While on tour in Iraq, an explosive device severed Tara Hutchinson’s right leg and led to severe limb movement disorder. She started making jewelry as a way to help her gain control of her hands once again.

New York--The Women’s Jewelry Association has awarded its 2016 Female Veteran Grant to Tara Hutchinson of Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry in San Antonio, Texas.

Hutchinson, who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, served a 10-year tour in the U.S. Army as a military police officer, retiring as a sergeant first class.

While she was deployed to Iraq in 2006, an explosive device severed her right leg, causing significant blood loss that led to severe limb movement disorder, third-degree burns, permanent back injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Hutchinson started making jewelry after an occupational therapist suggested trying a hobby that might help her gain control in her hands once again.

When she first began, she could barely string a large wooden bead onto a leather cord.
“Nonetheless, I’ve never been one to give up, and a stubborn need to succeed demanded I keep moving until I mastered this task,” Hutchinson said. “This achievement ignited a spark for jewelry creation, and practically in a frenzy, I began teaching myself everything I could about the craft. I gradually built a library of materials and techniques, and eventually my garage turned into a fully furnished jeweler’s studio. I began practicing all day, every day, and shockingly, within a year, my movement disorder had almost vanished.”

These days, she uses such techniques as forging, soldering, stone setting, chasing, fusing and patinas to make her jewelry.

Hutchinson specializes in two finger rings, open-top rings and jewelry that incorporates organic shapes. She also creates jewelry that caters to women with swollen knuckles or who have difficulty opening and closing clasps.

She sells her jewelry through her website and social media, as well as at local and national juried shows.

The WJA’s merit-based Female Veteran Grant, offered in partnership with Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., goes to a deserving military veteran to use towards her profession growth in the jewelry and/or watch industries.

It was established last year to lend support to women veterans who continue to serve their communities through their work in jewelry. Jenifer Bellefleur, who worked as an explosive ordnance disposal technician in the U.S. Army, was the recipient of the first grant.

Hutchinson said she plans to use the grant to create custom packaging and displays. As she expands her jewelry into the wholesale business, her other goals are to open a new climate-controlled location with more space where she could teach, and, in the short term, to purchase an air conditioner for her studio in San Antonio.

Another of her goals is to use part of her jewelry sales to give back to charities that help survivors. Her aim, she said, is to help women with similar issues become independent and self-reliant.

The WJA raises money for its various grants and scholarships in a number of ways, including through its annual Awards for Excellence.

This year’s awards are scheduled to take place Monday at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. Awards will be given across 10 categories, including design, retail, editorial media and watches.

Two honorees will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards: Sissy Jones of Sissy’s Log Cabin and Peter Engel, president of Fred Meyer Jewelers. Ben Bridge Jeweler will be awarded the WJA Corporate Award.

More information, including how to purchase tickets and sponsorship opportunities, is available on WJA’s website.

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