Interview: Wire Sculpture Expert Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

By on September 28, 2009
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I had the opportunity to interview Dale “Cougar” Armstrong this week and I thought it would be a great blog item – so below is the interview!

I’m here (Alexandrea) with Dale “Cougar” Armstrong a die-hard rock hound, lapidary and wire jewelry designer.   As an expert, you have “followers” who want to know more about you so today we’re going to talk about your life’s work, your ambitions, your family life and what the future holds for you.

Alexandrea:  Dale, I have to ask, where does the “Cougar” come from in your “brand name?”

Dale:  I’m really glad you asked that because it has nothing to do with the current, “cougar woman” definition but is a nickname that my husband and friends gave me because my personality traits are  more like a big cat, so I used the cougar as my animal spirit totem and also for identification purposes in the business.

Alexandrea:  You truly are an artist.  So speaking of art, would you tell us how and when you discovered that jewelry was the art form in which you could express yourself best?

Dale:  After many years of training in 2 dimensional art forms I learned that 3D art was my favorite way to work.  Actually in a high school art class I was working on a mixed media piece with  paper mache’  and macromae and realized that my hands were doing all sorts of things that made my piece much better than the sketch I’d created for it.  My wire jewelry career began about 19 years ago and then progressed from a rock hound to a lapidary as a hobby and I was looking for a way to set the stone I was cutting.  So i was looking at silversmithing, casting, soldering and heat and then wire.  To me wire just seemed to have more artistic freedom than casting and smithing and I began to play with it and then included it in my art show as a result, in 1996.

Alexandrea:  You’re an accomplished designer, instructor and author.  How many years have you devoted to this career and at what point did you realize that it was time to package your knowledge for others?

Dale:  Well that’s a pretty involved question – I credit everything that I have ever done from age 10 on and maybe earlier to my current position from all of the private art lessons my mom had me take starting at age 9; to every job I’ve ever done from direct sales, to restaurant management and advertising whatever.  I’ve been in training for this over the last 40 years!  I began teaching the wire jewelry art form by request in 1998 and it was about 9 years ago that my students began asking me to write a book which was a work in progress over the last 7 years.

Alexandrea:  Let’s talk a little about your home life.  What do you do for fun during your down time?

Dale:  Downtime is a real treasure to me because I don’t have much of it these days.  But, I do love to read, I like science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction that is based on ancient civilizations, which kind of gives me ideas for my jewelry.  For brain breaks I like to play electronic games with my daughter.  We play the Final Fantasy series and Magic, the  Gathering and I love to work in the garden and of course looking and playing with rocks.

Alexandrea:  Have any of your kids followed your path, being an artist, will they follow in your footsteps?

Dale:  Probably not.  I have one daughter Sky – she does like to work with chain mail and she knows her rocks; graduating from pebble pup to rock hound at about age 12; her thing being fossils.  But the social aspect of this business is not her thing.  I do have a couple of step daughters who gave me grandchildren, may be interested when they get older.  They are kind of young right now.

Alexandrea:  I remember reading that your daughter has several disabilities, can you tell me how caring for her has affected your jewelry making career?”

Dale:  Well, Sky does see the world in a very different light.  While living on the road with my husband’s career, I home schooled her for many years.  I learned by teaching her that people learn in different ways and so I did learn how to teach in five different ways at once.  She has also taught me what’s important in life and probably most of all, patience.

Alexandrea:  Where do you go for inspiration for jewelry designs?  Is there anything that especially moves you; an activity, or a place, or a way or do you just find it in everything?

Dale:  Inspiration – that seems to be the most common question I get.  It can be a piece of music, a book or a movie, a view from a plane or an audio / visual piece – or just a memory and comes from everywhere and everything to me.

Alexandrea:  Finally, I wanted to ask you about your newly released book – can you talk a little bit about it?

Dale:  I would love to.  It was a quite an accomplishment; and it took about 7 years.  I called some of my students and asked them what they wanted. They said they wanted something more.  I wanted to give folks not just a group of specified projects but also the formulas and the techniques so they could practice what I had written and take those ideas and techniques and run with them.  “Wire Works” was the result and I really wrote it for my students.

Well, thank you so much Dale for sharing your time with us…I’m going to catch up with you again in October or November and delve into some other new things you’re into!