A family legacy of artJun 29, 2022 11:52AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
As a young child, Greenville jewelry designer Anna Biggs had already set her sights on a career in the arts. Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, Anna began painting early in life. She was only in elementary school when Anna learned that Michelangelo had an apprentice.
“I thought, that’s what I’ll do! I’ll drop out of school and be an artist’s apprentice,” Biggs recalled.
Obviously, her parents were not on board with that plan, and she continued her education. A summer program at The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) convinced her that that was the best place for her to continue her studies after high school. The irony was not lost on Anna when friends were discouraged from pursuing a career in the arts as a profession. When Anna considered majoring in architecture or fashion design, her parents had a surprising response. Biggs’ parents told her, “You are a painter; that’s what we are sending you to school for.”
During her senior year, Anna was accepted into an honors program and traveled to Italy to study. After the program ended, she remained abroad for an additional year, taking the opportunity to travel through Italy, Germany, and Greece. Biggs graduated with a painting/printmaking degree from RISD, but sees her jewelry-making as a natural extension of her interests.
“Jewelry is like little architecture, and it’s fashion,” she explained.
Living in Manhattan after college, Anna worked in a gallery and pursued her art at night. When close friends asked her to design wedding bands for their upcoming ceremony, she was apprehensive. “They didn’t want traditional round bands,” said Biggs.
The couple wanted the rings to be like Anna’s surreal paintings. Anna told her friends, “I don’t know the first thing about making wedding bands.”
But that didn’t stop Anna from figuring it out. Biggs started making fun prototypes of rings, and they came to the attention of a gallery owner where Anna had an art show scheduled. The gallery owner was impressed with the jewelry and, finding out they were her own creations, suggested Anna add her rings to the show alongside her paintings.
“That night, I figured out pretty quick it’s much easier to get another pair of earrings into a woman’s jewelry box than a painting onto someone’s wall,” she explained.
Anna decided to attend The Fashion Institute of Technology to learn the mechanics of jewelry making. She spent the following years living and working among artists in New York City.
“We all worked jobs in the industry during the day, had dinner together, then worked from six to midnight for ourselves,” she explained. After nine long years in New York City, it was time for a break, and Anna decided to return to Wilmington for six months. The short break became permanent when Anna met and married her husband, John Seiffert.
Back home in Wilmington, Anna worked for a large commercial bank, but that only lasted a few weeks. After experiencing corporate life, she decided to create a business plan and start her own jewelry design business.
“I asked my father to proofread my business plan before approaching the bank for a loan,” she explained.
He read her plan but felt it wasn’t worth jumping through so many hoops for a reasonably small loan, so he offered a substantially larger loan at zero percent interest.
“That’s how I got started 30 years ago,” she said. Through juried craft shows and home jewelry parties, her work began to gain attention. Requests for custom work followed. Today she has a busy schedule of shows and maintains her website www.annabiggsdesigns.com where customers can shop for that perfect piece of jewelry.
Anna hand carves each item in her jewelry line, whether it's a piece for production or a custom commission. She sculpts each piece in wax, has it cast in gold or silver, then does all the finishing, polishing, and stone setting. During her downtime between January and March, Biggs carves the waxes for the next season’s designs.
Biggs explained, “What makes my work unique is that everything I produce is made from my original sculpture.” She carves between 15 to 20 new waxes and decides which pieces she’ll cast and add to the collection
Looking at her jewelry line, it’s easy to see that her inspiration comes from nature and architecture.
“I traveled a lot before I married, and I love architecture and sculpture from foreign countries,” she said.
Biggs even spent a month traveling in Indonesia. “I like submerging myself into a culture, and this has contributed to my designs.”
Her love for old hammered and cast ironwork also influences her creative pieces. Of course, flora and fauna are both found as well. One of her more coveted designs is the delicate Canterbury flower represented in a necklace, bracelet, and earrings. Animals, including foxes, bears, and rabbits, also make an appearance in her jewelry line. Popular items are her community charms.
“My alma mater is Wilmington Friends School, and I carved a kangaroo as a lark,” she explained. From this, her community charms line was born. The Tatnall gazebo is represented in keychain and cuff links, as is The Centerville-Layton School’s griffin. For many years, Tower Hill School presented its graduates with a tower charm. Biggs gives a portion of the community charm sales back to the schools or organizations they represent.
Anna is unique in that she is both left and right-brained. She is passionately creative, but she also has mastered the business side of her industry.
“Parents ask me to talk to their child who dreams of being an artist. I always tell them you must take at least three classes in small business,” she said. “You have to understand how a business runs and understand a profit and loss analysis.”
This is an area where most artists struggle, but Anna was lucky to have learned early in her career how to track her costs, whether they are materials, labor, or show booth fees. “It doesn’t do you any good to create if you can’t sell your work,” said Biggs. “You have to separate from the passion. When I’m carving my waxes, there’s my passion. But then I have to change gears and have a very precise system for my business. You must learn how to value yourself. Being an artist is not for the faint of heart.”
Creativity seems to just flow through the Biggs family. Anna’s mother is the artist Ann Atwood Biggs, known for her botanical watercolor paintings. Mrs. Biggs studied painting with Carolyn Wyeth but put her creative pursuits on hold to raise a family. She encouraged her daughter's artistic interests and returned to painting once her children were grown. Drawing inspiration from Longwood Gardens, Ann paints exquisite botanical watercolors. She has exhibited at the Philadelphia Flower show and the Station Gallery in Greenville. Anna has also continued to paint and accompanies her 89-year-old mother on her weekly trips to Longwood Gardens. Sharing mother-daughter time and a mutual love of painting is something Anna does to feed her soul. Family also connects Anna to Sewell Biggs, founder of the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover. Sewell was Anna’s cousin and enjoyed taking her to the theater and other cultural events during her childhood. The Biggs museum showcases Sewell’s extensive collection of fine American furnishings and art collected over his lifetime.
It is not surprising that one accomplished artisan would marry another. Anna met her husband John shortly after returning from New York. John Seiffert is a cabinetmaker and woodworker. His first experience with woodworking was in a high school wood shop; he then studied furniture making in college. Through his business, Precision Woodworking, John finds solutions for people renovating homes, particularly older or historic homes. John handles each project from design to installation, whether a kitchen renovation with custom cabinetry or the construction of an ornate pergola. In older homes, it’s common to find everything out of square and out of level.
“I have to think like an engineer. How things work and the best way to construct,” he said.
“He’s very meticulous, very precise,” said Biggs. “He does things the old-fashioned way.” Sieffert has renovated homes in historic Old New Castle and more modern construction throughout the Wilmington area.
He said, “I want to walk away with confidence that my work will last a long time.”
His specialty is matching period work such as raised paneling.
“Everything he does is pure magic. It looks like it’s from another era,” Biggs said.
Anna’s busy show season has just started, but she finds time to work on another project close to her heart. She is writing a children’s book about the friendship between a dragon and a child that shares an environmental message. She hopes to acquaint families with local and national resources such as The Nature Conservancy and Ashland Nature Center through her book. Anna’s son, Chas, also shares an interest in ecology and won a national award for a stop motion short about the history of dams and their effect on the environment. It is safe to say that the creative genes continue to flow into the next generation.
You can find Anna Biggs Designs at the Lewes Historical Society Craft Show on July 10, the Rehoboth Art League Outdoor Craft Show on August 7-8 and 14-15, and the Hagley Craft Show on October 16 and 17. See Anna’s website www.annabiggsdesigns.com for a full calendar and to view her jewelry designs and paintings.