While it is clear that Scott James Jewelry is a well-run business, there is no doubt that the man at the helm is first and foremost an artist.
In 1991, train tracks cut across 100 South just west of the North Fields in Heber. This was the year the Whitaker family took permanent residence in the Heber Valley. They found a home in Midway, “on the other side of the tracks,” Scott Whitaker says cheekily — almost poking fun at his small-town roots.
Whitaker’s grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers once owned the Homestead Resort and the land surrounding it, so the family has some serious local cred. Indeed, if you’ve lived in the valley for a while, you’ve met a Whitaker. His grandfather was also an artist, working a storied career as an illustrator at Walt Disney Studios in Anaheim, California. He died in 1976 after helping establish the film studio at Brigham Young University, just two years before young Scott was born.
“I always had an affinity to work with my hands,” Whitaker recalls. And it’s obvious. The office where we talk sparkles with tiny sculptures of metal, pieces cast or fabricated and placed just so; a sample of some smaller world’s greatest works of art. In high school, Whitaker studied metalsmithing, 3D art and ceramics with Sue Villella, a teacher at Wasatch High, whom he credits for much of his early inspiration. “She put her passion into teaching even though it was obvious that she could have been a professional artist.”
Before moving into his shop on 100 South, Whitaker apprenticed for several years at Tommy Knockers, a family-owned jewelry store in Park City with a 31-year legacy. “My passion is definitely in the fabrication — working the torch and working the metal with hand tools,” he says.
This passion becomes palpable when the conversation turns to the natural beauty of Utah. Whitaker shows me a few pieces from a series featuring topographically rendered landscapes beloved by locals: Mt. Timpanogos and Bryce Canyon cast in sterling silver, perfectly formed to fit comfortably around the wrist. This is the work that seems to light him up. As Whitaker describes the series, he’s at once uncertain and excited, enlightened, confident and tortured — a man in the throes of inspiration.
Whitaker’s tone is deliberate and thoughtful. As we talk, it’s clear that he wrestles with the pressures of any contemporary art career: commerce, likability, originality and the 80/20 rule. And it’s no wonder; Whitaker and his wife have three preteen and teenaged boys at home. They opened up shop in 2006, right at the peak of an economic boom and bust.
“Through the lean times in 2008, we got creative and branched out into the catalog market,” he tells me. Sundance and Olive & Cocoa also feature Scott James’ pieces as regularly as his time allows.
The memory of those lean times clearly keeps Whitaker grounded, although it’s also clear that the pressure to produce something marketable hasn’t dampened his urge to simply create. “The more I create pieces about who I am as a person and my passions, the more they resonate with people,” he says. “I’m learning to always do the work I believe in.”
CASTING VERSUS FABRICATION
“Casting” describes the process by which molten metal is poured into a mold, cooled, and then broken free. “Fabrication” describes jewelry made by assembling pieces of metal and other materials, which are then formed with a torch and hand tools.
Also known as the Pareto Principal after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the rule as it applies to business management theorizes that 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of clients. The principal is a common tool used to maximize efficiency.