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Jewelry designer Tara Hutchinson, fourth from left, at the April dedication ceremony to celebrate her new home, built by the Gary Sinise Foundation, a non-profit started by the actor to serve veterans through a variety of outreach programs.
San Antonio, Texas—Jewelry designer and former Army Sgt. Tara Hutchinson is slowly settling into her new home in San Antonio, Texas.

Hutchinson, a wounded warrior and Iraq veteran, turned to jewelry to regain her dexterity after being severely injured by a roadside bomb, but her former home wasn’t suitable for her needs and hampered her creativity.

The new one-story house was built to Hutchinson’s specifications, with wide hallways to accommodate her wheelchair, an accessible shower, high-tech climate controls and, of course, her very own jewelry studio.

The mortgage-free house was constructed by the Gary Sinise Foundation, a non-profit started by the actor—whose best-known roles include playing wounded Vietnam War vet Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump”—that serves veterans through a variety of outreach programs. Military personnel who were injured in the line of duty can submit an application for consideration for a new home, with the foundation constructing a total of 56 specially adapted homes to date.

In an interview with National Jeweler this week, Hutchinson recalled all the fanfare on the way to the dedication ceremony at her new home, describing it as akin to a parade.

A motorcycle gang escorted her and her 2-year-old pit bull, the deliciously named Porkchop, to the ceremony, slowing down to pass a crowd of elementary school kids cheering and holding up handmade signs to welcome Hutchinson home and thank her for her service.

20190503 Tara Hutch dog insertHutchinson was brought up in a military family in Anchorage, Alaska. Her father Kenneth served as a helicopter pilot in the National Guard.

Looking for a purpose in life, she found herself in an Army recruitment center on her way to work one day.

She started off as a gunner, working her way up the ranks to sergeant first class.

On Valentine’s Day 2006, while Hutchinson was serving in Iraq, her truck was blown up by an IED, or improvised explosive device.

The accident left her left leg badly burned and her right leg was amputated. She also suffered a traumatic brain injury, which caused tremors and impaired her fine motor skills.

As she was recovering, her physical therapist suggested she take up a hobby, like jewelry design, to build up her dexterity.

Hutchinson, whose never wore much jewelry while serving in the military, said she “decided on a whim” to give it a try.

The two careers may seem incongruous, but Hutchinson said a lot of what she learned in the military she has applied to her craft.

She pointed in particular to AARs, or after-action reviews, a method used by the military to evaluate an action after the fact to figure out what went right and wrong, providing insight on how to improve the next time one faces the same situation.

The method comes in handy when Hutchinson is sketching out a new design or heading back to the drawing board when a piece doesn’t turn out quite right.

However, there has been a learning curve to overcome when working with civilians, particularly when it comes to reliability, said Hutchinson.

“It’s the ability to see something through until the very end,” she said, meaning that interactions are more straightforward when dealing with the military. “That’s the difference between military and civilians.”

After moving in last month, Hutchinson is making herself at home in her new studio, designed with the help of fellow jeweler Francesa Watson of The Makery.

Potter USA, a fine jewelry supplies company, donated a hydraulic press while a local safe company installed a 5-foot-tall safe to secure her inventory.

Though she has been kept busy by the recent move, Hutchinson, who the 2016 recipient of the Women’s Jewelry Association’s Female Veteran Grant, stays laser-focused on her business and preparing for upcoming wholesale shows.

In 2018, she was featured as one of the three emerging designers at the Centurion show in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Hutchinson said she started out in the industry attending just two wholesale shows a year, but now attends as many as she can after meeting so many new customers.

Her jewelry is sold via her website and also at Lux, Bond & Green.

Hutchinson is looking to open a boutique of her own in downtown San Antonio, possibly by next year, and bring in a marketing firm to help get it off the ground.

She would like to hire two veterans to work in the store, one for manufacturing and the other for bookkeeping, and also find time to teach veteran artisans about her craft.

Looking to pay it forward, Hutchinson donates 10 percent of her sales to veteran organizations.

“There are so many veteran organizations that have helped me come to where I’m at today,” she said. “It’s made such a huge difference for me to have that support, especially when I really, really needed it.”

The next stop for Hutchinson is Kansas, where she will attend classes at the GRS Training Center, including lessons on engraving and stone setting.

For more information about Tara Hutchinson and her jewelry, visit TaraHutchJewelry.com. https://www.tarahutchjewelry.com/

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