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Stowe Craft Gallery is excited to start a new series of artist features in 2018. To start things off, we are featuring Vermont jewelry artist Jen Kahn. Since bringing Jen’s work to the gallery in 2013, she has gained a huge following.  Now a days it’s hard not to spot Jen Kahn’s jewelry being donned by a few lovely ladies out and about in Vermont. But that’s not a surprise to us at Stowe Craft Gallery! Jen’s pieces are so effortlessly cool and can be worn everyday. Our customer’s aren’t the only ones who love her work though, our entire staff at one time owned Jen’s Verdigris Sweet Lady Jane Earrings. We hope you will enjoy this interview and appreciate Jen Kahn’s amazing jewelry even a little bit more.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you first started making jewelry?

–In 2000, during my senior year at UVM I worked at Frog Hollow Gallery in Burlington, VT. They carried Celie Fago’s amazing jewelry. She was the featured artist of the month and they had a wall of photos of her working with Precious Metal Clay 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. Celie happened to be teaching a few weeks later so I took her class, by the end of it I felt confident about working with this strange stuff. I 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 ended up living there for 9 years! She taught me everything she knew, so my learning curve was really small and before long I was coming up with my own techniques.

Jen Kahn Jewelry with her work.

Jen Kahn Jewelry with her work.

How would you describe your work?

–My designs fuse old and new, industrial and natural, urban and ethnic. I love working with PMC, 24k gold, sterling, copper, brass, semi-precious stones, found objects, leather and feathers.

How has your work changed over time?

–I think my work has stayed pretty consistent but I’m always exploring new shapes, new combinations.

Where do you find your inspiration? Do you have any current sources of inspiration that are different from before?

–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.

Do you have anything new in the works for 2018?

–Well the year has just started and I don’t really get much of a break because as soon as the new year hits, stores that are out of my jewelry from the holidays are ordering for Valentine’s Day. So I look forward to my slow season which is from mid February to May. Then I can maybe dig a little deeper into what this year will be about. I’m excited that I have 3 commissions in the works for some limited edition pieces which will be some of the first things I’ll work on when things slow down.

How has it changed since giving birth to your son, Leo?

–Time has changed a lot since having my son. He will be 1 next month! I have to be VERY efficient with my time and get a lot done during his naps and at night. He’s also made me less of a workaholic though, I live in the moment more with him. It can be frustrating to not be able to do work when I want too but I realized that that’s the main perk of working for myself, I can pace myself a little slower, if something doesn’t get finished today, it will get finished tomorrow… It also made me strive for simple! A lot of my new designs are very simple or combinations of other pieces that I already make. I’ve built a pretty big vocabulary of designs and it’s very fun to see what new ways I can mix and match them.

Jen Kahn with her son, Leo.

Jen Kahn with her son, Leo.

In a world of mass production and lack luster duplication, what does creating unique handmade jewelry mean to you?

–I’m drawn to and inspired by primitive and ancient artifacts/adornment because of the meaning infused into them. These pieces tell stories. They are connected to rituals, history, the land; they carry powers of protection, prosperity. They are culturally rich and full of identity. These days, its hard to feel connected, to feel meaning. I like the idea of reaching back into time, reaching out into distant lands and pulling those primitive styles forward; adding my voice and giving them a contemporary edge.

Do you have any advice for others who are trying to make a living creating?

— As an artist, you don’t really make a living from 1 thing. For example I’m a vendor at the Burlington Artist Market (Saturdays in City Hall Park from May-October), I have an Etsy shop, I sell in stores and galleries, I do craft shows, I sell on my website and I do some bigger commissions. It’s all about casting a lot of lines and waiting for them to bite. Some never do and that’s ok, at least you tried, some pan out and lead to new opportunities. Eventually you cast enough lines that you realize you’ve done it, you’re making a living! It’s so good to have multiple avenues of revenue too so that if one area is slow, another is there to keep things going. Also as Celie has always said “every part of a design is an opportunity for creativity” which is why the backs of her pieces are always as compelling as the fronts. I like to take that a step further and say that even beyond the piece you made, the way you package it, the font you use in your correspondence, the way you dress, the resume you prepare, these are all opportunities for creativity and it’s what can set you apart from the rest.

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