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A Behind the Scenes Interview with Fran Doll - The Bronze Jewelers

April 22 2003 at 2:34 AM

Fox  (Premier Login pictures)
Owner

A Behind the Scenes Interview with Fran Doll - The Bronze Jewelers
by D.A. Fox

"I feel I'm on a mission to provide beautiful, comfortable, hair accessories that actually WORK." -Fran Doll
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Down at the Southernmost Point in the USA live Fran Doll and Dennis Blankenheim, the creative geniuses that own and operate Bronze Jewelers. I've been so fortunate to get the opportunity to get to know them better, and to share some behind the scenes information with you!

Bronze Jewelers started about three years after Dennis and Fran got together. In 1983 they registered their business and made it a general partnership. Before that, Dennis was an individual artist/craftsman who supported himself all of his adult life with his work. He started out doing custom leatherwork, blown and stained glasswork, and permanent stage rigging. He's had long hair since he got out from under his mom's scissors in the 1960's.

Dennis said he began making hair combs in the 1970's when he started doing more metal work. At the time, he was the only one doing hammered teeth so the combs would be secure for even thin hair. The scroll clip back barrettes evolved from a buckle design, and uses elements of the design for the clip hooks. Fran notes that a pair of heart combs was Dennis's first gift to her.

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Before Fran moved to Key West in 1980, she was working as a Psychiatric Social worker in Wisconsin and New South Wales, Australia. After spending three years helping Dennis with sales and upkeep of jewelry for art shows, he taught her how to use the torch to size rings, so she could mind their street stand in Key West. His comment was that "Fran was an artist waiting to happen." Her first hairpiece designs were the Rose barrettes and came about because she said, "The scroll barrettes would get caught in my hair when I wore it up in a braid." Many of their designs come as specific requests or needs from their customers, which is one of the things that makes Bronze Jewelers more than your average jewelry store!

When I asked Fran who did all of their metal work, she said, "Dennis and I do all our own metal work. There are certain designs, like the Celtic knot designs that are made from a cast after Dennis or I have done an original. We then shape the barrettes and add the back to it. We use a mini-torch, using oxygen and acetylene to create the pieces. Some are made from bent metal that is welded together. Some use a large "flowed" element to give it the unique, organic effect."

"I spend my summer stocking up on snoods for the whole year. I try to have 200 snoods ready; spending all summer creating between 8-14 snoods a day. I spend another week making the pics to go with them. The pieces then need to go into an acid bath and then in a tumbler with a grinding media for 12 hours, to smooth all the edges and remove the fire-scale. Then they go in another tumbler for 12-24 hours to give them the high shine they have at sales time."


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Fran reflected back to their beginning days, "When I first started doing the snoods, every piece had to be polished on a motorized buffing wheel. I used to buff for 40 hours a week. I have arm and shoulder muscles well beyond what most women have."

I wondered if the snoods that used patterns were all the same, Fran said they were not. "Each snood is hand made so no two are exactly alike. However, I have a general design I follow for the most part. They take me anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour of torch time, depending on size and design."

Do they take custom orders? "I do take custom orders, Fran replied, but I have to add the proper design elements...so not all orders can come out like the customer wants. I couldn't manage a wolf head design for one customer. You have to remember that all the lines must be flowed to connect and anchor to the side of the snood or barrette. There must be enough fill-in to keep the hair in place and secure." If you are thinking about ordering a custom design, Fran suggests, "First draw a circle or oval representing the outside shape of the barrette or snood. Then draw the design into the middle, remembering that all lines need to be connected on both ends to something, so they can't catch on the hair. There can't be large gaps for the hair to poke out either! It can be very challenging to execute a successful design from an idea."

I was curious as to how long their hair accessories would last. Fran said, "They last forever I guess. I had one come back after a woman ran over it with her car... twice. It was squished, but only had ONE broken weld!" Fran and Dennis's work is guaranteed for life. If you ever have a piece that develops a broken weld they will repair or replace it for no charge other than the shipping cost. They also try to accommodate exchanges as needed. If you order a barrette that turns out to be too small or large, they will facilitate an exchange for another item. One of my favorite features on their site is their "upgrade" option for the snoods. If you out grow your snood, they will exchange it for the next size up for only $5.00, plus shipping! I haven't seen that done anywhere! Now that is REAL customer service!

Is there any special cleaning required? "If the metal is not polished, all of our pieces will tarnish, looking more antique, but not rusting or corroding in any way. I personally don't polish any of my pieces. Water will not damage it, though you might want to rinse off salt water. Hair spray seems to cause more discoloration than anything else." What do you use to polish your snoods? "We use simple silver polishing cloths to shine up bronze."

Since we are always concerned with the hair-friendliness of hair accessories, I asked Fran if she felt their gorgeous pieces were safe for long hair. "The pieces are very safe for long hair. All edges are rounded and the teeth on the combs can be hammered to order. French twist combs and Spanish or long Celtic combs have wide spaced teeth to accommodate a lot of hair." HeadshotC.gif

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"I've had long hair most of my adult life except for a short period when I was on "professional mode" and another time when I was first divorced in 1976-77. I honestly wear all our creations. I test them for comfort, durability and weight, but I do have my regulars. I like to wear a snood for dress up. It always makes me feel like a princess, and there is NO such thing as a BAD hair day!

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For regular workdays I use a BBP, plain butterfly barrette that Dennis made for me. Butterfly-plain.gif
I had one for 10 years that was very special to me. I sadly lost it when my motorcycle helmet pushed it out of my hair at 55mph. I like the lightness and flexibility of the butterfly. It adds almost no weight to the hair and can be worn comfortably all day while I'm working at the torch. The large scroll is also a favorite for the same reason, comfort and a feeling of substance.

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If I ever have a headache, believe it our not, I wear a Blue Screw. It holds all the hair securely with the weight balanced in the figure eight bun. For some reason, the screwing action allows for NO PULLING.
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I feel I'm on a mission to provide beautiful, comfortable, hair accessories that actually WORK. I could never find a comfortable barrette before I met Dennis, and since we've been together, I've helped him expand our products tremendously."


There is nothing better than a longhaired lady testing longhair products! I asked Fran how long her hair was now and she told me, "I just trimmed 14 inches off of my hair, to make it easier to demonstrate at shows. It's still down to the bottom of my shoulder blades, but right now, I think Dennis's hair might be longer."

Fran's hair was Classic length before the trim. After seeing the beauty of her long hair, I had to wonder why she would choose to cut off so much. She explained, "Imagine if you would, standing for 10 hours a day for both days of the weekend, demonstrating hairpieces and wrapping a bun about 50 times each hour. Now do that for 14 weekends in a row, and add in a holiday. Now you know why I cut my hair to a reasonable length! I already spend a fair amount of money on the chiropractor and weekly massage. My arms, shoulders, and neck already get enough of a workout. Every two years I cut off about a foot so that the hair is to the middle of my back for the 14-week show run."

I told Fran her hair must really be healthy to go through all of their demonstrations, and still grow back to Classic length within 2 years. She agreed, "It IS healthy, and does grow at a good rate. My helpers at the shows have a theory that wearing their hair pulled back in our pieces every day stimulates the hair to grow better. I can't prove that, but they certainly don't harm the hair."

I think from the condition of Fran's hair, that it's obvious these accessories are very "hair-friendly." Not only do they protect your hair, but they are also works of art you can wear, and well worth the investment. Of all the people I've known who have Bronze Jewelers hair accessories, I've never heard one complaint. Well, I admit, I did hear one, they want more!!!!!

If you are interesting in buying one of Fran and Dennis' hair accessory creations, you will find them most easily located on the Internet at, http://www.bronzejewelers.com. You can also find them at scheduled art shows and Renaissance Festivals, as well as at their co-op gallery located in Key West, Florida. "We also have had some wholesale accounts at stores and gift shops around the country. However, there are only two open wholesale accounts now...one in Washington DC and one in Sarasota, FL. My helper in Minnesota also keeps a stash of pieces for the year to sell for us since the Midwest girls are our best customers."

I want to thank Fran and Dennis for so graciously sharing their time with us. We appreciate it so very much!

-Fox
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17/33/35+ - Bangs at 15 inches - Type 2CMii (3B underneath layer) Somewhat fine, slightly wavy (with curls on the underneath layer), light brown with gold and red highlights. To see more pictures, click on the gallery link found here:
Just Fox...


You can also find me here: The Long Hair Loom

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, they will become your character. Develop your character for it becomes your destiny." -John MacArthur

Products Used:
Aubrey Organics S&C
Vinegar/herbal rinses
Oils: Jojoba, Sweet Almond, Virgin Oil de Coco Creme, Monoi, Castor, Meadowfoam Seed & essential oils
Shea Butter (from which I make my own leave-in)
MP Popular Mix Brush
Wood and Horn combs
Vitamins/Minerals/Herbal supplements

-Fox
Foxtoontext.JPG
pararescue.gif

17/33/35+ - Bangs at 15 inches - Type 2CMii (3B underneath layer) Somewhat fine, slightly wavy (with curls on the underneath layer), light brown with gold and red highlights. To see more pictures, click on the gallery link found here:
Just Fox...


You can also find me here: The Long Hair Loom

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, they will become your character. Develop your character for it becomes your destiny." -John MacArthur

Products Used:
Aubrey Organics S&C
Vinegar/herbal rinses

Oils: Jojoba, Sweet Almond, Virgin Oil de Coco Creme, Monoi, Castor, Meadowfoam Seed & essential oils
Shea Butter (from which I make my own leave-in)
MP Popular Mix Brush
Wood and Horn combs
Vitamins/Minerals/Herbal supplements


    
This message has been edited by pictures on Nov 11, 2011 2:16 AM


 
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