Finding Meaning: One Sailor's Journey to Jewelry

How a Lancaster, Pa. woman turned her love of the water into a jewelry business

By Mary Beth Schweigert
|  Friday, Apr 5, 2013  |  Updated 5:30 AM EDT
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Maggie Lee's personal compass has always pointed toward the water.

Sometimes she ignored it, or didn't have time to follow it. But the pull ultimately proved too strong to resist.

Lee grew up powerboating on the Chesapeake Bay with her parents and seven older siblings. She drifted away to raise children and pursue a career as a jewelry designer, weathering some personal turmoil along the way.

Not long ago, Lee, of Manheim Township, returned to the water, where she found a new direction, both personally and professionally.

A basic learn-to-sail class reignited Lee's love for boating in just a few hours. She now races with the Susquehanna Yacht Club and creates custom compass jewelry that means as much to her as it does to her clients.

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"You need a compass when you're going anywhere ... unfamiliar," Lee says. "It's a tool to find your way."

The compass collection gives Lee, now a single parent, a way to provide for her family. It also represents the freedom of sailing and a guiding symbol as she embraces her life's next chapter.

"What I do is capture people's passions and put it in jewelry," Lee says. "A lot of this is my passion, too."

DRIFTING AWAY--AND BACK

Lee, the daughter of Gere and Peggy Frailey, of Lancaster, boarded a boat even before she was born.

Her dad converted a 36-foot Navy landing craft to a cabin cruiser, christened the "Frailibus." Every weekend and school vacation, the family headed to Havre de Grace, Md.

"When it rained, we were on top of each other," Lee says. "We grew up on the water, and we all loved it."

At the time, Lee thought sailboats were hopelessly slow. She preferred the speed and ease of powerboats.

As a teen, Lee discovered a second love — jewelry-making — while attending art shows with her sister.

Lee graduated from Lancaster Catholic High School and Bowman Technical School. She worked for jeweler Brent Miller for 13 years before starting Maggie Lee Designs.

Lee, who was juried by the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen in 1999, exhibits her work at shows and opens her home studio by appointment.

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As a young working mother, Lee's time on the water was limited to occasional powerboat jaunts. But five years ago, she took a free learn-to-sail class and was instantly hooked.

Lee's return to boating comes as her 50th birthday and her two children's adulthood approach, leaving more time to devote to her own interests.

She's now drawn to sailboats for the very reason she once disliked them. Powerboats get you somewhere fast. Sailing is more about the journey.

At the same time, Lee has found that nothing beats the thrill of racing sailboats. On warm-weather Wednesday evenings, she races with SYC's Lightning Fleet 253 near Wrightsville.

"There are always people looking for crew," she says. "They really want to share their knowledge and joy of sailing."

Lisa Batchelor Frailey, who runs a sailing business in Solomons, Md., enjoys watching her sister embrace a new passion that challenges both her mind and body.

"(Lee) absolutely makes time for it," she says. "She won't ever quit now."

ADVENTURE ON THE SEAS

Water is a common motif in Lee's work, from gleaming pearls and ocean-hued gems to designs that mimic waves.

In 2007, the owner of a Jenneau sailboat asked Lee to design a piece of jewelry incorporating the company's compass logo.

That piece became the first in Lee's Compass Rose Collection.

The multifaceted star at the center of each design is an ancient symbol of exploration and adventure — with direction, Lee says.

For many clients, Lee's compass pieces simply reflect a love for sailing. To a recent college graduate or retiree, the compass might represent a new direction. For others, it symbolizes faith during tough times.

Justin and Holly Shoger, both Naval officers and aviators who live in California, Md., own several pieces of compass jewelry, many adorned with family birthstones. The couple's two young children have their own "star" necklaces.

"It's something a little bit unique, as opposed to the symbols other people wear," Justin Shoger says. "It's a little bit closer to home, professionally and personally."

Boating still very much runs in Lee's own family. Most of her siblings are boat owners or sailing club members. Three generations of Frailey women recently held their inaugural "sisters' sailing weekend."

And in January, Lee fulfilled a lifetime dream by sailing in the French West Indies with her sister, Lisa.

"You're experiencing it from the water, not caught up in herds of tourists," Lee says. "You can go places they can't go."

Lee's latest dream is to sell her jewelry collections in shops at sailing ports around the world.

Of course she'd have to sail there often, just to check in.

 


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