t took a life-changing medical condition—one that left Angela Sawatzky in bed for a year—for her to realize she had an inner “geek.” Since then, her inner geek can hardly be contained.
Angela Sawatzky is best-categorized as a steampunk jeweler, though her creations on occasion dabble into fairy-tale and fantasy worlds as well. She is the creative (and business) brains behind the Winnipeg company By Blackbird Designs. It has been her primary passion for the past five years.
Growing up, Sawatzky was perhaps more of a literary nerd than anything else. She is a huge fan of poetry, classic literature, and, in her words, “the weirder Shakespeare stuff.” Her father worked as a welding supplier and she mostly grew up next to the oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta. At the age of 15, the family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and has called it home since.
After graduation at Churchill High School, she had dreams of media and marketing and was accepted into Red River College’s Creative Communications program. However, due to life circumstances she postponed her acceptance for a year. During that year the rules for postponing were re-written and Sawatzky opted not to have to go through the extensive application process for the program again.
Little did Sawatzky know that just a few years later her entire life would change dramatically. She started to experience intense non-centralized pain that was unexplainable.
She gave up her apartment, moved back home, and quickly found herself in so much pain that she required 24/7 attention. “I couldn’t move for most of the day. I would just lie in bed,” recalls Sawatzky. “Sometimes I would scream and cry for hours, the pain was so intense.”
Doctors diagnosed her with fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. For Sawatzky the onset of the disease was the worst, keeping her in bed all day, every day. She would only leave home for Doctor appointments. She recalls, “We would have to line the back seat with pillows, every bump hurt so bad.”
Sawatzky needed something to occupy her mind. Movies and books could only get her so far out of her boredom. She wanted to do something and be at least a little productive. She began beading, which quickly morphed into making jewelry. “When I started it was pretty traditional, mainstream. I mean it was beautiful but it was kind of boring.”
Going online to look for various creative ideas, Sawatzky stumbled across steampunk jewelry. Prior to that she had no idea what steampunk was. The jewelry was her first experience with the genre, “I liked that it was mechanical rather than magical because somehow the magic in fantasy stuff feels like they are cheating. I like to I think I was always steampunky but I just didn’t know it.”
Sawatzky’s work is truly striking and one of a kind. It mixes steampunk with elements of fantasy, fairy-tales, and classic literature. It has a very whimsical and fantastic feel to it and she admits that it is a bit of an escape to the illness that so powerful impacts her reality.
After a year in bed making jewelry she had a huge inventory and immediately went to work selling it. She had never attended a Comic Convention before but her marketing brain knew that place was the best to sell her wares. Over the past five years she has continued to go from convention to convention and show to show to display her creativity.
“I have actually never attended a con as a regular person. I’ve always been a vendor,” she says.
Her first booth was at Comic-Con across from the Captain of the Next Generation Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard (aka Patrick Stewart). Sawatzky’s closet Star Trek fandom exploded with glee and from there she was hooked. Although she does still kick herself for missing the one year William Shatner was in town.
Knowing her own limitations is now the rule of the day for Sawatzky. The busy atmosphere of any convention can be overwhelming and forces her to be mindful of her mental and physical health. “That adage: ‘whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.’ I don’t believe that anymore. Sometimes it can permanently damage you.”
Despite her illness being a continual part of her life now, she refuses to let it define her. It may take her out of commission from time to time, but once you meet her you’ll understand instantly that it will never keep her creativity down.
You can find Sawatzky at a variety of upcoming conventions like the Calgary Expo from April 16-19 or the Winnipeg Retro Gamers Convention on April 25th. You can also visit her website at www.byblackbirddesigns.com.
Over the next few Saturdays we will highlight some of the work that turns so many eyes as well as the challenges that Sawatzky faces as an independent niche jeweler, the obstacles involved in trying to make this a full-time gig, and exploring some of the greater depths of steampunk with Sawatzky. ♦