An artist in our midst: Tom McLaughlin: Honoring the lives of people with autism

Tom McLaughlin of Lennon Jewelers in Clay works on a piece for his autism collection.

Tom McLaughlin of Lennon Jewelers in Clay works on a piece for his autism collection.

— Tom McLaughlin calls himself a “bench jeweler,” a man who makes his living working with jewelry in all ways, repairs to jewelry crafting to jewelry design since 1985. He has been co-owner of Lennon’s Jewelers since 1988 when, along with Sheila Hovey, he opened the original store in Great Northern Mall in Clay. Twelve years ago Lennon’s Jewelers moved to Market Fair North, just across the road from Great Northern Mall. Designing jewelry is not just about finding and making beauty in object form, it is about crafting meaningful and beautiful symbols that demarcate key points in our lives. The jeweler is in part a historian.

McLaughlin majored in art in college but never saw his future in jewelry. “I am one of eight children and not a one of us except for me was interested in art,” he said. “My dad was mechanical engineer, so this is a stretch.”

McLaughlin always loved designing, making his own pieces out of raw metals and stones. But, inspired by the lives of his and his wife Megan’s friends Sue and Jim (a couple who lives with autism everyday as four of their children are on the autism spectrum), McLaughlin created a collection of jewelry to honor all of those families affected by autism. He is most proud of this collection.

“I came up with the design, the puzzle pieces connected by two hands, with my wife Megan who taught special education before we had our own children,” he said. “We were looking for a symbol of what we understand autism to mean for a family — everybody’s got to work together.”

The puzzle pieces, according to McLaughlin, are the universal symbol for autism. Tom and Megan McLaughlin decided to add an adult hand and a child’s hand working together to connect the puzzle. In his design, the puzzle pieces are almost linked. In each and every design iteration there is a small gap between the pieces. Autism, for McLaughlin, is always represented by the attempt to connect.

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