The jewelry at Little Toro Designs may be delicate, but creating it is hard work. For Tawney Weir (pictured), it’s a labor of love to create each unique piece, and she says she’s always learning more about her craft.
Weir’s interest in design stems from her upbringing. Her mother, who was an artist, introduced her to different art and crafting techniques. Pairing that with inspiration from her grandmother’s vintage Navajo and Hopi jewelry collection, Weir found a passion for designing accessories that are influenced by Arizona’s cultures and landscapes, as well as modernist art and design.
“I’m inspired by Navajo and Hopi jewelry and silversmith techniques,” Weir says. “It’s a facet of the Southwestern cultural fabric that inspires me. I want to take elements of it and make it my own and modernize it.”
Weir says she took her first metalsmithing class in the 1990s, and since then, she’s continued to learn from established jewelers to fine-tune her designing and jewelry-making skills. She calls her style “minimal maximalism,” often focusing on simple shapes and clean lines that are highlighted by bold colors. She works with metals such as brass, copper and sterling silver. Part of the reason is the durability of metal jewelry, she says: “It’s going to last you a lifetime, and it’s something you can pass on.”
But Weir’s specialty is enameled copper, which is made by fusing powdered glass to metal using high heat — a process that can be dangerous and physically taxing. “Basically, you sift layers of glass onto copper, and then you fire it,” Weir says. “I use a kiln that’s about 1,470 degrees, and each item goes in a minimum of two times.”
The heat is exhausting, especially during the summer, but so is the delicate work of handling small pieces — a process that can take its toll on a metalsmith’s neck, shoulders and eyes. “At the start, I cut out whatever shapes I’m going to use out of sheet copper,” Weir says. “Then I have to file and sand that by hand, form it with a hammer and drill holes into it.”
With each step requiring a keen eye and attention to detail, every piece of jewelry takes time and effort to meet Weir’s standards. “I’m kind of a perfectionist,” she says. “If I’m making 10 pairs of earrings, that can usually take three to four days.”
Erin Hinton, a longtime customer, says she likes Little Toro Designs jewelry for its “quality, color and subtle simplicity.” Hinton says it’s hard to choose a favorite piece, but her saguaro necklace and earrings always draw compliments. “Nothing is ever fussy or uncomfortable,” she adds. “All [Little Toro] pieces are effortless and timeless.”
While Little Toro Designs jewelry is long-lasting, Weir warns that enameled pieces can chip or crack if dropped, so they should be handled with care. She also encourages people to clean their jewelry carefully to ensure it stays in the best condition.
Weir sells most of her accessories online through her website and retail partners, but she’s often at local art markets in Tucson. She says the community of artists in Southern Arizona has been a big part of her success. “People are really supportive and encouraging with cross-promoting,” she says. “Tucson is not a small town, but it has a small-town feel.”
Weir is currently working on new jewelry designs for holiday shopping and refreshing her inventory, which also includes home decor. You can find her on Instagram at @littletorodesigns.
To learn more about independent, locally owned businesses, please contact Local First Arizona, which represents nearly 3,000 locally owned businesses and supports a sustainable Arizona economy by educating citizens about local business ownership, social equity, cultural diversity, environmental kinship and collaboration. For more information: localfirstaz.com or 602-956-0909.
Little Toro Designs