Artist Madison Hampton created Vancrafted Studio en route to her dreams.
Written by Constance Dunn
It was 2014. Madison Hampton had graduated from art school at Northern Michigan University, and she and boyfriend Gage had some clear ideas about how they wanted to live. Being outdoors in nature was high on the list. So was having lots of time to spend with each other. Another: having the freedom to create whatever they felt like creating — and whenever they felt like it. “We didn’t want to be at a job five days a week,” says the Montana-based jewelry artist and online educator. “We wanted to be in charge of our own lives.”
The couple headed out on the road in a well-worn van and, roughly seven years later, it was mission accomplished; they’re now settled in Bozeman, Montana and are growing the surprising fruit of their post-college quest — Vancrafted Studio. “When we started out, basically we had no money,” Hampton recalls, describing how counting change and wrestling with a malfunctioning van with doors that didn’t work properly were among the less-glamorous parts of the journey: “But traveling and living a life of freedom, and pretty much living outside, were non-negotiable.”
The two traveled for about five years, on and off. There were spells in Big Sky, Montana and drawn-out stays in Taos, New Mexico. “Every single night the sky just glows,” Madison says of Taos. “I felt very inspired there.” Spurred on by the beauty of the natural world, she began making jewelry on a make-shift bench fashioned by Gage, with a cooler functioning as her seat. “Every day was a lesson. We had to struggle and work hard, and decide what to spend money on,” she describes. Funds were carefully, sometimes painstakingly, budgeted for jewelry, with Hampton sometimes able to buy only one stone at a time, or afford supplies to fashion just a single pair of earrings.
Due to limitations of life on the road, making custom and made-to-order pieces for customers was not possible. Instead Hampton created collections, each one named for a chapter of travel; a period of her life. The recently released All Time collection, for instance, is inspired by time spent in the snow-cloaked mountains of Yellowstone National Park. Individual works from a collection are previewed on Instagram before the collection goes live at a specific time and date on her website. Vancrafted collections tend to sell out quickly — and the first time it happened Hampton was overcome. “We were up in the woods, on some remote mountainside near Jackson Hole with a view of the Tetons,” the designer recalls. “The collection went live and it sold out in minutes. My eyes swelled with tears of gratitude and joy, and Gage and I had some wine. I was so grateful and really emotional. It was what I was working towards for five years at that point.”
Next step was finding a post office in Wyoming in order to mail her wares to customers. Since then, she and Gage have stepped off the road and Gage, a creative with a background in environmental science, has officially joined Vancrafted Studio, “It made a lot of sense,” Hampton points out. “I found myself getting busier and busier, and not able to keep up with demand, so Gage would come home from work and help me. Eventually we just paused to look at the numbers. The day we did that, he quit his job and we haven’t looked back.”
“We’ve come full circle,” she reflects, having realized the vision of life she and Gage, now married, sketched out years earlier. And they’ve gone a few steps further. “I never imagined we’d be so stable,” Hampton muses, describing how a very modest upbringing led to a craving for stability. Also, the duo is extending their craft to others. When COVID hit last year, Vancrafted put together an online metalsmithing course in the space of a month, and it sold out. “Today we have over 500 students, and we hear the most amazing stories.” Hampton states. “Some people have quit their jobs and are now making jewelry for a living. Some have found peace in having a creative outlet. We made metalsmithing, which gives me so much joy, accessible to others so they can experience the magic too.”
In the short term, fans can look for upcoming Vancrafted Studio collections featuring two of her favorite stones of the moment, White Buffalo turquoise and Royston Ribbon turquoise. The latter is a vivid hued, veiny variation of turquoise that Hampton describes as “looking like a river is running through it.” Maybe because water figures prominently in her life these days. She and Gage have been doing a lot of fly fishing, and she’s feeling lucky: “I feel like this year is my year,” says the artist. “I’ve been catching a lot of fish.”
Photographs courtesy of Madison Hampton