. Then we can work together to compose it in to a unique piece of jewelry for them to wear. I think there will always be a market for mass produced anything! But I also think that there will always be room and a market for our handmade goods too. Handmade goods are so special and often have a good story to go with them.