Goldsmith Joel Bagnal wants to make it clear that he doesn’t have customers. He has clients. It’s the difference between an independent artist like Bagnal who creates one-of-a-kind pieces of gold and silver jewelry by hand and those big-box stores where everything is mass-produced.
“If I was to sum up what I do, I try to help people commemorate the important relationships, occasions and possessions that they treasure in the jewelry that I create for them,” Bagnal said over a cup of coffee at La Herencia Café on Aviles Street. “I call them ‘objects of adornment.’”
At 74 years old, Bagnal has more than 52 years of experience in metalsmithing, but he still treats each custom piece like his first. His shop, Joel Bagnal Goldsmith, is located within Aviles Gallery on Aviles Street.
“The interaction between me and my client is really paramount to the creative process,” he said. “I love the personal aspect of working with people one-on-one. And what’s better than being here, on the oldest street in the Nation’s Oldest City?”
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Bagnal attended Stetson University where he received a bachelor’s in art and was introduced to the art of metalsmithing for the first time in 1965. Upon graduation, Bagnal went on to earn a Master of Education from Boston University and ultimately received a Master of Fine Arts with a concentration in metalworking from the University of Georgia.
“When I was living in Boston, I worked full-time during the day in public relations and fundraising to pay my way through school,” Bagnal said. “But I was still doing metalsmithing as much as I could and decided to pursue it full-time in 1970 after I graduated with my degree in education.”
Armed with two graduate degrees, Bagnal got his first teaching position at Cedar Crest College, a liberal arts school in Allentown, Pennsylvania where he stayed for a few years before Boston University came calling. In 1975, they asked him to be the founding faculty member of the school’s metalsmithing program.
Around the same time, Bagnal applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant, won it and used the funds to open his first shop in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Over the next few years, the jeweler opened a second location in Concord, Connecticut and found success creating custom designs and one-of-a-kind pieces over the next five years.
Over the years, Bagnal’s voice and aesthetic in goldsmithing has become unmistakable. He works predominantly in gold and silver — occasionally doing a copper piece here or there or incorporating family gemstones that have been passed down from generations.
His imagination is only limited by his client’s — working through the design process step-by-step on rings, earrings, pendants and bracelets that his clientele conjure up.
“I’d say that 85 percent of my work is custom and that 60 to 65 percent is from clients who are out of town,” Bagnal said. “A lot of my work comes from people who visited my shop while on vacation and then go home and contact me to make something for them.”
After enjoying the success of his custom jewelry shops in the Northeast, Bagnal moved back home to Jacksonville in the early ’80s for personal opportunities and spent the next 20 years doing consulting work in marketing and sales for companies like IBM. Around 2001, Bagnal moved to St. Augustine and ended up meeting his now-wife, professional photographer Nancy ‘Hookey’ Hamilton.
“Aviles Gallery is owned by Hookey,” Bagnal said of the space where he creates and shows his jewelry. “She is one of eight visual artists in the gallery. They are all local and the gallery is run like a co-op. I’m usually here between five and six days a week.”
Bagnal, though in his mid-70s, is embracing new technologies and ways to communicate with his clients.
“I’d say the iPhone is one of my biggest tools,” he said. “I can sketch my designs, take a photo and text it to them. Right now, I’m creating wedding rings for two men who are getting married in Britain. As I make the pieces, I take progress shots and text them.
“What I’m most interested in is the client’s involvement in a piece that is uniquely theirs,” Bagnal said. “Working with other people’s ideas, I feel that I get stretched creatively in a broader way than I would otherwise.”