When you see silver jewelry made by Portland’s Willa Wirth, you can’t help but notice the energy that radiates from her unique designs.
A pendant takes the shape of a cresting ocean wave. Earrings shimmer like real moonlight. A necklace fans out with twin soaring wings.
Wirth’s jewelry is instantly recognizable as the work of a master craftsperson. It’s also the work of a woman in recovery. This is no coincidence.
According to Wirth, the creative spirit that sparks her imaginative jewelry designs is the same spirit that fuels her passion for sobriety.
“Committing to the creative process aligns me with my truth, it allows me to give and feel love, and it’s what connects me to the light. I create art, and I also create the life I’m living, and this includes my life in recovery,” Wirth says.
This understanding has taken time.
Twenty-plus years ago, Wirth was in a very different place. With college degrees in fine art and classical piano, Wirth knew her destiny was in the arts, but the shape this would take remained unclear, despite being hers to create. Unable to find a path forward, Wirth found herself turning her frustrations inward.
“I have always felt things so deeply…loved deeply… and been appreciative of the beauty of nature. But I was perplexed by loving everything external to me so deeply yet internally…I would walk down the street and whenever I caught sight of my reflection, I would criticize myself, absolutely tearing myself apart. There was pain, and I was not sure how to address this conflict. I later learned this was the perfect prerequisite for alcoholism. Drinking made it seem as though I fit into life as it was, rather than life as I am. Here is where I realized drinking numbed me out,” she said.
Eventually, signs started to show up in Wirth’s life that her creative work could be headed in a new direction. Notably, she took a ring making class at Maine College of Art which introduced her to the intricate art and craft of silver jewelry design.
“I fell in love with silver, hammering things out, polishing it, soldering it. It captured my spirit and began to help me create from my inspiration and my imagination,” she described.
Still, despite the sense that she may have found her artistic calling, Wirth continued to struggle with self doubt even as externally she appeared confident. She was actively pursuing and building the foundation of her dreams and achieving much in her life. Yet, she was not at peace with herself. A restlessness was still present, and she did not know how to change it.
Then a huge realization for Wirth occurred, just over 18 years ago. “I was fired from a waitressing job and my boss told me, ‘Willa, you have more talent than any young lady that has worked for me, and I will not hire you ever again. You are here on this planet to do your art.’”
Wirth knew at this moment that she was at a crossroads. “I had believed, ‘you must have a practical job as a means of income, so you can then do your art.’ This was the belief at that time that I knew I needed to smash.”
At first Wirth’s ‘why’ for going into business for herself was simply so she couldn’t get fired again. As her jewelry business took off, however, she realized the power of following her bliss. “I learned that if you go halfway, God will meet you in the other half…the more you let go, the higher you go. Spirit is with you.”
Wirth worked at her dream and did whatever it took to make ends meet and get her art out there. As word spread about Wirth’s genius for silver jewelry design, she was soon able to open a studio and shop on Congress Street in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood. On the outside, Wirth had established herself as a creative force of nature and successful working artist.
On the inside, Wirth was still in pain and still using alcohol as a way to numb.
“Inside I was not loving Willa. I was terrified for the world to really see who I was on the inside…how could I be loved and accepted if I couldn’t love and accept myself? That was the conflict,” she said.
Like the signs that had turned up pointing the way to silver jewelry design, Wirth can look back and see that bit by bit the same thing started to happen in this other area of her life.
“I noticed that I kept attracting people in my life who were in recovery. I’d be in the shop and customers would come in with this sort of glowing light about them. I would ask what that glow was about and learn their recovery stories,” she says.
The beginning of Wirth’s journey to sobriety was feeling drawn towards this light. “I began to understand that, no matter what our circumstances, we have a choice at any moment to be one of these beautiful healthy illuminated souls,” she says. “With every thought I am either going towards the light or away from it and numbing myself out in the darkness.”
This realization was Wirth’s gamechanger, but sobriety was still an uphill battle. After trying to go it alone off and on for months and falling into self-sabotage traps—like celebrating two months of sobriety with two bottles of wine, Wirth listened more closely to the stories of recovery people kept sharing with her, and finally decided to join a 12-step program.
“I ventured into the halls and I was terrified because I really didn’t think that this was for me and I couldn’t understand how all these people could do this one book thing,” she recalls.
After 90 days, Wirth not only realized how judgmental she had been about 12-step programs, but also how judgmental she had been about herself. This was the turning point for finally shedding her old self-limiting beliefs.
“Through the work, I came to rely on something greater than myself to support me in my experience. Whether you call it spirit or God, I knew that I was not alone. My limitations no longer had the same power over me. I was finally free to move towards the light.”
Now almost a decade into her sobriety, Wirth has learned to take it day by day, and that some days will be filled with more challenges than others. “I am always asking myself, dark or light? Which way should I go next to stay in the light?”
Right alongside this, Wirth’s silver jewelry business has continued to grow. Her designs are now worn by people here in Maine, across the U.S., and around the world. Wirth has found that her sobriety and her craft make for a powerful combination.
“I am creating my life…I am creating jewelry. Whenever I create, I allow myself to feel deeply and remove the mask. I am the vessel for a spirit moving through me and the pieces I make for others channel this creative energy.
People wear my jewelry and they tell me it feels like a talisman connected to their soul,” Wirth says.
The jewelry designer is now happy — inside and out — with her life. She is making even more plans for her silver jewelry including starting a YouTube Channel devoted to her jewelry making.
Where Wirth’s journey has brought her is a place of peace.
“I respect being a sober woman and not because I don’t want to drink or can’t drink. It has everything to do with being connected and awake to every moment. I am alive for the pulse of life. I protect and honor that.”
You can find Willa Wirth’s jewelry at willawirth.com. Her studio/ shop at 99 Congress Street is open Tuesday–Saturday from 12–6 pm (hours may vary).