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Austrian cloisonn artist now calls Oakwood home
"Wish Upon a Star" is an enamel piece with a folk art feel. The piece by artist Heidi Bowman is an 8-by-10-inch piece of gold fired into enamel.

Austrian-born Heidi Bowman, who now lives in Oakwood, said she was captivated with the art of making cloisonné enamel jewelry when she first saw an artist remove her work from her "little bitty kiln."

"When I first saw it, it's glowing molten, and then you watch it cool and the colors come out," Bowman said. " I was so hooked on that."

A lot of people don't know what enamel is, Bowman said. The jewelry is made of metal and finely-ground pieces of glass.

"It has to be a type (of metal) that can withstand high, high temperatures," Bowman said. "Most of the time it's copper, sterling silver, fine silver or steel."

Bowman said she uses tweezers to bend the metal wire, and accuracy is key.

"You have to close the, let's say there is a circle, you're dealing with one-tenth of a millimeter, so that it fits together," she said.

After the wire is bent, Bowman inlays the enamels in opaque or transparent colors.

"There are two types of enamels. One is called opaque, and if you fire that, that's what you get, and the other type is transparent," Bowman said.

The effect of transparent enamel is like layering tissue paper.

"If you think of tissue paper, if you put down, let's say, a light blue tissue paper and then you put a red one over it, so what do you get?" she said. "So with transparents, you can get all kinds of nuances and if the light shines on it, it kind of goes deep into it. It's exciting."

Bowman fires her pieces "anywhere from 1,400 to 1,600 degrees, depending on the technique."

The firings take "a very short period of time," but some pieces have to be fired almost 30 times.

"Something can go wrong each time you do it, but I never get bored, that's for sure," Bowman said.

Bowman has exhibited and lectured at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville and now has pieces at Unity of Gainesville Church and at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art in Marietta.

Her work also has been featured at museums in Japan, Spain, Israel, Australia and Germany.

Bowman said she grew up with a love of art.

"I was born and raised in Austria, and my father wanted to be an artist, and my oldest uncle, he was," Bowman said. "But his father said, ‘No, you are going to learn something so you can eat and not go hungry, but if you have that, and you decide to go hungry, then it's up to you.'"

So Bowman's father didn't make a career of art, but she said he was "what we might call a ‘Sunday painter.'"

As a child, Bowman said, "I was little and I just admired him. I cried my heart out when he didn't like something (and) he tore it up."

Bowman and her family moved to Texas in the 1940s. Twenty years later, while working as an administrative assistant in Alabama, Bowman discovered cloisonné.

"I do like to do the very involved things. In fact, I had one piece at the White House in the Blue Room on Christmas, which was quite an honor," she said. "I got an invitation from the director of the Smithsonian."