Things have been so heavy lately, and justifiably so. I do want to bring a little light this week, so I am going to feature a local jewelry artist who definitely shines. Julie “Jules” Jernigan is one of those people who immediately make you smile from the moment you meet them. She has a rich eclectic flair for creating one-of-a-kind fabulous daring exceptionally wearable art. And, she is also a professional singer! I was lucky enough to be invited to her backyard recently – socially distancing of course – for a chat and a tour of her art studio.
I really connected with Jules because, while our paths were quite different, our stories are quite similar. We are both women who decided, after becoming mothers, that we wanted to change course in our careers and pursue our passions. For her, it was jewelry making, a talent she did not even know she had until after she had graduated from college and was well into a marketing career. For me, it was real estate.
Jules is a true Cajun, born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana. She studied literature at the University of Louisiana and pursued a career in communications and marketing. In 1995, her boyfriend (now husband’s) family decided to do a Crafty Christmas gift exchange – everyone was directed to gift a handmade item. She decided to go to Bedazzled and put together a necklace. The necklace was a huge hit, and she really enjoyed the process of making it. Over the next ten years, she started to explore jewelry-making further on the side, while maintaining her marketing career. Working with metals sparked her curiosity, so in 1998 she started taking metalsmithing classes at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center. After exhausting the offerings there, she spent the next four years mastering metalsmithing through the Corcoran School of Art’s metals program.
Over time, Jules found herself spending more and more time making jewelry. She started attending craft shows and selling the unique pieces she created in her basement and at her dining room table. A jewelry business was born. All the while, she was continuing to work nine hours a day at her marketing job, and regularly attend vocal rehearsals and performances. In 2005, Jules made it official and pursued jewelry making full time, still from the kitchen table until building her art studio – a piece of architectural art in itself – in 2013.
As her website describes it, Jules’ work is a “spirited, eclectic mix of elegance and individuality.” She designs and creates her work by hand in her studio, turning fine metals, gems, enamels, resin, and various vintage and found items into unique wearable art. Jules also collaborates with clients on commissioned pieces. For example, a client may come to her with a beautiful stone or family heirloom. Jules will take that and turn it into a one-of-a-kind piece that only she can create. Once you become familiar with Jules’ pieces, you will start to recognize her signature look.
Jules never knows when inspiration will strike, so she travels with a notepad to jot down designs as new ideas come to her. Her philosophy is to stay open and let the inspiration in. According to Jules, jewelry making is a game of patience, knowledge, daring, and self-acceptance. The way that Jules describes her process is an allegory for life. As she explained to me, “[W]hen you work in precious metals and stones, you have to have the tacit appreciation that your first attempt will not make it to completion. Something will break, something will fall apart. Failures are successes because they show you what not to do the next time. You learn to try a different way.”
For the first fifteen years of making jewelry, Jules showed her wares at craft shows all over the MidAtlantic; approximately 15 – 20 shows per year. She recently cut back to about three to five times per year, but with the COVID-19 outbreak, she will likely only have one show under her belt for 2020. Jules also sells her jewelry at home shows, where the host is offered a percentage of the total sales at the show in jewelry credit. Of course, with COVID-19, she has not been able to have a home show for months. We think a lot about brick and mortar businesses hurting from COVID-19, but it also has a huge impact on local artists like Jules as well. While purchasing a piece of jewelry might be far from your mind these days, supporting local artists and artisans in these times is not a selfish act – it is a purchase you can enjoy and feel proud of!
Check out Jules’ website here: julesjewelsjewelry.com.
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