Local metal artists open first retail showroom

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 11/23/21

Beehive Handmade has opened a new retail showroom on Water Street in Warren.

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Local metal artists open first retail showroom

Posted

For nearly 23 years, artists Jim Dowd and Sandi Bonazoli of Beehive Handmade have been creating functional metal crafts in the area — they launched in 1999 in a Fall River mill building, moving to another before spending several years in the Bristol Industrial Park.

They recently made the jump to Warren, in a space at 332 Water Street that features a beautiful and light-filled showroom streetside, with plenty of space for fabrication and shipping in the back. The longtime Tiverton residents bought their new headquarters in January 2020. Mindful of the pandemic, they opened their retail space quietly over the summer.

“This is our first showroom,” said Bonazoli. “We’ve always just been tucked away, working and shipping.”

Though they have weathered the turmoil of 2020 and 2021 well — including the supply chain issues that more than doubled the price of their primary raw material — the effect of the pandemic initially threatened to wreak havoc with their business model. For most of their years in business they have worked with retail partners, wholesaling to catalogs, including Food 52 and Maisonette. However, most of their business before was selling to brick and mortar stores.

“Of course they all closed for a few months and unfortunately a lot of those didn’t reopen,” said Bonazoli. “Our direct to consumer sales through our website sped up dramatically during the pandemic and actually doubled last year.”

Functional, contemporary designs
Beehive Handmade products have been earning accolades for years, shown at the American Craft Museum in New York, and featured in many national publications such as O, Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living, Gourmet, and Yankee.

Rooted in the tradition of the American Studio Craft Movement, their pieces are as concerned with function as they are with form. That’s not an accident — consider, for example, their popular line of baby accessories.

“We saw a confluence of our process and the marketplace,” said Bonazoli. “People were buying our spoons and cups as baby gifts. They’re traditional baby gifts, but the design is not old fashioned.”

A look around the 350 square-foot space reveals jewelry, pottery and functional metal crafts along with carefully selected work from other wood, glass and textile artists that complement Dowd and Bonazoli’s aesthetic.

“These were probably the first products we made back in 1999, we got tons of press,” said Bonazoli of a set of heart-shaped measuring spoons. “They are cast, but we hand-fabricate the originals.”

Graduates of the UMass Dartmouth jewelry and metals program, Dowd and Bonazoli do most of their metalwork in a pewter alloy of tin, antimony, copper, and silver, with the notable exception of the copper that they use to prototype before making a casting mold. It’s part of a process that can last a couple of weeks from the first glimmer of an idea to being able to hold a product in your hand.

“It starts with an idea, we’ll do some drawings, maybe one or two quick prototypes,” said Dowd. “But you’re not sitting at the bench during the development,” added Bonazoli. “You’re thinking about it, talking about it, and asking all your friends what they think.”

A mix of old tools and newer technology
The workspace where the magic happens is more low-tech than you might imagine, with several pieces of equipment that are bona fide antiques, like a metal cutter obtained at a Towle Silversmiths auction.

“With metalsmithing and jewelry making there really have not been a lot of changes in 350 years,” said Bonazoli. That’s not to say they don’t use technology when it’s called for. “When we first started you could draw a sketch of a tool you wanted fabricated, but now manufacturers want the CAD file. We had to improve our technology,” said Dowd. “We’ve used a hybrid of 3D printing to help make a prototype, and we’ve used CAD in some applications; it’s appropriate for some projects.”

Beehive Handmade sources almost all their materials locally, from the metal that they get in Providence to their shipping boxes, which they get in Pawtucket.

“That’s part of the reason we started here, to be close to source,” said Bonazoli of Providence’s longstanding status as a center of the jewelry industry. Now they are just a few miles south of Providence, with all of their team under one roof: from design to casting, plating to engraving, and sales to shipping.

“We seized the opportunity when we saw a historic space that could fit our entire business,” Dowd. “Independent businesses are part of what makes a town a unique and special place to live and visit.”

Beehive Handmade’s regular hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from now through Christmas they will also be open Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

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