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Peggy Herrman: Designing Fine Jewelry After a Life in Academia

After leaving a long-time position as a University of Georgia professor, Peggy Herrman is pursuing her artistic streak and tells us how exciting life is when 80 percent of what she does is new.

For women like us who have spent numerous years creating our identities around our work or our families, taking a step in a new direction can feel like a katydid molting its exoskeleton. It’s unsettling and liberating in equal measures, possibly painful–we can’t ask the katydid–and we suspect, itchy.

Here we share stories of women who have scratched a new itch. We hope these stories may provide the insight and encouragement for others to leave their old skin–familiar and easy as it is–and go into a new world a little naked and scared. But not alone.

Tell us your story here. 

Today, we’re happy to highlight the work of Peggy Herrman of Athens, Ga.

What kind of work or passion are you pursuing now?

I’m the founder of White Orchid Studio, creator of fine jewelry. We have a passion for gem-quality beads in complex designs that feature gems like pearls and artisan-created components that honor vanilla. Did you know that vanilla is a white orchid?

From our catalog: “White Orchid Studio honors the white orchid, vanilla, by offering you artisan-crafted representations of the pod shape and texture as clasps, on clasps, earrings, and spacers. When pausing to enjoy the fragrance of your favorite cookies or cakes baking, do you sense our passion for orchids?”

How old were you when you began in this new direction?

70. I am 75 now.

What did you do before you made this change?

I retired as a professor in the service sector at the University of Georgia after 30 plus years on the faculty and 50 years as a conflict consultant. I loved being a consultant, helping people, state and local programs find positive solutions to conflict. During my time at UGA I created an international conference for practitioners and scholars working with conflict, eight juvenile court mediation programs, and a project called Mediator Skills. Even now I will do a little conflict coaching and am known as Doc Peg is In.

What prompted you to make this change?

Retirement

What from your previous work or life situation helped you in your reinvention?

I have a history as both a master gardener and a master seamstress. The art of both infuses the passion for creating fine jewelry with Mother Nature’s gems. We hope to honor all the people who bring gems to life.

Immediately after retirement, I started a business creating fine live-plant arrangements (Orchid Ladies is the parent company of White Orchid and why I know about vanilla). I turned that success into White Orchid Studio.

Read More: Judy Geib: From Graphic Designer to Celebrated Jeweler

What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?

Ongoing challenges: financing for a small business and, as we grow, working with and training people to work at the level we do to create our designs. My studio partner, Gini Addington, is a gemologist and has worked as quality control for major jewelry businesses. Whether Gini is designing a creation or I am, I know it will leave this studio in perfect condition. I am spoiled. I am also spoiled by a silent team of artists from metal artists, to IT, to photography, to gem cutting. There are so many talented people in this world, and a few work with White Orchid Studio. Finding people of their caliber to fill needed shoes in the future is not easy.

How are you overcoming them?

We are building on a strong sales trend, but we would always benefit from solid, deep pockets. Gini and I look for people to train as demand increases.

What fears did you have to face?

Financing and fatigue. I do need to exercise more.

What kind of support did you receive in your reinvention?

I found the perfect person to work with me in the studio. Also my husband constantly provides moral support. He is an amazing, quiet cheerleader who has a wonderful eye for good design.

Read More: Meet the Author Behind the “Anonymous” I Want to Age Like Sea Glass Poem

How have you grown or how has your life improved as a result of taking on this new pursuit?

Since I come from decades of service work (and only a little work in my teens in retail), I learn more and more about retail (marketing, and all the behind the scenes work) by the hour. Eighty percent of what I do is new. The rest (my design esthetic) I learned from my mom (the seamstress) and various relatives who passed on a love of gardening.

What advice would you give to other women at this age who are looking to reinvent themselves?

Be joyful. Live gratitude. Be patient with yourself. Learn how to lean in and build relationships and a fabulous team. Avoid negative people. Don’t fear conflict; learn to work with it positively.

How can readers find your business?

whiteorchidfinejewelry.com

Read more reinvention stories here. 

By Peggy Herrman

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