Ruth Ann Dailey: A wedding ring maker comes full circle

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It turns out you can get to Fineview from the Point -- via Missouri, Michigan and Colorado.

It's a personal story, at first, but it's ultimately a Pittsburgh story -- the kind we can't get enough of.

In the months before our 2005 wedding, my husband and I searched for rings we'd both like, something unique, but we found nothing. I settled for a traditional gold band, but on the big day, he was left literally empty-handed.

Fast-forward a year or two to the Three Rivers Arts Festival. We were browsing through the artists' booths on a perfect sunny day, and we came across a jewelry designer whose work immediately had us hooked.

In no time, Andy had picked out a style, tweaked it and placed an order. The ring arrived by mail a couple months later. It was perfect.

At this year's arts festival, we waited out an afternoon downpour to stroll through the Gateway Center booths, but after an hour's browsing we were ready to find a restaurant.

"I wonder if the guy who made my ring is here," my husband said as we neared the T station.

And suddenly there the booth was, right in front of us, with the distinctive recycled metal display cases and one-of-a-kind pieces we remembered. Seconds later, the artist himself appeared -- Matthew Naftzger, whose name we'd forgotten -- and we did the "Hey, you made my wedding ring" reconnection.

It was a fun few minutes, and as we made to go, Andy noticed that Matthew's sign said he was from Pittsburgh.

That's not where we'd ordered the ring from: Philadelphia? Missouri? Arizona? It could have been any of those places. Matthew has lived in all of them, and more, but now, yes, he's from Pittsburgh.

How did that happen?

It started out as a relationship compromise that has led to a love affair -- with this city.

Matthew met his wife, sculptor Brianna Martray, four years ago in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was staying at a friend's house during an arts show there, when she arrived, a stranger but a fellow artist, saving money by "couch-surfing."

They hit it off, and before long she had joined him in Hannibal, Mo., where he and a large group of artists had moved together some years earlier.

"It was very affordable and centrally located," well-situated for artists regularly traveling to festivals all over the country.

But Hannibal is a small town, especially if you're used to the thriving arts scene in Denver, where Brianna had lived for years. Worse, Matthew said, she was allergic to the horsehair plaster in his Victorian fixer-upper.

So in 2012, they started looking for a compromise location. On one search, between shows, they met here, a place by now well-known to Matthew.

Dear reader, you've heard this sequence before: Brianna "came through the Fort Pitt Tunnel and she got goose bumps! She just really fell in love with Pittsburgh."

Determined to capture a great view, Brianna "literally found our house while randomly driving," Matthew said. They moved here in January 2013.

In Fineview, "We have the hum of the city but the quiet of this great little neighborhood." And their home here cost less than the Victorian brick fixer-upper in Hannibal.

Pittsburgh's virtues are "all the same things that so many national magazines are discovering," he said -- affordability, natural beauty, great place to raise kids, great place to retire.

This was Matthew's 14th year at the Three Rivers Arts Festival: "I've watched the Downtown progress and change."

"It feels like it's still a growth culture. You can afford to start a business here. Pittsburgh is what Brooklyn used to be."

It's not all perfect: They are used to sunnier days from life in the West and South. But they've found that their spectacular Fineview location also gives them "a great view of the sky," the open vista preventing overcast days from feeling oppressive.

And they've "never had a neighborhood like this, where everyone's looking out for one another."

They'll soon have studio space, also on the North Side, because Brianna "is pouring concrete and stuff you don't want to be doing in your house."

When they encounter old friends at shows around the country, do people wonder how they ended up here?

"It comes up continuously," Matthew said. "People either love Pittsburgh or they don't know it.

"If they've never been here, they go, 'Why Pittsburgh? If they've been here, they either say 'Steelers!' or 'Pittsburgh's amazing!' "

His business, "Works of Man," features metalwork in what I'd call an antique industrial style. He calls the look "freshly dug up."

"I love that in Pittsburgh, someone could've sat behind a desk his whole life and still knows what a rivet is."

Perfect fit. Welcome home.


Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com.

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