With his black taco hat, shoulder-length locks and stubbled chin, Paul Pearman looks as though he would fit right in with the likes of rockers Keith Richards or Kid Rock, just a few of the celebrities who buckle up with Pearman products.
Though this gregarious artist, animated as a colt in May, exudes the personality of a partier, Pearman is all business when it comes to his art. There is little time to roll with the jet set as he is always on the move, searching for new stones, glass, bones, teeth and gems to use in his colorful and often whimsical creations.
A single buckle can take up to 40 hours to create, depending on the intricacy of the design, and since his vibrant buckles are some of the most collected, he is assiduously making them year-round, working 16-hour days.
Pearman is originally from Bakersfield, Calif., but he moved to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., when he was a child. His father was in the Air Force. Pearman has always been an artist of some sort, and he originally began as a painter, first working in oils.
“I did oil paintings for 20 years before I started dabbling in the glass. It’s one of those things where you don’t really have a choice. I’ve always rendered,” he said.
But it was when he was inspired to cover his paintings with glass and hand-nipped tiles that his first mosaics evolved.
“I wanted to do something that looked like a painting, but it was glass,” he said. “It’s the mixing of mediums that can create the most elegant pieces of art.”
Pearman discovered his buckle-making niche when searching for a buckle to go with a ’70s vintage Tony Lama leather belt he bought at a flea market. When his search came up empty, he used his experience in making jewelry and mosaic home décor items to design his own belt buckle.
“What motivated me to make belt buckles was that I couldn’t find one that I really liked,” he said. “I decided I would make myself the coolest belt buckle on the planet. Then people saw it and wanted it. So I made another one and another one, and that’s how it started.”
Pearman has worked in mosaic art for more than a decade, and his abilities go far beyond belt buckles. He has created designs for residential and commercial customers, making mosaic home décor items like mirrors, kitchen backsplashes, flooring, fireplace surrounds, and home and garden accents. He has also carved foam, creating an Irish castle with stained-glass windows for his dog.
Those killer buckles
At first glance, Pearman’s buckles possess the characteristics of an impressionistic painting, with fluid, dynamic curvilinear designs and vibrant brushstrokes. On closer observation, the natural forms of shells, teeth, stones and gems provide an organic and timeless dimension.
What can be most surprising is the sheer weight of the buckles. If you strap on one these objets d’art, you can actually feel your waistline take on gravity.
“Buckles are something you gotta put in your hand,” Pearman said. “You need to feel them, feel their weight, to truly appreciate them.”
Pearman uses recycled and found objects for his buckles. He attends a variety of shows to gather materials, and he’s made the trip for the last five years to the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, known as the world’s largest treasure hunt, where vendors from around the world display everything from precious gems to mastadon tusks, and other more unusual finds.
“It’s the biggest fossil and gem show on the planet,” Pearman said. “You can buy a Tyrannosauras Rex. One actually sold there three years ago,” he said.
Apparently, a farmer found the bottom jaw of the T-Rex after a flood washed over his property. He hired some archeologists to dig it up, reassemble it and put it on the open market.
“Some of the ammonites, fossilized nautilus shells, turn into solid opal, and some of them are gigantic. The big ones that are intact, they keep them in the bedrock, and they expose the pretty half when they cut into it. You’ll have a 495-pound opal. It’s killer,” Pearman said.
Pearman displays at national shows such as the American Craft Council Show in Atlanta, one of the most distinguished fine craft shows in the United States. He has also hosted trunk shows at prestigious boutiques in Los Angeles, Dallas and Nashville.
Pearman’s partner in his thriving business is his wife of six years, Michele, and he credits her with the business acumen necessary to make the buckles move. Dark-haired and business-like, Michele moves with quiet assurance behind the scenes, and is the yin to Paul’s yang.
“She is instrumental. Without Michele, none of this would happen,” Pearman said. “She’s making me this huge book of all my designs. I’ve learned so much about design over the last five years. I just want to make the most beautiful pieces I can.”
See Paul Pearman's work at Paul Pearman Custom Mosaics.