Designer brings her brand of creative genius to Art Fair

By Doug Snover

Cheryl Lynn Ingberg hunches over her workbench, strong fingers pressing a tiny ribbon of sterling silver around a gemstone to form a bezel for a future pendant or necklace.  She changes eyeglasses to get better magnification for her tired eyes and brings her face within six inches of the piece of art she is creating on a workbench that is little more than a sheet of ˝-inch plywood over a student-size desk.

Her fingernails are close cut with signs of wear and tear from over 30 years of wringing artistic jewelry out of sheets and strands of raw silver.  She threads a tiny blade into her ancient jewelers saw and begins cutting a miniature flower from a blank of sterling silver no bigger than a quarter.

Scattered around the work surface are a shopworn ball peen hammer, a leather mallet, and what looks like a child’s wood block that she uses to shape the soft sheets of sterling silver.  And lots of bits and pieces of metal and unfinished, unmounted stones--the raw materials of her trade that spill over onto every flat surface in the small room, including the antique writing table that was her first workbench three decades ago.

From this, Kyrene Corridor resident Ingberg has for her entire adult life wrought one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry that she sells at art fairs under the trade name Cheryl Lynn.  It is painstaking work that often has her brushing the hair from her face as she squints to solder a tiny thread with a torch.

The results will be on display April 1-3 at the Tempe Festival of the Arts on Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe, booth number 5011 by the Starbucks on Fifth Street.

The bi-annual Tempe Festival of the Arts is the largest festival of its kind in Arizona and among the top 20 arts festivals in the nation, according to organizers.  More than 400 fine artists will display their wares along Mill Avenue and surrounding streets the first weekend in April.  The free event is expected to draw as many as 250,000 visitors to downtown Tempe.  A list of participating artists is available at www.tempefestivalofthearts.com .  Besides artisans, there will be street performers, hands-on crafts activities for children, and on-stage entertainment, as well as numerous food and beverage booths.

The festival is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily April 1-3.  While many of the streets along Mill Avenue will be closed to traffic, there will be ample parking available in the surrounding areas, according to the Downtown Tempe Community, Inc., the private, non-profit organization that sponsors the event.

As she prepares exhibits for the upcoming festival, there is a gaudy red sombrero on the shelf above Cheryl Lynn’s workspace, a none-too-subtle reminder, perhaps, that she is a long way from her childhood in North Dakota and early days selling jewelry in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“I started (making jewelry) when I was 14 in Fargo, North Dakota,” she said.  She started by bending thin strands of silver wire into decorative shapes and soldering them together to link strands of beads, working with her friends “to learn the process.”

Soldering metals, even thin strands, became second nature over the years, she said.  “After years of doing it, I know when it’s going to melt if I’m not careful.”

At 14 years old, she was exhibiting her works at local art fairs in Fargo.  “By 17, I was traveling to Minneapolis and opening wholesale accounts with galleries.”  She moved to Minneapolis after finishing high school a year early, anxious to get on with her career.  She discovered Arizona in the early 1990s and bought a home in the Kyrene Corridor in 1994.

Her first exhibits in Arizona were at the Arizona Renaissance Festival east of Apache Junction.  Business wasn’t that good, with many festival-goers preferring turkey drumsticks and jousting to the delicacies Ingberg laid out in her booth.  But the location at the foot of the Superstition Mountains helped broaden her repertoire.

In her career, she has gone through several artistic periods.  “When I first started, I was interested in antique styles,” she explained.  “Then I went to a deco phase.  Then I was on to the Oriental thing.”

At the Arizona Renaissance Festival, “I had a little booth that looked onto the Superstition Mountains … (and) a little more of the Southwestern thing happened,” she said.  Native American petroglyph designs now show up in some of her pieces.

Personal grief also inspired her work.  After her father died, Cheryl Lynn, as she calls herself professionally, created a tiny angel pendant in gold or silver.  The angel, which has become her signature piece, is no more than an inch long and has its hands raised above its head holding a small jewel.  To Cheryl Lynn, the pendant is symbolic of a person’s ability to “carry your weight” whatever your sorrow might be.

The angel pendant “has brought a lot of meaning to people’s lives,” she said.  “Some people buy it because they want to connect to something … healing.”

Then there are the animals.  “I am an animal lover.  Sometimes, I get on a roll of putting animals in my pieces,” she said, apparently an understatement judging by a glance at the many animal shapes in her portfolio.

Some of her pieces, like the angel, have serious undertones.  Others are whimsical, such as the fisherman whose line is in the water while the fish seem to be flying over his head.

Surprisingly, her display has no rings, only pendants and bracelets.  “I used to do rings (but) sometimes I just take a break,” she explains.

Her pieces sell for anywhere from $16 “on up to about $250,” she said.  For example, a simple pair of earrings with laser-treated colored pearls might go for $18, she said. 

A popular necklace with six flattened “coin” pearls sells for $42.  Many of her customers are repeat buyers, and she occasionally accepts requests for custom pieces, she said.

Cheryl Lynn proudly states that the jewelry she displays at arts fairs is made with those strong shopworn fingers.  She bristles when she spots booths selling what she believes are mass-produced pieces from overseas, saying it denigrates “a lot of us people who have been getting our hands dirty for years.”

Although the Arizona Renaissance Festival didn’t workout for her, Ingberg was hooked on Arizona.  “I started coming into town to do the finer arts festivals” in Tempe, Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, she said.  “I found I could make more money at the fine arts festivals.”

Which is an important thing for someone whose livelihood depends on her strong fingers and the ideas in her head.

Asked to describe herself and her work, Cheryl Lynn Ingberg said, “I think I am an artist, a silver- and goldsmith, and an entrepreneur.” 

She travels between Arizona and Minnesota for art shows and keeps her own books and extensive customer lists.

“I think that is the only way you can survive in this business,” she said.

More information about Cheryl Lynn is available on her website at www.CherylLynn.com