By Lee Sutter
Being a master silversmith has its rewards, but for Randy Stromsoe, it boils down to hard work.
The sterling-silver centerpiece bowl he made for the White House’s Craft Collection, for example, required 100,000 blows of the hammer. “I could have chosen an easier way to make a living,” Stromsoe said with a laugh.
The artisan spent the days before Thanksgiving in his Highway 46 West farmhouse/studio polishing up recent work for the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art exhibit.
The year of preparing the new collection has taken its toll on the 59 year old.
“Swinging my hammer so many hours, I don’t want to do it again for a long time,” Stromsoe said.
The laborious process enabled him to make some decisions about future projects. “It’s forced me to examine a lot of things really quickly,” he said. “It has taken me down all these different avenues I want to explore.”
Although he’s billed as a master silversmith, Stromsoe doesn’t toss around that label here on the Central Coast. “I don't really promote myself in the way that I would Back East or in another country,” he said. “Here, you sound a little bit pompous if you say master silversmith.”
But, a master he is, and he learned from third-generation master Porter Blanchard.
Through a minor misunderstanding in his first year at Los Angeles Valley Community College, Stromsoe thought he was signing up for a course in woodworking. It turned out to be jewelry making.
“I took the class by mistake,” said Stromsoe, who still seems astonished 40 years later how it changed the course of his life. He soon became hooked on working with fine metals, and when the instructo took the class to Blanchard’s Calabasas studio, Stromsoe knew he’d found his calling. He became Blanchard’s apprentice.
In his mid-80s then, Blanchard generously shared his knowledge with receptive young talents.
Under his tutelage, Stromsoe was given “projects you don’t throw 19-year-olds into,” making huge platters and punch bowls, “things you don’t see any more,” for notable clients such as Cartier. “It was always exciting.”
By age 24, and the youngest craftsman, Stromsoe became the Blanchard company’s shop supervisor until 1979 when he and wife Lisa left the San Fernando Valley for Cambria. They opened up Quicksilver, representing other craftsmen as Stromsoe continued his silver and pewter work. Last year, he joined Paso Robles’ Studios on the Park.
In 1993, Stromsoe was invited to create a piece for the White House’s Craft Collection, and the couple attended the reception gala there. “That was kind of a great shocker,” he recalled, a “who’s who of craft artists,” his heroes. “That was a great day.”
One of the few remaining classically trained silversmiths, Stromsoe has created pieces that are in the Smithsonian and the Vatican, and given as gifts to royalty and dignitaries worldwide.
Stromsoe chuckles, looking back, noting that self-employment has been a curse and a blessing. It’s a roller coaster of steady income, but the blessings include being able to live on the Central Coast, where he and Lisa raised their children, Nicole and Sean.