Sumner Silverman

Photograph by Chris Scott Snyder
You might think the occupations of psychotherapist and jewelry artist are mutually exclusive. You’d be wrong. (How does that make you feel?)

Many year-round islanders work more than one job — sometimes to support a family, sometimes to build a winter nest-egg by taking advantage of the summer economy. Frequently, they become Island “slashers” (i.e., waitress-slash-landscaper-slash-actress) to support artistic ventures. How and why do these multi-talented souls indulge in this difficult juggling act?

You might think that the occupations of psychotherapist and jewelry artist are mutually exclusive. Or at least, require two different workspaces. In his multi-gabled Tisbury home, Sumner Silverman, PhD, creates earrings, brooches, and pendants using the “lost-wax” method. The process is ancient and has changed little over the centuries.

The part that is new and different is that Silverman does all this while engaging in psychotherapy sessions with patients. His clients sit opposite him in a comfortable chair. A client talks. The chess table between them is strewn with jewelry in various stages of completion. Figures of orchids cast in various precious metals predominate. He slices intricate designs into a small lump of bright green wax while conversing or comforting his clients. The wax figures will later be used to create molds into which precious metals will be poured.

Photograph by Chris Scott Snyder

Photography by Chris Scott Snyder

Do his clients mind? According to Silverman, their response is quite the opposite. “In my entire career,” he states, “I’ve seen maybe a couple thousand people. I’ve had two people that told me it bothers them. My reply was, ‘I’m sorry. I do this, and maybe we’re not a good fit together.’ The two of them stayed.”

Mostly, his in-session jewelry work provides a relaxing atmosphere for client and psychotherapist alike. “It’s very slow and meticulous work,” Silverman says. “It keeps me calm and focused. And they’re not self-conscious. They don’t have to be looking at me all the time.” And, because many of his clients are artists, it creates a bond between him and the people he serves. “I’m an example of someone who works slowly and persistently at something,” he explains, “even though the financial rewards are nil. I spend more on my art than my art spends on me.”

Silverman’s psychotherapy career began with the discovery of a book by a Freudian psychologist when he was still in high school. He says, chuckling, “I’d probably look at the same book with a lot of skepticism now, but then it was thoroughly entrancing and I decided that’s where I wanted to go.”

His subsequent interest in yoga sparked an interest in psychophysiology — mind/body connection. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Vermont, a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and a doctorate from the University of Denver, he eventually landed in private practice on Martha’s Vineyard.

The artistic career actually began much earlier. When Silverman was seven years old, he carved a toy derringer and dagger from soft wood. At thirteen — then into guitar — he sought out a violin maker to help him create a custom capo (a device that attaches to the neck of the guitar and raises the pitch). The finished product was fashioned from ebony and inlaid mother-of-pearl. In college he began producing inlaid jewelry and has been learning and creating since.

Could he ditch one vocation for the other? “I couldn’t pick one,” he says. “Financially, the psychology supports me, but it’s so much intertwined with my identity as an artist. It’s like ‘which arm do you prefer, left or right?’ They work with each other.”

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