January 11, 2010 12:00 AM Comments: 0
Bill Lenz is a jewelry maker, biker, human canvas, deep-thinker, and a Buffalo boy who comes from good, hard-working, creative stock.
Lenz's father, William, was a general contractor with Huber Construction, Inc., a family owned business, and Lenz was also a union carpenter with the company. His mother Joyce was an educator and an artist with the Buffalo Craftsman Society and kept a studio at Tri-Main. As evolution goes, their son is a good meld of all of his parent's talents, and then some.
The former Mr. Buffalo Novice 1984 has traveled extensively, building movie sets in Los Angeles and working as a bodyguard for an escort service in the 90s, then moving to Japan for 5 years and learning the culture there. But back in 1984, he decided he wanted to try his hand at jewelry-making. Without any idea of what it was going to take, he went to a jewelry supply store on Chippewa (where the Hampton Inn is now). He parked his chopper and went upstairs, where one had to be buzzed in in order to do business.
When the man behind the door finally believed the hulking biker was there to do business of the supply-buying kind, he let Lenz in. After some back and forth, Lenz managed to order a kit that would allow him to practice the lost wax method of jewelry making. After asking the clerk a few questions, the man told him, "You're talking to the wrong guy. Just a minute."
Picking up the phone, the clerk called a jeweler in the Root Building down the street. "Listen. I'm going to send a guy over who has some questions about jewelry making. You're not going to want to let him in when you see him. But go ahead. He's okay."
So Lenz went down Chippewa, up to the 5th floor of the Root, and met an elderly jeweler named Norm Resman. Resman buzzed him in as advised, and there he was, setting stones, with a table full of diamonds in front of him. Resman listened to what Lenz had to ask about making a ring and gave him a hunk of wax, telling him to carve it to look like what he wanted and then bring it back so he could inspect the work.
Resman encouraged him to refine the piece further after Lenz showed him his first attempt, and when he came back with a better rendition of his design, Resman called another man on the 8th floor, who would do the casting. "Listen," Resman said into the phone, "I'm sending a guy up. You're not going to want to let him in..."
Lenz says he doesn't have that first piece anymore, and that it pains him a bit to look back at his early work, but he's been prolific since, and that's how we found Bill Lenz Creations in a search for skull jewelry. His pieces are intricate, right up to the tiniest detail he puts into the inside of the ring bands. This is inspired by Japanese Netsuke, small carved objects (metal, bones, nuts, wood, ivory) that hung from red silk strings on the lacquered boxes everyone carried their belongings in. He carves every little crease in a feather, a sword handle, and a skull - of which he's designed many. Locally, Lenz uses Todd Leiman of Gemini Finishers to do his casting, but says that even when he was in Japan, he sent his carvings back to Buffalo to be poured.
He's also incorporated the people he's loved and know into his designs, paying homage to his late childhood friend musician/artist Mark Freeland, by replicating a design of Freeland's in silver (left). He's also taken the image of the southwest earth spirit or "spirit man" dolls his mother used to make, and set them in winged hearts in her memory.
For his father, who practiced Native American dance, he has designed rings with elaborate headdresses, and as a nod to his time spent in Japan, he's designed a ring that replicates the design from a samurai sword handle. In fact, a lot of Lenz's work is Asian and Native American inspired.
The Lenz family has a long history of anchor restaurants in the region also: The Asa Ransom
House, The Old Red Mill and The Coachman's Inn. After coming back to Buffalo, Lenz decided to package a line of Buffalo-style favorites, things he missed when he was away, and he put together a box of regional goodies like wing sauce, hot sauce, BBQ sauce and maple syrup. Just to sweeten the deal, he designed a T-shirt that goes along with the gift package, and he sells the entire box for $50 on his website. What a treat for far away expats.
Other than what Lenz designs on his own, he often works with clients to come up with jewelry based on their designs. "It's a lot of what I do," he says. A look around his website gives a good idea of the different materials he works in and his eye for craftsmanship. And if you don't see what you're looking for, ask Lenz to come up with it; he aims to please.