No Plain Jane: How One L.A. Based Artist Draws Inspiration From Her Grandmother’s Jewels

If you had to look one kitchen appliance in the eye and consider it most human which would you pick?  Your coffee contraption that wakes you up each morning? Your mixer because it sings as the beaters whirl and whip? Or maybe it is your dependable dishwasher who is always so eager to clean a mountain of dirty pots and pans.

If I had to choose one such appliance, I would pick the fridge. It’s human height, it’s doors open like arms and even though you stock it yourself, there always seems to be something unexpected going on in there. Whether it’s restaurant leftovers you forgot about, a surprise treat added by a family member or a curious case of bacteria sprouting on last week’s loaf of bread, the fridge is the one appliance that consistently brings a little personality to each new day.

It’s also the one that gets the most use. Every day, you open the doors and close the doors so much so that you don’t even think about the physical action of that process anymore – the pulling and the pushing – but at the same time you are also careful with it. You reorganize it. Sometimes more than once a day. You jockey things around from shelf to shelf to make sure everything fits. You clean it and you care for it. You worry about it. If the power goes out, then what? You think about it in the middle of the night. Will the Thanksgiving turkey fit? Will the watermelon suck up too much cold air? Will the icebox pie set firmly?

If you are like my mom, you also outfit it. You buy lots of clear glass storage dishes and a label maker and you get to work making the inside of that fridge look like a beacon of efficiency and organization with this there and that here. Or you take the opposite approach and just stuff things in as they come with less rigidity and more relaxed effort.

And that’s just the inside.

The outside of a fridge is an equal blank canvas. It seems this school of thought has two camps – the people who decorate and the people who don’t. Do you prefer a plain, sleek front to your fridge or a personalized collection of life’s pieces in papers? Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we like the outside of our fridge decorated. Right now, ours contains a family photo, a calendar, three business cards, one Chinese takeout fortune cookie message (which proclaims that this is the year that ingenuity stands high on the list!), two stickers from a recent comedy show, two love notes, one watercolor painting, one recipe and one autograph. All these are held together by a collection of magnets that my niece, Olivia,  made for me when she was 11…

That was eight years ago. Now she is off at college, and these magnets were and will always be prized possessions.  A lovely gift and a pretty memory all wrapped up in one, they also were the start of my love affair with magnets. Thanks to Olivia’s gift, I re-discovered that magnets were an invaluable tool providing the ability to help hang on to the little bits of life that I didn’t want to forget about (like that fortune cookie message!). This leads to the topic of today’s post. Yesterday I promised to reveal the contents of this mystery box that one lucky winner in our giveaway will receive…

Are you ready to see what’s inside?

Ta-dah! It is a trio of floral fridge magnets handmade from vintage costume jewelry.  These beauties are the work of Heather Dean, the Los Angeles based artist behind Jane Dean Gems, an online jewelry and home decor shop that specializes in pieces made from vintage items and found objects.

As one of the original pioneering artists of Etsy, Heather has been around the handmade marketplace since 2005 but her designs and ultimate inspiration go way back to her grandmother Jane Dean, whose name Heather not only borrowed for her shop but whose collector’s spirit Heather tries to instill in all her pieces. What I love about Heather’s work is that she is a storyteller in sparkles and shimmer, offering a new way of looking at familiar objects from a finder’s point of view. A brooch becomes a magnet, a bauble becomes a bracelet, an arrow becomes a compass in the same way that your commonplace, everyday, utilitarian refrigerator suddenly becomes the canvas for a glamorous work of art.

In today’s post, we catch up with Heather, interview style to learn more about the muse behind the magnets, how her grandmother helped lead her down the handmade road and where to find the best places for artistic inspiration in all of L.A.

In the Vintage Kitchen: First of all, let’s talk about the name of your shop. I understand it is named after your grandmother, Jane. Please share a little bit about her with us.

Heather:  My grandmother’s name was Jane but I called her “Mimi.” When I was a little girl I was enchanted by her large collection of costume jewelry. She had drawers full of colorful brooches, sparkly rhinestone earrings and long beaded necklaces. I loved opening her jewelry boxes, examining the pieces and trying them on. My grandmother was a working woman who didn’t have a lot of money, but she knew how to put herself together on a budget. She shopped at the Garment District in downtown LA  (now known as the Fashion District) to find good deals on clothes, and she accessorized her outfits with jewelry and beautiful silk scarves. It just seemed fitting to name my business after her since I use vintage pieces in my own designs. I also love the simplicity and traditional character of the name, Jane. It goes well with vintage style.

Jane as a young girl with one of the necklaces she acquired later on.

Did Jane teach you a lot about jewelry or did you learn through your own natural fascination? What attracts you to it?

I was certainly inspired by my grandmother’s love of jewelry and flair for accessorizing, but I definitely had my own fascination with vintage items. I started collecting vintage jewelry as a teenager in the 1980s, when more was more. I would go to garage sales and second-hand shops looking for interesting pieces at great deals. I loved old rhinestone choker necklaces, sterling silver bracelets and rings (I wore one on every finger, including mid-knuckles). Back then, pre-internet, I would go to the library to learn about the vintage treasures I had found. Researching vintage is sooo much easier these days, thanks to the internet!

These fridge magnets are desert themed! Everybody needs a little cactus, don’t you think? Find this trio in her shop here.

How did you happen upon the idea of refurbishing vintage jewelry into fridge magnets? Such a cool idea!

I had been buying box lots of old jewelry so I could use the components in my own designs. I was mostly looking for pieces that could be used in necklaces and charm bracelets, but I ended up with a surplus of broken bits and bobs, orphan earrings, etc. that didn’t really work for my jewelry making. One day, I decided to glue magnets on the back of a few old pieces and they turned out really cool! They sold well and soon became my favorite things to make. My first magnet sets were fairly simple but over the years they have become much more complex, with several pieces stacked on top of each other and often embellished with paint, rhinestones and charms. I also love using rustic found objects like old bottle caps, rusty washers and miscellaneous thingamabobs. I’m always finding things on the ground and putting them in my pocket to be used later in a creative project. When I do my laundry I usually find some kind of nut, bolt or pebble in the lint trap, because I always forget about the little treasures in my pockets!

Small treasures lying in wait for Heather’s unique designs.

Please explain a little bit about the process of making magnets – does one piece set the wheels in motion for a particular collection or does a set evolve as each magnet is made, or do you figure out a color palette and then go from there?

I create magnet sets based on one fabulous piece, or a color combination that I love, or using one of several themes that I work with over and over again. Some of my most popular themes are beachy seashell mixes, Southwestern, Day of the Dead, Victorian and robot (made out of junk and google eyes). I have also made many custom magnet sets to coordinate with people’s kitchen colors and for wedding message boards. I’ve even had customers send me their own vintage jewelry to turn into magnetic keepsakes.

It’s easy for me to pull sets together because I keep my huge collection of jewelry bits very organized. I have a large vintage letterpress cabinet, several craft drawers, boxes and glass jars full of stuff. Everything is sorted by type; hearts, flowers, animals, celestial, bead clusters, rhinestones… that way I can find what I need quickly!

Heather’s wonderfully organized cabinet!

Are there jewelry magnets on your own fridge?! And if so, what are they like?

I do have magnets on my own refrigerator. My favorite one is made out of a big rhinestone flower brooch that belonged to my grandmother… I was never going to wear it so I turned it into a functional object that I get to see every day in my kitchen!

Find this set of 8 Southwestern mini fridge magnets available in her shop here.

Is there a holy grail of costume jewelry that you are forever on the hunt for? Do you have a favorite vintage designer or type that you like to collect?

Because I sell vintage in my other shop, CuriosityCabinet, I’m always on the hunt for sterling silver. I love unique handmade jewelry….Southwestern, Native American, Mexican, and mid-century artisan pieces. But for my handmade work, I honestly look for junk! I love the challenge of turning something broken or damaged into something new and fabulous. A lot of my supplies are things many people would throw away. I don’t use anything collectible or valuable.

Who are your top three most favorite artists and why?

It’s difficult for me to pick favorites because I appreciate so many artists and creative mediums, but having recently returned from Mexico, I’m still thinking about the magnificent murals I saw painted by “Los Tres Grandes” the leaders of the Mexican muralism movement; Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco. The enormous size of the works, with their bold colors and emotional subject matter really made an impression on me. It’s nothing like studying them in books and on slides! One piece by Sequeiros actually brought me to tears when I saw it.

From top left: Jose, David, Diego and the trio as pictured in the 1940s.

Because I’m an avid recycler of junk, one my favorite contemporary artists is El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor who creates enormous, flexible tapestries made out of salvaged bottle caps and metal pieces from liquor bottles. They have the fluidity of fabric and can be bent and formed into different positions. They are truly magnificent and are created entirely out of recycled materials!

The art of El Anatsui

Back when you were studying art in college, did you always plan on opening your shops, Janedean Gems and Curiosity Cabinet, or did they just evolve naturally over time?

I never ever thought I would be able to do what I’m doing now! I definitely didn’t plan it. After working various retail jobs for many years, I went back to school in 2000 to study art history at UCLA, thinking I wanted to work in a museum or gallery. I bought my very first computer to use for school and discovered Ebay at the same time. For fun, I puta few pieces of my handmade jewelry up for auction to see if I could sell them. I was so excited when they sold, that I made more pieces and sold those too! Soon I’d created a nice little side business. That’s when I first starting selling my jewelry magnets.

In 2005, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a new selling site specifically for handmade products called Etsy.com. I signed up that same day and have been selling in my janedean shop ever since! In 2007, I opened a second Etsy store, CuriosityCabinet to sell some extra supplies but it soon turned into a vintage shop when I realized how much I love finding, researching and selling unique vintage and antique pieces. Now I balance 2 shops on etsy and 2 accounts on ebay.

Find Heather’s second shop Curiosity Cabinet here

So it is technology that allows me to do what I do. Computers and digital photography have changed my life, allowing me to offer my handmade items and curated vintage collections to people all over the world, from the comfort of my own home. Nothing could have suited my personality better! I’m an independent loner who likes to make my own schedule (and work in my pjs) and I’m now able to use my years of retail and life experience to benefit my own business.  I’m maker, buyer, merchandiser, photographer, advertiser, packer, shipper and I love it!

A fun sampling of items that you’ll find in the Curiosity Cabinet… from top left: Vintage Southwestern Brass Cuff, Portrait of Robert Browning, Vintage Carved Horn Bird Brooch, Antique Brass Hand Paperweight, Vintage Brass Elephant Figurine.

 

Name 5 things that inspire you.

1. Creativity- other people’s creative works inspire me constantly… from designers, crafters, artists, film makers… when I see what fellow human’s brains and hands are making, it inspires me to come up with new ideas of my own.

2. Walking- from beach walks to nature hikes to urban exploring, I always get inspired by things I see when I’m on a walk! When I’m out and about I like to take lots of pictures with my phone and gather small objects that intrigue me, which can end up being sources of inspiration later on.

Collecting in Heather’s hands looks like this!
3. Nature- I just love the natural world, in all its perfection and/or rustic beauty. From gardens to beaches to mountains, I love being surrounded by plants, flowers, trees, rocks, water and wildlife. I love the sights, smells and sounds of being out in nature.
4. Animals-  I love animals of all kinds, domestic and wild. They fill me with happiness and joy. I’m a cat lady for sure, but I love dogs, little critters, watching wild birds and I am continually inspired by the biodiversity on this earth.
5. Music- Finding just the right mix of music to suit my mood really helps inspire me when I work. I have eclectic taste so it may be anything from jazz to old country to punk music, depending upon how I feel that day.

What top five places would recommend to visitors in L.A. (based solely on what you think is great – not necessarily what is typical to tourists).

I’m not into hot spots or the latest trendy restaurants and if I’m going to brave the nightmare of LA traffic I want to see art, culture or nature!

From top left: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA); The Getty Villa; The Broad; The Fowler Museum at UCLA; the Bergamot Art Center; The Natural History Museum; La Brea Tar Pits

I love museums so that’s what I’d recommend the most! The major art museums, LACMA, MOCA, The Getty and The Broad are must-sees, of course. The Getty Villa on Pacific Coast Highway has a fascinating collection of ancient art, housed in a Roman villa overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. The Fowler Museum at UCLA has some fantastic exhibits of African, Asian, and arts of the Americas. One of my very favorite places to visit is Bergamot Arts Center (previously Bergamot Station) in Santa Monica. It is a collection of art galleries located in an old railroad station that showcases local and contemporary artists. I also love the Natural History Museum and La Brea Tar Pits because I love science and I’m fascinated with prehistoric animals.

The beach bike path weaving its way along the California coast. Photo via pinterest.

My favorite outdoor place is the beach. I love walking along the water, watching the shore birds and gathering seaside specimens. There is a beach bike path where I live that winds for about 25 miles from Pacific Palisades to Santa Monica to Venice, then Marina del Rey to Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beaches. My favorite time to go is early in the morning, or in late afternoon/early evening during the long days of summer.

If you could have dinner and drinks with five famous people (living or dead) who would you choose and why?

I’d love to have dinner with David Attenborough, the naturalist and documentary film writer, producer and presenter. I would enjoy talking to him about animals great and small, evolution, and what we can do to protect our environment and the future of this planet.

Heather’s dinner guests(from top left)… David Attenborough, Mike Leigh, Paul Thomas Anderson, Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman.

I would also love to talk with a few of my favorite film directors about their processes; Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa, who have passed, Mike Leigh and Paul Thomas Anderson who are still working. These directors have made some of my favorite films of all time and I have lots of questions.

Having been a part of the Etsy community since 2005, you are a true pioneer. Share with us how your journey has changed over 13 years. Is it a continuous process of refinement in what you offer and what you design and what buyers want?  If Etsy did not exist, would you still have wound up in the same place you are today?

I can’t even believe I’ve been on Etsy for 13 years! Where did the time go? If Etsy never existed I might have just stayed on at Ebay full-time or started selling through my own website. Etsy is a very different site than it was in the early years but I try to roll with the changes the best I can, and make them work for my business. If it ever stops feeling like a good fit for me I’ll probably sell through my own website and maybe do more craft fairs (which I don’t do now… too much work!)

I actually still make many of the same things that I have since the early 2000’s, but for a while I got worried that magnets were becoming obsolete when stainless steel refrigerators starting taking over the market, but recently they have started making them magnetic again (yay). I guess some people were sad when they discovered they couldn’t stick their favorite magnets or kid’s pictures on the fridge.

Jandean has become more of a side business the past couple of years, since selling vintage has taken over my life! I don’t have the energy to run them both at full throttle so I tend to make jewelry and magnets when the creative bug strikes. It’s nice because I can just make what I want when I want to, and don’t feel that I have to turn out as many pieces as I did in the past, which can cause burn out.

I do plan to devote more energy to the handmade side of my business this year. I’ve been feeling very inspired lately and have started lots of new projects. I’m hoping to fill up my janedean shop with lots of new one of a kind, recycled goodies very soon!

We can’t wait to see what Heather has in store, for her stores, in the coming months.  Will there be more sparkly magnets in our future? I sure hope so! Keep up with Jane Dean Gems here and with Curiosity Cabinet here.

In the meantime thank you to everyone who popped in with guesses for the giveaway.  Possibilities ran the gamut from handmade candles to antique salt cellars to wooden kitchen utensils, showcasing what a creative bunch all you readers are. The winner of the giveaway will be announced on the blog tomorrow night from the random pool of guesses submitted yesterday here on the blog and via Instagram. 

Cheers to Heather for finding beauty in found objects,  for turning fridges into glamour girls and for providing all the gorgeous pictures throughout this post of her shop and workspace.

9 thoughts on “No Plain Jane: How One L.A. Based Artist Draws Inspiration From Her Grandmother’s Jewels

  1. Thank you so much Katherine! I love your blog and I feel honored to be featured on it. It was fun working on the interview with you and hope the winner of the magnet set enjoys them!

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  2. This is such fun! What a great way to make these old jewelry bits practical and fun–but Heather also has a very fine eye. If I glued old things to magnets they wouldn’t look nearly as lovely!

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  3. Such a cool article. And I love the magnets. Just followed both of Heather’s shops on Etsy! I love discovering unique shops, and especially those that reflect my Vintage Love. Thanks for the introduction.

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