Meet the Maker: Vicki Westgate of Metalworks Kingston

By Jordan Whitehouse

If you’ve walked through the red doors of Metalworks over the past couple of decades, chances are you’ve met silversmith Vicki Westgate. She’s the gallery manager at the downtown studio and jewellery boutique, and she’s been here since Steve Luckwaldt bought Metalworks and hired her in 2003.

When I walk in, she’s helping a customer from behind one of the glass cases that line the snug space and are filled with custom necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings made by Canadian jewellers and goldsmiths, including Vicki herself.

It’s a world very familiar to Vicki. “I’ve done jewellery since I was very little, and I’ve always loved it because it incorporates so much and it’s hands-on,” she tells me later. “You’re building, using tools, hammers, fire, because everything is made from scratch, and I like that.”

Here, that building happens in the small studio in the back shared by Vicki, Steve, and goldsmith Emily Wojna. It consists of three benches a few feet apart with hundreds of tiny tools on top — hammers, pliers, files, burrs, etc. Imagine the back of a jewellery shop from two hundred years ago, if not longer, and you’re not far off. “Nothing has really changed for over 2,000 years in traditional goldsmithing,” says Vicki. “There are new tools that can make life a lot easier, but we’re not that type of studio. We tend toward the tried and true because it’s what we’re good at it and because it works.”

Vicki describes her own work as “very feminine” and “classic with a twist”. Much of it incorporates pearls, but this isn’t the typical sweater set. Rather, she combines the natural contours of the pearls with more modern, handmade elements using gemstones, silver, and gold.

Vicki has a degree in fine art from the University of Toronto and worked in the private gallery system in Toronto for several years. She moved to Kingston in the 90s to enroll in Queen’s Artist in Community Education program and later took jewellery classes at St. Lawrence College.

Now firmly established at Metalworks for almost 20 years, she says one of the biggest rewards of this career is trying to figure out exactly what a client wants. “I find that dialogue very interesting, trying to physically envision what they want. And then when you’ve done it and you present it and they’re like, ‘Yay! Whoa!’ It’s the best feeling.”

While Metalworks has customers from all over the world, many are within walking distance of the downtown shop, says Vicki, and that’s something she’s proud of. “Rather than finding something online and going click, here it’s a visceral, one-to-one, highly personalized experience.”

Plus, she adds, people who shop here like the idea that they’re supporting artists who are making their living at this. “This is someone’s career, they’ve gone to school for this, and I find that people like making that connection with the people behind the work.”

Metalworks Kingston

352 King Street East