every monday, i've decided to run a weekly feature of etsy artists on my blog, and it's with this goal in mind,i have had the distinct pleasure of interviewing miss jen kahn of jennifer kahn jewelry about some of her gorgeous work as well as her journey into the entrepreneurial world of selling such masterpieces.
i absolutely love how rustic and rugged so many of her pieces look - not to mention - she works with Precious Metal Clay (PMC), which is a medium that i've yet to attempt working with because i've heard it can be kind of tricky. not only has she mastered it, but she's mastered it with style and has managed to make it look oh-so-easy (and gorgeous, too - have you noticed the beautiful merchandise photos?!)
how can you resist?
01. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Miami, FL. I spent my childhood in Marietta, GA. I moved to Westchester, NY at age 10 and lived there until 18. I went to the University of Vermont and slowly worked my way up the East coast, despite hating the cold. During my senior year, I worked at a gallery in town that sold jewelry artist Celie Fago's work.
In 2000, I took a class from her and became her apprentice through 2 semesters of Independent Studies, allowing me the money and time to work with PMC. When I graduated I became a live-in apprentice and I've lived here (Central, VT) ever since. I’m also her teaching assistant and accompany her on trips all over the country and abroad. I sell my work at an outdoor Artist Market in Burlington on Saturdays during May to October and also in my Etsy shop, which keeps me super busy.
02. What first made you want to become an artist?
I've always made things, always loved working with my hands but I didn't take it seriously until college. I was an English Major and I wrote poetry but I didn’t know how that would have real world applications. I loved my art classes more than anything and my teachers were very encouraging, so I became a double major in English and Art. I took every art class available but nothing quite struck me. I knew I liked working small and I most liked the working properties of clay. After working with PMC for awhile, I knew I wanted to be a jewelry artist.
03. Tell us a bit about how you first discovered PMC - how did you find it? What were some challenges about it that you overcame?
As I mentioned, I saw Celie's work at the gallery that I worked in. She was the featured artist of the month and they had a wall of photos of her working with PMC and a display showing a lump of PMC and her finished work. "This made that?" was all I could think. I couldn't believe such a material existed and it was coming along in my life at a time when I was looking for a medium that really satisfied me. I loved that you could work it like a clay but that the finished piece was pure silver. I also loved jewelry so the idea of making my own was very exciting.
Initially, I ordered some and started working with it in the air, sculpting a little moon. It was drying and cracking before my eyes and the whole experience was very frustrating. I asked my pottery teacher to fire it for me and he was a bit put off using the huge kiln to fire this tiny little cracked moon. I took Celie's class a few weeks later and learned to work on top of Teflon (a non-stick surface) and under plastic wrap, to delay the drying and cracking. The pieces were fired in a small jewelry kiln. By the end of the class I felt confident about working with this strange stuff. Over the next year of meeting with her and working with PMC I got hooked. She taught me everything she knew, so my learning curve was really small and before long I was coming up with my own techniques.
04. How did you make the transition into selling your pieces?
Even before I touched PMC, I knew that I wanted to (some day) make a living from making art. While I was working at Frog Hollow I was trying to figure out what wasn't being made, what niche could I fill. I was very aware of the overwhelming amount of art in the world; I wondered how I could ever make something original. What was so appealing about PMC was the idea that it’s new and that anyone working in it was a pioneer, breaking new ground - at the time, there was only one book on the subject.
I had found my medium and was off and running. I started selling a few pieces in some local galleries and boutiques. Having the foundation of working in the gallery, I understood about price points and marketing. I love selling my work myself at the Artist Market and in my Etsy shop.
05. Where do you get your inspiration?
I'm influenced by both ethnic artifacts and current fashion trends. I'm fascinated by the way things are put together: patched, hinged, riveted, stitched and often incorporate such connections in my pieces. I gather inspiration from a pattern on a textile; the texture of a leaf; beautiful, old rusty things. I'm constantly trying to fuse old and new, industrial and natural, urban and ethnic.
06. Apart from creating things, what do you do?
That’s a good question, not much else! I play with my dog – Kiwi, a long haired Chihuahua. I love watching movies (although I’m usually working while I watch). I love spending time with friends, going out to brunch, going out dancing to live music and um… shopping!
07. Your blog has a link for your mentor - can you tell us a bit about that?
Celie is my mentor! I made both of our websites. (You can check out Jen's site here and Celie's site here.)
08. If you could learn to work with any medium that you don't currently work with, which would it be?
Does a musical instrument count? I wish I had the ability and time to play (and play well) flute or mandolin or djembe drum or didgeridoo.
09. Do you have a favorite handmade item that you have purchased?
I can’t think of any one thing but I love handmade hats scarves and clothes.
10. What's your favorite piece that you have created?
This is a hard question because different pieces are special to me for different reasons. My current favorite pieces are from my Modern Relic collection. I make ancient looking “relics” from the new BronzeClay and set them in PMC settings.
I developed a technique for setting stones in PMC (after firing) and often make Chinese turquoise rings and pendants. My journey necklaces are very close to my heart. They are made up of found objects and each necklace contains a central piece that I've made PMC. I’m very proud of my fabric earrings. This was the first attempt I've made at jewelry containing no PMC and they were accepted as a project article for a Lark book on fabric jewelry coming out next year.
11. What undiscovered artists would you recommend to the world?
12. In five years, where do you see your work/yourself?
Thinking in these terms frightens me. I just hope to keep evolving my work (and myself) and see where the road takes me.
13. What is the best advice you have ever received?
Celie told me early on that it’s important that every part of a piece has been thought about. She would say that the back is another opportunity for creativity. For this reason, many of my pieces are reversible. It is a joy to watch people turn my pieces over and be surprised by the other side.