Like many Airstreaming women, Nancy Anderson credits her silver bullet with changing her life. Thirty years ago, she was staring at a future stuck in a meaningless career climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, Nancy chose to eschew the corporate life and turned to the fine art of crafting silver into jewelry. Now, a renowned silversmith, jewelry artisan, and lover of found art, Nancy is setting off once again her 1974 Airstream Ambassador "The Silver Savior" to document others who are reinventing the American Dream.
"The world is really waking up to this," she said from her Airstream high in Nederland, Colorado. The snow lay thick, but would likely melt by the afternoon, announcing the coming of spring in a country starting to open up after a long year. "People are realizing you can live your life on your own terms – where your experiences are more important than the money, or whatever you're chasing."
In 2009, Nancy realized a new calling: To travel in a refurbished Airstream and spread her personal philosophy that art saves – a hard-earned philosophy drawn from a 30-year career in the arts. The plan was to hit the road with her boyfriend and her dog.
"The boyfriend didn't last, but the Airstream did," Nancy remembered with a laugh. "There was a lot of soul searching – a lot of procrastination and subconsciously thinking I can't do this without a partner to drive, set up, and pack it up."
But her curiosity overcame her trepidation, and soon she was diving deep into YouTube videos, online blogs, and social media groups. She learned everything she could, and made many friends as she reached out for information, tips, and advice. She also learned that while it was sometimes challenging, it was always fulfilling.
"We're taught as women at an early age that going out and doing something like this is either silly, dangerous, or impossible," said Nancy. "But it is beyond empowering to hit the road, set up your camp, and feel that satisfaction at the end of the road knowing I can do this!"
Part of the joy of Airstream ownership is finding the community of people who share a passion for travel, camping, and camaraderie. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, Nancy saw more people heading that way – toward a lifestyle that connects people around the campfire and on the road. "But now – there's no time to lose. People are reanalyzing their lives and reprioritizing what they want."
A New American Dream
For Nancy, the road calls her to a journey documenting other artisans like herself who are reinventing the American Dream. On her YouTube channel and Instagram (@Sweetbirdstudio) she documents and showcases individuals who are communicating through self-expression. The goal: Travel the 50 states and find and document known and unknown makers who are following their own path to success through creativity and achieving the freedom that comes from living their truth. While the world is still navigating COVID-safe events, her hope is that along the way she can hold outdoor studio workshops where people can learn her craft and make their own beautiful art in her fully-functional mobile silver studio.
“A lot of people say they don’t have a creative bone in their body,” Anderson said. She begs to differ. “We are all artists; artists of our lives. The act of creating is an act of power, an act of hope. The hope is to create community at a time when many Americans feel lonely and isolated.
In addition to interviews, she'll facilitate gatherings, art-making workshops, jam sessions, and inspirational talks with the assistance of galleries, nonprofits and local agencies when possible.
Creativity, Community, and Connectivity
Anderson began living her own truth just a few months after graduation from the University of Kansas in 1988.
“My senior year in college, I was taking all these really hard classes, and I thought, ‘I need something that would be kind of like recess’ and I took one silversmith class and absolutely loved it,” Anderson recalled. “I ignored that calling and took a job as a financial analyst and began hating every second of my life.”
After sitting in countless bank basements evaluating paperwork, Nancy sought an outlet in the silver she'd been so drawn to in college. With just a two-inch square piece of the malleable metal, she began to follow her life’s passion. First, she was making pieces for friends and family, but at their urgings, she started a grassroots effort to grow her business. In what Anderson calls the “pre-Internet days” she began visiting galleries and asking questions about how they find their artists, what shows she needed to attend, and how it all worked.
Eventually, Sweet Bird Studio was born – a one-of-a-kind shop creating pieces of “spiritual hardware and sacred scrap.”
“It’s been a great road,” she said. “We have customers who've been with us for 25 years. People trust us. They come back for their special gifts.”
Beyond her faithful following, Anderson has also made one-of-a-kind pieces for Sheryl Crow, Emmy Lou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. In fact, Tom Cruise wore Nancy Anderson originals in Rock of Ages.
A Spontaneous – and Life-Changing – Decision
Always creating, Anderson was at a one-day workshop in 2009 where she was encouraged to write for 10 minutes about her laugh-out-loud dream.
“I wrote nonstop about owning an Airstream and traveling the country,” she laughs. “That wasn’t something that was consciously in my mind. But I've learned not to ignore the universe.”
On her trip home from the conference she spontaneously decided to pull over and search online for vintage Airstreams. She found one for sale nearby, and for a few thousand bucks she purchased the classic Airstream, put new tires on it, and drove it away. She spent the next ten years refurbishing the 1974 Airstream Ambassador, gutting it and rebuilding it from the wheels up in a labor of love. She named it the Silver Savior for both its shiny adventure-ready shell, but also for the way people gravitate to it, seeking a connection. "Creativity, community, and connectivity are the saviors," she said. "And there is no better way to get there than an Airstream!"
Inside, everything is handmade, infused with Nancy's personal charm and informed by her passion for found art. From the barn wood cabinets to the hammered copper countertops she crafted with her father, to the cushions sewn at a local shop and the reclaimed hardwood floors, everything is original – just like Anderson’s art.
"The decorating and remodeling was fun, but now I even think it's fun figuring out the mechanics of the Airstream," she said. "Who knew this spontaneous decision out in the middle of Oklahoma would have led to so much self confidence, courage, and camaraderie?"
“This journey is really about inspiring hope and good news – about going ahead and living your life anyway,” she said. “Sure, we have to be more careful. The Airstream is the vehicle that can do that. You’re not in hotels; you’re not eating out all the time. It’s the perfect way to travel now.”
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