Silversmith blends craft, faith

PALMETTO -- When Marietta Loudon was 17, she went to England for a yearlong apprenticeship with a silversmith.

At the time, everyone in her life thought that was out of left field, but Loudon trusted her instincts. She's someone who has her feet on the ground, but goes by her gut.The winding road she has taken since then now has her merging her passion with her faith: Loudon is making a crosier for the Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. The piece will debut during the 40th diocesan convention Oct. 17 and 18 at Christ Church in Bradenton.

Loudon designed the crosier with a couple of guidelines from the bishop, who is based at Lakewood Ranch. The diocesan seal must be part of it, as must a removable piece bearing the names of the diocese's past, present and future bishops.

Shaped like a shepherd's crook, a crosier is a bishop's staff. It and the miter are the two basic symbols of a bishop's authority, and each crosier is as individual as the bishop it belongs to.

It's traditional for each bishop to have his own crosier, said diocesan spokesman Jim DeLa, and everyone at the diocese can't wait to see Loudon's "expression of faith."

The diocese is big --- 11 counties from Brooksville to Marco Island --- but it's a tight-knit community, DeLa says. Not long after putting the word out it was looking for an artisan, the diocese got wind of Loudon's special skills.

Loudon nearly got goose bumps when the diocese called to offer her the commission. She accepted without thinking it through, but has faith everything will work out and she'll finish the piece on time.

Silversmithing takes lots of time and effort. Creating the ceramic seals of the dicese that connect beneath the crook of the staff --- which must be mirror images --- took more than 60 hours. But Loudon is no stranger to improvisation; she transformed an abandoned house into a charming home with personal touches.

In fact, she creates all sorts of things: mosaics, brick walkways in interesting patterns in her yard, quilts, shutters. The list goes on.

"Everything I look at, I can figure out how to make," Loudon says.

She most recently made miniature furniture and jewelry. She doesn't know what's in the post-crosier cards, but working on the project has led her to the realization she prefers working on large pieces.

The finished crosier will be 76 inches tall. Most of the staff will be mahogany from old Christ Church pews and the crook will be sterling silver. Loudon will keep at it, her Labs Finn and Radar by her side. The dogs sleep nearby while she's working.

Loudon's main workshop has tools and stations for everything from soldering to polishing.

"You can never have too many," she said.

On a workbench in that room sits a silver chalice. It's the first thing Loudon made 30 years ago when she was 17 and it still shines today. That shine's the sign of a good silversmith, she says.

A silversmith uses a torch to soften metal, then bangs it using a raising hammer before using a planisher to get that polish.

"It was magic," Loudon says of her first brush with metal at 15, and she had a desire to delve deeper. She considers herself blessed to have found her passion so young. Not that it's something she arrived at through a thought process; it came to her through a higher being, she says. "God is alive and well."

Raised an Episcopalian, Loudon took a sabbatical for some time before finding her way back to the church. Today she describes herself as "spiritual."

As many people do, she believes everything happens for a reason. But unlike some others, she not only survives tough times but thrives in them, choosing to grow instead of wither.

Loudon doesn't play it safe by sticking to a job description. She pays her bills and fullfills her adult responsibilities, but says life is too short not to have fun living it.

"This is the craft I was given to do," she says. "The story is still being written."