Friday, December 21, 2012

Jim Dunakin Interview

Today we are going to get to know another one of our very talented artist members of metalsmiths Unite: Jim Dunakin. Jim has been a member for a couple of years now- he is an active member, posting almost every day- is very open and helpful to other members and has been kind enough to share many ideas about techniques with us as well. He is a self taught metalsmith and Lapiderist (stone cutter) and creates delightfully colorful "eye candy", with impeccable craftsmanship.
So, without further's Jim Dunakin! enjoy!

MBZ (Maureen Brusa Zappellini) - Hi Jim- Thanks for taking the time to do this interview- I'm sure other Metalsmiths Unite members are interested in reading about you and your work.OK, for starters,  How would you describe what you do as an artist?
JD (Jim Dunakin) - Hi there- Well, I Generally describe myself as a jewelry artist, although studio jeweler would certainly work as well.

MBZ-what inspires your designs? (be it music, nature, beekeeping...)
JD- I think my primary inspiration comes from tribal cultures. There is no one tribe I would associate my work with, as I tend to draw from many different influences. I am careful never to co-opt specific tribal designs, as these obviously belong to those tribes, and can have significant meanings to them, both tribal and familial. However, we have all descended from one tribe or another, often forming new tribes along the way. I think this is important in that all humans have this in common. I believe this is one reason primitive styles and symbols can elicit feelings from so many people, even those who may no longer associate themselves with a specific tribe or culture. More often than not, these types of designs cross many cultures, and some have been in use in one form or another for many thousands of years. Again, while my work doesn't necessarily incorporate symbols, per se, the primitive influence is evident in much of my work.
On the other hand, living in the modern world, I've also been known to mix this primitive feel with modern influences such as architecture and mechanical devices.
In addition to these influences, several artists have inspired me. My two favorites are Albert Paley and Charles Loloma.

MBZ- how long have you been involved in this type of making? (how did you start?)
JD- I've been making jewelry in one form or another for about 38 years. I began by piecing coins, and turning them into pendants and earrings, in 1975. At about this same time, I made puka shell necklaces, which were all the rage at that time, and sold these and the coin jewelry at swap meets in Sand Diego, where I lived at the time.
Also during this time I had a friend who was doing some beautiful silver smithing work. He was self-taught, and had a unique style that I really liked. I asked him about teaching me this art, and he didn't feel that he would make the best teacher. However, he was very encouraging, and told me what book he had learned from (Indian Silversmithing, by Ben Hunt), and where I could purchase it. He did also give me many helpful tips and advice, both on the metal working and also with making tools and equipment.
I found this book to be very useful, because most of the techniques used in it were fairly basic, including soldering, stamping and so forth. It also had much information of making various tools like stamps and punches, and shaped dies for dapping.
Since that time, I've done a lot more reading on various techniques and methods, including repousse, chasing, raising, forging.

MBZ- where are you located?
JD-My wife and I live near the tiny town of Reed Point, MT, population 96. It sits along the Yellowstone River, in the south-central part of the state, somewhat in the foothills between the Rocky Mountains and the plains. Our home, which we've built ourselves, sits in a little valley that opens out to the south. We have a clear view from here, with open ranch land between our home and the Beartooth Mountains. Our nearest neighbor is about a mile away as the crow flies, but from here we can't see a single house or light in any direction!
It's a bit isolated, since we often get snowed-in during the winter, and more often we get get "mudded-in" in the spring, often for weeks at a time! During these times we do go out occasionally for groceries or to ship out jewelry orders. In those cases, we have to hike out, to a vehicle we leave up near the county road. It's a 1.5 mile hike each way, with groceries on our backs, but its a lovely hike up a beautiful canyon, so we always enjoy it. But for us it works, as we love the solitude and living so close to nature.

MBZ-do you have a website or etsy/artfire etc store? (put a link url here too if you want readers to click through to your site)
JD-We no longer have our own website, however, you can see our work at Dunakin Design on Facebook.
People can also contact us by e-mail at:

MBZ-what other ways do you market your work?(shows, galleries, brick + mortar stores)
do you teach? if so, where- (add a website link if you would like)
JD-About 80% of our sales are through the nearly 30 galleries around the nation that carry my work.

MBZ- just as a little treat I thought I'd add a link to Jim's recent internet radio interview with Jay Whaley on Metalsmithing Benchtalk...

MBZ-any sage advice for newcomers that you would like to share?
JD-I think I would just tell people to follow their dreams. If jewelry is something you are passionate about, by all means you should pursue it.
- where do you envision your work going in the next year? (artistic direction)
At this point I've learned to be open, and just let God lead me where He will. I never know what direction my work or my life will be heading next, but it's always turned out to be something better than I could have planned myself!

MBZ- thanks so much for taking some time to introduce us to your work and give us a little more insight into the Jim Dunakin experience :-) I am very happy to have you as a part of our community!


  1. Wonderful interview, Maureen. I think Jim's work is the finest I've seen and I hope to own a piece someday:O)

  2. Sad that he & his wife have died

  3. Jim left this earth yesterday.. a very talented man.