Martin Stringer says his first career was in welding, which is still his occupation, only with very small projects. He is the president of Diamonds of Kerrville, a family business including his wife, Sherrie, and his son, Jacob.
He says he was born in Mead, Kan., but his parents, Grady and Lea Stringer, moved to Pecos when he was a year old. His father worked for Diamond Shamrock for a year, then they moved to Odessa, where Stringer grew up. He graduated from Odessa High School in 1979.
He made welding his first career, working in the oil field, then in 1983 he bought a hardware store, which he ran until the oilfield bust of 1994.
He says he also got briefly into law enforcement, through politics, when he ran for county constable. During his winning campaign he was interviewed by an Odessa College student for the school newspaper. "We started dating, and Sherrie and I married in 1985. She's a graduate of rival Permian High School in Odessa, so she says we have a mixed marriage."
Stringer says he became interested in jewelry in 1980, as a hobby, with Bennie Kerr of Odessa as an inspiration. "I looked at what he was doing in metal, and liked it." He says he attended two 10-day symposiums at El Centro College in Dallas, where he learned the lost wax process, as well as finishing pieces and setting stones. He also ended up with the equipment he needed for his hobby.
Meanwhile, he says he was mowing grass for a woman, Zona Martin, who had an extensive collection of antiques and collectibles. She took the time to teach him about the history behind them. "I learned I enjoyed truth more than fiction. I became interested in the Big Bend area, which at the time was the last frontier in Texas. I started collecting Border Patrol, Mexican Revolution and Texas Ranger photographs and ephemera, the routine day-to-day documents like receipts and papers that no one thinks to save."
He says he has many photographs taken by W.D. Smithers, the "Ansel Adams of the Big Bend," who photographed the area starting in 1916. Smithers originated a process to reverse-image his film negatives, so they could be used as lampshades, and Stringer has several of them.
"I was also a picker for Marty Davis, and found many of the maps he included in one of the largest collections of maps of Texas."
Stringer says private collectors and public institutions have a rivalry when it comes to acquiring artifacts, but both are good for history. "Often it's a private collector who has the time to research, assemble, authenticate and catalogue a collection, and who then may donate it to a museum. Collectors can also swap back and forth, in a sorting process that brings individual pieces into collections."
He says back in the 1990s he got his auctioneer's license, and for many years he held auctions in the Jeff Davis County Courthouse, on Saturdays when it was closed, with the profits funding county Fourth of July fireworks. In the mid-1980s he worked an auction at Fort Davis Historical Site, which funded renovations for the local hospital.
He turned his jewelry hobby into a profession in 2004, working in Alpine for three years, then back in Odessa for five years and Midland for another five years. But he says he kept scouting Kerrville for a location. One connection he had to the area was working an estate sale for Margaret Francois. He has a photo of her, on horseback at Camp Waldemar, from the 1930s, which he has offered to the camp.
Stringer says he finally found a building on Sidney Baker, originally a church built in 1943. "We envisioned quick renovations, and moving in. But the structure turned out to require major surgery, so even though we were able to open in April, we're still under construction. Luckily I had great cooperation from KPUB and Hill Country Telephone, and Kerrville has great city inspectors who stuck with us through all the changes."
He says he and Sherrie have three sons. Jacob is a graduate of the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, and is part of the family business, and newly-wed to Céline Stringer. Ben graduated from University of Texas El Paso with a masters of music in piano, and is currently teaching English in Japan. Matthew is the family's political enthusiast, working with Empower Texans while he's attending Odessa College.
Stringer says Diamonds of Kerrville is full-service, able to order or manufacture what any customer wants. They have CAD design for begin-from-an-idea projects, and a laser welding setup. He made the watch fob that Daniel Day-Lewis wore in the 2007 film, "Let There Be Blood."
One of his current projects is making a pendant out of a bear tooth, by creating a silver cap, including a tiny figure of a bear.
"One time I created a miniature cutting torch, including 23 separate parts, as a gift for a welder. I had read an article in American Rifleman about creating miniatures of firearms, which said if you go exactly to scale, the project will look wrong, so you have to 'cartoon' it. That's what I did with the torch, so when he saw it he said it looked perfect."
He says that's the standard he sets for himself, "Quality, value, service. I'm here to make customers, not sales."