My jewelry is influenced by vintage style with a modern twist. I like to create a connection between the old and the new – the past and the present – and so I'd like to share a bit of prohibition-era family history.
Runs in the Family
My great-grandparents on my dad's side came here from the "old country" (i.e., Russia and Poland) in the early 1900s and settled in Pittsburgh.
They had seven kids, including my grandmother, so it was a challenge trying to make ends meet as first generation Americans. I assume that is what lead to a certain "creative" money-making endeavor. I recently discovered that my great-grandmother and her sister were bootleggers. My great-great aunt made "hooch" (as my grandmother called it; I believe it was whiskey) in the bathtub and my great-grandma was in charge of distribution.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs – albeit legal ones now. My grandma got married young and she and my grandfather moved across the country from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in the 1930s and started their own small businesses. They owned a couple of small neighborhood markets, which they both worked at full-time. After several years, they moved up the coast and bought a motel, which my dad, aunt, and uncle still run. My grandma worked well into her 90s. She helped raise me and my sisters and brothers, and she was a big influence on me. The motel was my second home – my grandma had a small apartment behind the front office, and I'd spend the night with her many weekends.
My parents had six kids, and four of us are now small business owners, so entrepreneurship certainly runs in the family. Being an artist is also in my blood –several relatives on my mom's side are artists, and a few of my siblings inherited those artistic skills. I knew I wanted to someday be my own boss in a creative field, but it took me awhile to do so.
I am a self-taught artist, and I've been creating art my entire life. I have an eye for design and aesthetics – I love decorating, style and fashion (especially jewelry!), and creating art in all of its forms. I've always been drawn to beautiful things. As a little girl, my grandma nicknamed me "Fancy Nancy" because of my affinity for dressing up. To this day, I rarely leave the house without at least one piece of sparkly jewelry. My love of beautiful things carries over into my artwork.
Over the years, I've worked with a variety of artistic mediums, including graphite and colored pencils, pen and ink, pastels, charcoal, watercolor, gouache, and acrylic paint; and I've dabbled in a variety of styles, including photorealism, impressionism, abstract art, mixed media, collage, cartooning, and graphic art and other visual media. I've worked on several commissioned projects: murals, painted artwork on furniture, and sketched portraits of high level military and civilian US Navy personnel, which earned me a commendation letter from a Navy Captain. Jewelry design is my most recent artistic endeavor.
But being a jewelry designer wasn’t always my dream. It was a passion I stumbled upon by accident and then realized it was a perfect fit. It’s one of those, Wow, why did it take me so long to figure this out? kinds of things. It just feels right. But sometimes life isn’t clear and we have to wander around a bit until we find ourselves.
A Real Job
I've always wanted to be a professional artist, but as time went by, I began to internalize all the messages from society about being a “starving artist” and about needing to get a “real job,” so I started giving up on pursuing that passion as a career. I decided to get my bachelor’s degree in psychology and toyed with the idea of becoming a therapist. But I felt ambivalent. I took a year off after earning my degree and worked on a few freelance art projects. I also worked on my own artwork, but I felt like each piece had to have a purpose (i.e., financial incentive) or I wasn’t being productive. Not surprisingly, that way of thinking didn’t serve as the best muse. Besides, the thought of being a professional artist felt like a pipe dream.
So I went back to school, and I got my master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies – psychology/sociology. I researched society’s impact on women’s self-image, and I realized that I wanted to write a book that empowered women, one that would inspire others to grow into themselves; to be authentic and real without bowing to pressure to do otherwise; to feel valued and equal; to stop being people pleasers and instead ask ourselves, “What makes me feel fulfilled? What do I feel passionate about? What makes me feel alive?” My grandma taught me what it meant to be a strong woman, and I wanted to pay it forward and help other women find their own courage and strength.
But I wasn’t even following my own advice. While attending grad school, I got a job as a public affairs writer for the Navy. At first it was interesting work – I wrote speeches for high level Navy and civilian leadership, and I published hundreds of technical and feature articles. I was even commissioned to draw portraits to be presented at formal military ceremonies. But over time, the job grew stifling. Government bureaucracy doesn’t allow for much creativity, and the boy's-club environment didn’t make me feel respected or valued. The novelty wore off, and I was left with a job that crushed my spirit. But it paid the bills.
I worked there for several years until my company lost its government contract and I was laid off. And though I was scared, I felt free. I had time to work on my book and my art, I started a blog, I created a social media community that empowers women. and I even created a line of jewelry to support that mission. Since then, I’ve received hundreds of messages from readers telling me how much my work inspires them, how it makes them feel supported, how they don’t feel so alone anymore. It’s humbling yet fulfilling to build a community that’s had such a positive impact on so many women (and even some men).
As rewarding as that’s been, the work can get pretty heavy. That's when I try to balance it out by focusing on doing something creative - I’m still an artist at heart. I want to create. I want to make beautiful things. I want to take a blank canvas (or cork or chandelier crystal) and turn it into a piece of art. I've always wanted to be my own boss and have my own creative business. And that’s how Sparkling Vine Design was born.
I came up with the idea for wine-inspired jewelry while trying to come up with a use for all of the wine corks I'd collected from bottles discovered during visits to wine country, bottles shared over romantic dinners with my guy, and bottles opened over lively discussions with friends. I'd been tossing the corks in a large wooden bowl on top of the refrigerator, but it got so full that a cork or two would occasionally rain down if the door was shut a bit too hard. Either I'd have to drink less wine or I'd have to find a use for all those corks! One night after a couple of glasses, an idea came pouring out. I grabbed a handful of corks, gathered a few craft supplies I had on hand, brainstormed several design ideas, and drew samples. Through trial and error, I came up with the finished pieces. It was then that I discovered a new passion – jewelry design – and it opened up a whole new world of creativity.
Sparkling Vine Design is a culmination of my love of art, jewelry, and wine and their transformation into handcrafted, one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art. When you wear my jewelry, you're showing your support for women's rights, as well as your support for artists and women-owned small businesses. Pretty cool, right?
I believe now more than ever that pursuing one’s passions makes life more colorful and vibrant. It gives us pleasure and purpose. But most of all, it reminds us of who we are. My beloved grandma used to call me "Fancy Nancy," and I guess I really am. I adore beautiful things, I'm an artist, and I won’t be the kind of artist that starves herself of feeling alive. I hope you’ve found your passion too. If not, keep looking – I promise it’s out there.
Thank you for stopping by!
Owner/Jewelry Artist, Sparkling Vine Design
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Watch this short video for a bit more info, and don't forget to take a peek inside my studio: