Nula Fisher wrapped tiny thread around a metal pin before scanning a wall of white, chocolate brown and black striped feathers. Some are meant to be submerged in water, and some are made for dry flying, she said.
These materials, normally used as fly-tie equipment, would soon dangle from a client’s ears rather than a fish’s mouth.
The Duluth artist crafts handmade earrings and original drawings-turned-graphics in the Northland.
Fisher was drawn to feather jewelry, but only ran across “chintzy” pieces made with glue. People who fly fish have access to extremely quality material, and Fisher was intrigued by adding a feminine element to a more masculine craft.
A Bemidji maker shared some trade secrets, and Fisher has been at it for several years as a side hustle, but COVID-19 led to a deeper focus on her work.
Fisher had somewhat of a gypsy lifestyle before settling in Duluth. She attended high school in Holden Village, a Lutheran commune. She fished for salmon in Alaska; she lived in Texas and Washington state.
Fisher described “an ache-y feeling, like I’m not living up to what I’m supposed to be doing.”
She landed in the Northland and eventually started working at the Duluth Folk School and settling into the art show coordinator position. After losing her job after the shutdown, Fisher had a void she needed to fill.
“I realized I couldn’t just be depressed," she said. "COVID really helped me to focus and (it) changed my life. … I wouldn’t have had the spaciousness or inner willpower to drop a job and start pursuing something else.”
In September, Fisher moved into a studio space in the former Duluth Timber Company.
Tiny watercolor paintings of intricate woodland scenes with the northern lights, small enough to fit in your palm, hang on one wall.
An antique lamp sits next to a Mason jar of almonds on a heavy wooden desk, leftover from the timber company. Stickers of her designs, paint brushes and jars of loose change huddle together on mostly empty shelves. Fisher hopes this space will carry her backstock.
Resting near the windows is a wooden coffee table, a payment for a job she did painting beams to look like birch trees.
Near her jewelry-making space hang sketches of wild strawberry, echinacea, a diagram of measurements to draw the human head. Spools of royal blue, magenta and mustard line the space below them near tiny jars of red jasper, green jade and lepidolite.
Along with jewelry, Fisher uses the North Shore, mountain biking and Scandinavian folklore for inspiration.
On Fisher’s instagram account, a gnome holds a wrench and a bike tire, with magical stars fluttering about. In another drawing, two gnomes ride a tandem bicycle with white beards and subtle smirks.
“Gnomes are altruistic, but they’re not without punishment,” she said. They’re good, stern teachers and also sweet, angelic beings that embody a certain quality of humanity.
Also: “Folklore and myth is a way that the higher power talks to us about life.”
For now, Fisher makes many of her drawings into stickers, an affordable and accessible medium for all. It’s the easiest way to get your art out there, she said.
Lake Superior College instructor Victoria Hutson remembers Fisher from her watercolor and drawing classes. It was Fisher’s persistence that caught Hutson’s attention. She was very motivated and determined; she went beyond what she had to do in class, Hutson said.
Fisher was also very critical of her own work, but that tends to be a characteristic of a good artist.
“I’m happy she’s getting noticed and that the hard work she’s put in is paying off,” Hutson added.
Fisher has done commissions for the Continental Ski and Bike Shop. Her work is for sale at Great Lakes Gear Exchange and the Back Alley.
Fisher is more stimulated by her design work, and she can’t see herself making earrings for eight hours a day, but this craft can make for some of the more interesting stories.
“I have picked up dead birds off the road this fall and frozen them,” she said.
She has then used the feathers for her earrings, and worked with clients who have brought feathers to her.
“It’s meaningful for people to have physical feathers that they harvested. They're like a talisman and can become wearable art.”
ARTIST SPACES is a series featuring artists and where they live or work. If you are an artist or know an artist with a space worth showcasing, send your info to Melinda Lavine at firstname.lastname@example.org.