Thursday, July 3, 2008

Jennie Lorette Keatts: Turning Mud Into Gemstones!

Jennie Lorette Keatts




I saved this profile on Jennie Lorette Keatts of JLK Handcrafted Jewelry for Independence Day (well okay, the day before Independence Day) because Jennie found her own personal independence through jewelry design and the unique creation of fine jewelry using clay glaze drips as gemstones. Here's her story:

The idea came from my sister Pam. She had someone that was setting glaze drip (drips that they had collected from pots as the glazes were being developed) in sterling silver bezels for earrings. I’d always had an interest in jewelry making and when Pam's contact was no longer able to provide that service, she suggested I take a class and learn how to do it. So I did! Initially, Pam would roll out flat pieces, cut them into shapes, glaze them and send them to me and I’d put them into basic sterling silver settings.


I was working for the Convention & Visitors Bureau in Denver at the time. The job had become stressful and Pam kept encouraging me to quit and move to North Carolina with her to make jewelry. It was scary, and I carried my resignation letter around for over a week before I actually turned it in. Finally in June 1999, I gave my notice and arrived in North Carolina on the 4th of July, my independence day from the corporate world. It was the absolute best decision I made. Once I arrived in NC, I was able to take a breather, live with my sister and her family and get my business started and organized.

What do you think pottery offers that is unique from the use of natural stones?

North Carolina is known for its clay and pottery. The glazes developed at Jugtown are made from many of the same things that make up stones. I can combine them to get colors, patterns and depths that are unusual and different than a gemstone, but yet look like a stone. People very often don’t believe that they are clay. This is a new way for people to enjoy stones with new color combinations. Plus I can create pieces with large stones that won’t cost as much as a gemstone but offer the beauty of one. My stones all compliment semi-precious stone magnificently!

North Carolina is a great place to be an artist. There are many communities with artists and the Arts Council is very strong. Seagrove is the largest community of working potters in the country. There are many different types of clay artists in this area, some from families that settled here long ago and many that have moved to the area. There are over 80 pottery shops in Seagrove, so it is quite inspiring to live amongst so many talented people. Of course, Jugtown Pottery, where my studio is located, is quite well known. It is the longest continuously operating pottery company in the area, if not the state, is listed on the National Register and has been featured on PBS and in many national exhibitions.

How would you describe your style?

I try to create jewelry that can be worn with any outfit, that is affordable but fun and tasteful. Some things are a bit funky, but I try not to let anything be too funky or non-functional. I want my work to stand out and be recognized, and luckily my stones are something that really create the look and personify my trademark, Turning Mud Into Gemstones.

I really enjoy texture, and creating texture because it adds interest to the piece. Often it can continue a pattern found in the stones by combining several glazes. Many textures emulate things found in nature.


Few artisans are able to make a living designing and selling jewelry...what do you think made the difference for you?


There are a couple factors involved. I think having a background that included accounting and marketing was a huge benefit. Also being affiliated with Jugtown Pottery made a tremendous difference. They are connected to many museums and so I was able to make the connections to wholesale to the museum shops pretty quickly. I also utilized the Crafts Report and their forum, American Craft forum, Ganoksin and all the principles that applied to my sales staff in the hotel life.

What do you find most interesting and most challenging about being a designer and business person?

There is the day to day of challenge of new ideas, colors etc, but that is also one of the fun and interesting aspects. Marketing and continuing to keep my name out there is a challenge, as is having to do the weekly and monthly bookkeeping. I have allowed myself to over the past couple of years to work less since meeting my partner, Wes, and spending time together. Right now we are adding an addition onto our home and I am the General Contractor so my business has taken a bit of a back seat to that and so once we are finished with this, I’ll have the challenge of rebuilding the business back to the level I was at a couple of years ago.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

I would suggest taking Bruce Baker’s classes, the Arts Business Institute classes, reading craft and jewelry forums, learning things like how to price your work before you go out and start selling it.

I learned a great deal from Jennie, including several business websites I will explore further. Congratulations to Jennie for taking a big leap of faith to pursue a more satisfying lifestyle.

Happy Independence Day to us all!

Thanks for stopping by.

Sally


















1 comment:

S I L V E R L I G H T said...

I found Jennie's story and comments to be very interesting and useful. I'm going to check out Bruce Baker. Thanks for the info!