His business hangs on a wire

COSTA MESA — The O.C. Fair is a chaotic mass of blaring music, thrilling rides, larger-than-life stuffed animals and deep-fried ecstasy.

But after passing the foot-long corn dogs and dodging the chocolate-covered bacon, there is an area where the intensity eases to the speed of window shopping.

That is were Eduardo Oliva, 68, can be found.

It isn't Eduardo who catches the eye of fairgoers; he is a slight man with a weathered face. The soft-spoken Eduardo has an intensity for his craft that could make customers wanting his attention think they are being intentionally ignored.

Rather, customers are drawn to the products of his skills — the delicate-looking gold- and silver-wire necklaces, bracelets, rings and pins that intricately spell out a name — that are displayed within the glass cases at his booth in the crafter's village.

The booth, Creative Wire Crafts, also sells generic silver rings and charm bracelets, customizable ID tags and trendy feather hair clips, but if you ask Eduardo about them, he just waves a dismissive hand.

"It's not our business," he said.

His business — or passion, although Eduardo never used the word — is the personalized wire jewelry.

"I like to do it," he said. "I love to do this kind of thing."

Eduardo has been selling his jewelry at the O.C. Fair for 16 years, but has been working the fair circuit for the last 30.

At one point, he sold his wares at fairs as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin, but now the Pasadena resident and his wife, Julia, 60, keep to Southern California.

The two, who married 40 years ago, run the show together. Eduardo makes the jewelry and Julia sells it, occasionally getting help from their two daughters or other relations. They keep it inside the family.

The hours are long and run throughout the summer months, but fellow vendors become like family and returning customers reaffirm Eduardo's pride in his work.

Customers also like to watch him work.

"I feel good when people enjoy my jewelry," he said. "It's something forever and unique."

Julia said the two make a good living — OK, Eduardo added, but said he gets enjoyment out of making something unique that will last forever.

The tradition of making the jewelry started with Eduardo's father in Mexico City. Hazy on the details, his father picked up the craft later in life and shared it with his three sons after becoming accomplished. Eduardo said he wanted to learn, and Julia chimed in.

"It was something different that you didn't see around," she said, assisting Eduardo with his English.

Eduardo was in his early 20s at the time and it wasn't easy at first. He had to practice his cursive over and over again to perfect the romantic script before he even got near a wire.

Eduardo uses four different pairs of pliers to manipulate a square wire into the shape he wants. It took him hours at first, but now he can make a necklace — his best-selling product — in five minutes.

"It takes time," he said. "It takes a lot of time. It's hard to do this."

Even with 30 years of experience under his belt, Eduardo said he is still learning and always practicing. He has tried new styles, but eventually ended up back with his original style.

Still, he said, each piece of jewelry is unique, even though he makes them the same way.

Although he learned the craft from his father, Eduardo didn't pass it down to his daughters.

"We didn't feel it was the thing for them," he said, adding that he believes women can pick up the craft — they just don't want to.

But Eduardo isn't worried about the tradition being lost to the next generation — or leaving the family.

"We have nephews," he said.

Check It Out

What: Creative Wire Crafts

Where: Crafters Village in Park Plaza of the O.C. Fair, 88 Fair Drive

Prices: From $7.95 for an initial ring to $75 for a bangle

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