When I first walked into His+His studio to meet co-owner Vince Pontillo-Verrastro, I had no idea that I would momentarily be embarking upon an artisan craft project. Vince, along with his husband Aric Verrastro, has opened up an interactive, learning-based jewelry design and fabrication studio that is unlike anything else that I have come across in the city.
Besides being passionate about jewelry making, Vince and Aric are determined to educate people about the process. I learned that pretty quick. After speaking to Vince, at great length, about his educational and vocational twists and turns, he turned to me and said, “Are you ready to make a ring? Sliver or gold?”
Being caught off guard, I spat-off, “Silver?”
And that’s when he sat me down and began telling me about the process. Shortly thereafter, I had a strand of silver in my hand, smoothing out the edges in preparation for what was to come. Sizing, filing, torching, pounding… the works. Thankfully, Vince handled the more intricate parts of the process, for which I am thankful. At the same time, he prompted me along the way, saying, “Hold it this way… file up and down… your finger should be like this… don’t be afraid to hit it a little harder.”
Before we even began the process, Vince told me that it would take about 40 minutes. And he was right on the nose. As I handled the various hammers, files, and torches, Vince recounted bits and pieces of his and Aric’s life together, from attending Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, to graduate studies that allowed them to further hone their skills.
Upon moving back to Buffalo this past August, Vince and Aric signed up for a store takeover at Shoefly on Elmwood (learn more). The response was so overwhelming – sold out, hosted 7 workshops in 4 days – that they decided that they had to carry the momentum forward. Little did they know at the time that they would come across the perfect setup at 44 Brayton Street. The former flower studio even had a working sink that was ready to go.
When I asked Vince about his penchant for jewelry making, he answered that he was once an accomplished trumpet player who considered performing in a pit orchestra for a living. It was only when he fabricated a trumpet with his instructor that he realized his true calling. Ever since that time, he has dedicated his life to metal and jewelry fabrication – a passion that he shares with his soulmate, Aric, who he met in a jewelry-making class at SUNY Buffalo State College back in 2008. To date, they have been married for ten years, and now co-own a fabulous maker’s studio in the Five Points neighborhood.
What I found especially fascinating about Vince is his desire to share everything that he has learned along the way. A future goal of his is to grow the studio concept by adding apprenticeship programs, scholarships, internships, and (hopefully) the ability to offer free living accommodations for apprentices in an artisan-trades type of scenario. That would, of course, require a much larger building.
It’s always good to set one’s goals, in order to incrementally work towards fulfilling them.
“It might be called the Buffalo Jewelry Academy…” said Vince. “There would be avenues for growth and collaboration, with a focus on the entrepreneurial and educational undertakings that we have amassed over the years. We want to build a relationship with Buff State. Collaboration will be a big part of the process.”
Yes, Vince and Aric have grand plans for their venture. At the same time, it all starts with a quaint studio setting that fronts Five Points Bakery – the two businesses even share a patio. It’s the perfect place to get the business started… and grab a coffee of course.
“We want people to have a more intimate understanding of jewelry,” Vince told me, as we waited for my ring to get tumbled. “Everything we do is as environmentally conscious as possible. We scrap all of the discarded metal castings and reuse them. We also source everything responsibly. The jewelry is all hand-fabricated, and nothing goes to waste. It’s an empowering process that is available to everyone, no matter their artistic abilities.”
I, for one, can attest that when it comes to creating anything artistic, I’m at a complete loss. I’m an appreciator, but not an artist or artisan. Then again, as I stood there admiring my new ring, I thought that there might be a glimmer of hope after all.
His + His is the perfect setting for one-on-one consultations (walk-ins welcome), any sort of intimate parties (up to 4 people), workshops, and custom jewelry creation. Not only is this a relatively effortless process (with the help of Vince or Aric), it’s also a heck of a lot of fun. And there’s a lasting reward to look forward to. Whether it’s a dainty silver ring or a chunky bracelet, there’s a lot to consider – the possibilities are endless. The studio sessions can be participatory and educational, or Vince and Aric can take care of a commission from soup to nuts.
Personally, I feel that Vince and Aric are really onto something here. There are interactive pottery workshops out there, and painting and glassblowing opportunities, but not so much in the realm of hands-on metal-smithing and jewelry fabrication. I can see this growing into a much bigger operation in the future, as more people figure out what the unique offerings are all about.
Stop on over whenever inspiration strikes. Spend an afternoon in the Five Points neighborhood, sipping a coffee on a patio, shopping for plants, buying pastries, and making a ring for yourself or for a loved one. I guarantee that you will walk away with a smile on your face and a new outlook on your artistic abilities.
Inclusively Queer Design Jewelry Education + Craft Advocacy