It has been 40 years since jeweler and sculptor Joe Skinger made his signature slalom rings at the family home, ski lodge and studio on Stowe’s upper Mountain Road.
The rings of hammered silver formed a zigzag V on the finger, reminiscent of ski tracks on a downhill slope. The slalom ring was a favorite of skiers in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s and continues to be popular. The design has been copied often and can still be found in artisan shops, but Joe deserves recognition for creating the original. The Vermont Ski Museum sells a reproduction.
The Skinger family was part of the migration of the restless and often creative individuals who left their down-country cities for an alternative life in the mountains of Vermont in the postwar years. Joe was born in Worcester, Mass., in 1911 and remained there to work at American Steel and Wire as a young man. But he was always interested in art, and took classes at the Worcester Art Museum. After wartime service, he studied metalworking at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts on the G.I. Bill.
Before the war, Joe worked on renovating an old house he had purchased in the late 1930s in Alburg Springs, Vt. He worked on the house on weekends and commuted back to Worcester, Mass., to work during the week. In the mid-1940s, after World War II, he and wife Connie continued finishing the house. This became a home for their family and studio and shop for Joe.
And then, in 1958, they bought the Tucker House Lodge on Mountain Road in Stowe (now known as the Wood Chip Inn, and for sale) and made it home for their three daughters, Jody, Carol and Erica, while running the ski lodge business. Joe converted the attached barn into his metalworking shop and studio and hung out his Silver by Skinger sign.
Joe was an artist, and did not suffer fools. But he told wonderful tales and also liked to have a toddy or two and good conversation, often right there in the shop by the fireplace or at various Stowe venues of the time. Sculpture was his first love and a growing collection of molten silver sculptures adorned the shelves and walls of his workshop.
The figurative subjects of his sculpture ranged through the human condition, but an occasional figure of a skier could be seen in the growing body of work. He also worked in bronze and wood and fiberglass. Visitors to the shop engaged in lively discussions about the possible meanings of the sculptures.
He never sold a piece, hoping in his heart of hearts that his complete body of work would one day be shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
It was his jewelry that provided groceries, and he quickly envisioned the commercial possibilities of what became his best-selling item, the slalom ring. Inspiration for the design actually came from his time in London and an exhibit he saw of ancient slave rings at the British Museum.
In the move to Stowe, Joe recognized the commercial possibilities of selling ski jewelry in a ski town. The next most popular piece was a snowflake pin, advertised in Harpers Bazaar. Even today his work comes up regularly at online auction sites.
The family left its mark in Stowe in many ways, Connie in the field of mental health, daughters Erica and Carol in skiing. Both were hot competitors at the regional level and Erica went on to excel on the U.S. Ski A Team in 1968 and 1969. Jody was an expert and graceful recreational skier, often filmed by visitors to Stowe while flying down the top of the National. Joe taught jewelry for several years at the University of Vermont summer sessions and at the Fletcher Farm Craft School. He brought his artistic gifts to many aspiring artists and hired the most promising one, Gay Bessette, who worked with him for 10 years, then had her own jewelry business in the village. She remains in Stowe to this day.
Joe died, too young, in 1967. In time, Connie moved away and she, too, has died, in 2005. Recently, Carol Skinger has collected and bound a book of memorabilia about her father and his work, and a second one about the family. In honor of the 40th anniversary of Joe’s death, she has just given them to the Vermont Ski Museum. All are welcome to view them at the museum.
Nancy Stead of Stowe writes a column about the people, places, politics and peccadilloes of the area. E-mail our writers at email@example.com. All messages will be forwarded.