Sassafras: Hi, Jeni! We're seeing your line of jewelry, Parallel Jewelry, all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond. What elements and materials do you incorporate into your designs? Jeni: Hi, Amy! I'm especially attracted to materials that are naturally beautiful and resonant, like gemstones and fresh water pearls. I like to think about how they came from the sea and the earth all over the world. There's something special about how far they travel before they get to me. I started using silver because it's an easier metal to work with than some of the harder metals; it's softer for wire wrapping and hammering to create the organic shapes that make up my line. I love the delicate and lightweight look that I can create with it, too.
Sassafras: What's your background as an artist, and how did you first create your jewelry line?
Jeni: I studied textiles in college at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Tennessee. While I was in college, I made jewelry as a way to afford school supplies. I had a following among the staff and teachers, who looked forward to my display at the art events. I would always sell out!
Sassafras: That sounds like a great start! Have you pursued other art endeavors?
Jeni: I love costume and fashion. Clothing is like sewn sculpture, and I'm always looking for interesting things to do with it. I've done conceptual clothing and dance costume design, millinery, and some theatre costume. I buy clothes in thrift stores and experiment with changing the silhouettes to make my own wardrobe special. I see fashion as art and a way to communicate.
Sassafras: Do you see an artist community in Seattle, and what's your view on that?
Jeni: I think community is so important for our success as individual artists. There are a lot of people here (in Seattle) with amazing talents to share, but it's only the people who know how to network that get attention. I'd like to see more creative people getting a leg up! Self-promotion is a completely different kind of skill set from being a maker, and while it's super important, it doesn't always go hand in hand with a highly developed design sense or a unique and moving form of expression. If we band together and help each other out with the skills we lack, we're more likely to be able to actualize the most amazing things in our hearts and minds rather than getting discouraged.
Sassafras: How do you collaborate with other artists or designers in Seattle?
Jeni: Collaboration isn't always formal or project based. Sometimes it's simply about sharing resources, networking, and helping connect people who can help each other. I like to connect people. I do a lot of project collaboration for my business, though! For example, I worked with a local graphic designer to design the perfect logo and branding for my company, and I work with professional photographers to shoot the images of my jewelry. Lately, I find myself drawn to bringing people together with public art installations and group art shows. Last Summer I curated and organized the Belltown Summer Market in the new Bell Street Park. My latest collaboration is a pop-up shop concept called Design Kollektive, which will move around the city. The first show will be on March 21, the first day of Spring.
Sassafras: Public art installations? Tell us more about that!
Jeni: The most exciting so far was the 16-foot dream catcher I built for Occidental Park. A "community catcher." The concept for the project was community inclusiveness in the process of making artwork. So much art making happens when we're alone, and I think people can connect more deeply with art and the artist when they can see the process.
Sassafras: How did the community and neighborhood respond to your dream catcher?
Jeni: People were so excited and curious to know what I was doing. Seeing something different going on in the park made everyone want to ask questions and participate. Some people stopped to help. The support was overwhelming! As artists, we're not just creating things. I think by exposing the process, we're able to convey to people what's really special about what we do and the reasons we do it. Maybe we're not performance artists, but there's certainly a gap to be bridged there.
Sassafras: What are your plans for Parallel Jewelry in the next year?
Jeni: I'd like to expand into more shops around the country. My wholesale package is ready for distribution! I'd also like to do more sculptural pieces. I design and sew clothing, too, so look out for a new line of clothing in the future.
Sassafras: That's fantastic, and we can't wait to see what you come up with! Thank you, Jeni!