Oklahoma craft jeweler Jennifer Woods opens Paseo Arts District shop after pandemic cuts short Skirvin residency
A version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Crafting new opportunities: Jeweler Jennifer Woods opens new Paseo shop following abbreviated Skirvin residency
If 2020 had gone to plan, Jennifer Woods would have spent September wrapping up her yearlong tenure as the Skirvin Hilton Hotel Artist in Residence and moving out of the coveted first-floor gallery space of the historic downtown Oklahoma City landmark.
But the coronavirus pandemic has ensured that not much about 2020 has gone as planned.
"This whole pandemic has affected everybody, not just me. I feel like I'm grateful for the time I had. It's disappointing, of course, but I'm not the only one disappointed in all of this," she said.
When the Skirvin closed down in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it brought Woods' residency with what's formally called the Skirvin Paseo Artist Creativity Exposition to a halt more than six months early. Undeterred, the craft jeweler opened up her new JW Jewelry & Home in August in the Paseo Arts District.
“We are so fortunate that Jennifer Woods joined us in the Paseo," said Paseo Arts Association Executive Director Amanda Bleakley in an email. "Her talent of combining unique and beautiful materials into works of art was a welcome addition to the street and who doesn’t love jewelry?”
Inspired by nature
Originally from Kingfisher, Woods' craft jewelry is inspired by her Oklahoma upbringing.
"My family are farmers. ... It was dirt roads and gravel roads and green fields that look like big green carpets," she said. "Everything is inspired by nature and the land that's around me here and the colors here. Oklahoma is really quite diverse, even though people don't think that. They think, 'Oh, you're just a flyover state; it's just flat plains,' but that's really not true. ... So, I take my cues from the land."
Her distinctive jewelry combines semiprecious gemstone beads - the green hues of prehnite, the yellow shades of citrine, the pink translucence of rose quartz, the familiar blue-green of turquoise, the various varieties of jasper - and embellishes them with 24-karat gold fill, sterling silver, wood, brass, glass, enamel cloisonne beads and more.
"I also use pieces that are vintage, that came off of older pieces, so I will do a lot of repurposing," Woods said.
Her love of jewelry started in childhood, when few thrills could compete with selecting a ring or necklace to wear from her grandmother's jewelry box.
"She was an artist ... so she would take me to sculpting classes and painting classes," she said. "We always traveled to Arkansas, Missouri, kind of regionally, and we'd buy jewelry: turquoise jewelry, Native American jewelry. So, I got acquainted with the stones that way. It's something that I really always wanted to do."
She studied biology in college, got married, became a mother - and began looking for a way to get back in touch with her creative side.
"I found out, oh, I can buy turquoise beads and I can buy all those same stones ... as beads. So, I started playing around that way and I taught myself. I've done several things over the years: I was a nurse, I've gone to school, I've done different things. But I've always made jewelry throughout that process," Woods said.
When back surgery in 2016 ended her nursing career, Woods seized an opportunity to start selling her craft jewelry in the Paseo Plunge - eventually joining forces with Literati Press - and learned about the Skirvin residency.
Last fall, Woods was named the eighth Skirvin Artist in Residence, following a competitive process that culminated in her selection from a distinguished pool of artists by a committee of leaders from the Paseo and the hotel.
She moved into the Skirvin's prime ground-level studio space, devised a free bracelet-making activity for visitors and planned a series of workshops and exhibits for the yearlong residency. She also embarked on an ambitious series of 10 hand-crafted jewelry collections, with each one inspired by one of the 10 geophysical land regions found in her home state.
"My days that I spent there, I was creating those pieces, and as people would come in, we'd talk about it. Sometimes they'd make bracelets, sometimes they just wanted to look, sometimes they wanted to buy. Sometimes all," she said. "There was lots of interest from the community and the guests. I met a lot of people."
But when the hotel closed in March due to the pandemic, it all came to a stop.
"No one was really allowed to go in there. I kept my things there, except for the jewelry, then just as the months have gone by, I've just slowly taken things from there. They've reopened the hotel ... but they haven't reopened the studio space at all," she said. "Then, this place came open."
In June, she signed a lease on the space at 3018 Paseo, remodeled the interior and opened her new studio and gallery in August. Along with a place to make, display and sell her craft jewelry, she also carries home furnishings she finds at estate sales and wholesale outlets, potted plants from Paige "the Paseo Plant Lady" Powell and original work by other Oklahoma artists. Her JW Jewelry & Home currently boasts mixed-media collages and prints by Tammy Brummell, ceramics by Tim and Jarica Walsh and poured resin coasters by Sarah Day-Short.
"I'd like to continue to feature more local artists. I love to feature women artists; it's not exclusive to women, though," she said. "What I like about it is that it feels like everything can be art: The plants can be art, the jewelry can be art, the home furnishings can be art, the art can be art. Everything that you pick for your space or for your person matches, it flows, it has a connected thread."
As she prepares for the Paseo's October First Friday Gallery Walk, Woods said she has no regrets about her abbreviated Skirvin residency.
"I feel like people learned about me and were interested in the work I was doing, and have continued to be interested. It was a good experience - it was a great experience, honestly. I'm sorry that it was cut short, but I'm very thankful that I had the opportunity," she said.
Paseo First Friday Gallery Walk
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday.
Where: Paseo Arts District, between NW 28 and Walker and NW 30 and Dewey.
COVID-19 precautions: Participants are required to wear a mask, practice social distancing and use provided hand sanitizer.
Information: 525-2688 or thepaseo.org.