Lord of the Rings

Jeweler Clare Yares turns rock fragments into fine art

"I kind of like it when people who have my stuff call me up and ask if I'll buff out some scratches or fix something that's been damaged," he says. "It reminds me that people wear it and use it--that I make things that people actually use."

Yares reached jewelry by a circuitous route. He grew up in Minneapolis/St. Paul, in a world of tools and music. His father ran an electrical contracting company, so most of his childhood toys were tools. Before he was out of high school, he was working in a metal fabrication plant producing a variety of machine parts. He played acoustic bass in weekend bands.

He parlayed his metalworking skills into a World War II stint as an aviation metalsmith in the South Pacific, replacing rivets on damaged planes. Off duty he played in dance bands and made belt buckles and other jewelry out of rolled-out coins.

After the war, Yares took to the road as a bass man, traveling a Midwestern circuit as far south as Lexington, Kentucky. In the late 1940s, acting on a tip from a friend, he enrolled in television school to learn how to direct and produce shows in the burgeoning medium. While waiting for TV jobs to open up, he studied at the Walker Art Institute in Minneapolis.

In 1950, he set his music and metal aside and moved to Phoenix to become studio manager for KPHO-TV, Channel 5. Yares says part of the thrill of working in TV in those days was that it suited his improvisational streak.

"I've always been a jazz player, still am. I love that feeling of making things up. That's what we were doing--just making up the medium--doing it off the cuff and having a ball."

He kept the job, he says, until formula TV took hold and the work stopped being fun--around 1965. By then he was divorced from his first wife, Phoenix portrait painter Dagne Hanson, whom he married in 1950, and with whom he had four boys. And he was thinking of trying to make a living by, in his words, "making things for people."

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Yares kept a room in their house on north Third Street in Phoenix in which he worked on various projects.

"I remember he had this big section of a eucalyptus tree trunk that he worked on for a while," says Hanson. "It wasn't a steady thing. But he'd take a couple of swipes at it. And he was always doing other woodworking and some enameling on copper."

Hanson's mother and father ran a turquoise business in Phoenix. Whenever Yares visited them, he'd go out to the shop and putter around.

"One day, her father came by with a starter set of tools to make jewelry," recalls Yares, "and that pretty much got me going."

From the time he left KPHO through the mid-1970s, most of his energy went into being an art handyman. Toward the end of his TV years, he had a little studio next to the Los Olivos restaurant, in what used to be Scottsdale's barrio. Yares married Riva and started a gallery on Main Street around 1965. They eventually moved the gallery and his workspace into an old adobe building on Bishop Lane. That gallery has since grown into one of Scottsdale's largest art showcases.

Yares says that when he left Riva and the gallery business, in 1976, he stayed afloat on his framing and cabinetry, and began to concentrate on jewelry.

"In some ways I was a damn fool," says Yares. "I still had that musician's thing of only taking the good jobs. I turned down a lot, so I never really made it from an economic standpoint. I just sort of scraped along."

His old connections with local galleries and museums kept him going. The Hand and the Spirit gallery, which for a brief time had been housed in a room of the Yares' gallery, began showing his work in 1976. He's been with The Hand and the Spirit and his craft ever since.

Standing in the hallway of his home and studio, Yares has the furry presence of a mountain mystic--a man who spends much of his time alone, listening to music and dwelling on how to refine the designs of the smallest of small things.

He has the stooped shoulders of someone who has spent years leaning over his work, hammering, soldering and buffing it into shape. He always looks like he just awoke. And his soft, crackly jazz-club voice forces listeners to lean a little closer.

People who know him say he is one of the gentlest people around. He has plenty of friends, but says he rarely gets out. When he does, it's usually to stop by The Hand and the Spirit or go to doctors' appointments.

"What Clare is, and has been most of his life, is a real intellectual," says Phoenix attorney and art patron Edward "Bud" Jacobson, who has known him for years. "He doesn't need many people. I don't think he dislikes people. I think he just likes them infrequently."

Yares' sees his home and studio as something of a refuge, from the half-fun, half-harried existence of his younger days. A shrine to music and tools, it combines the ambience of a monastic machine shop and jazz club. Every room has its purpose. Their spaces are filled with a spare variety of simple shapes and things--many of which he or friends have made.

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