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Artist Spotlight: Kathryn Jaller

Artist Spotlight: Kathryn Jaller

Our new line of jewelry by Kathryn Jaller, Freund Things, easily stands out with its bright pops of color, bold geometric shapes, and lightweight material. After digging a little deeper into Kathryn's practice, I learned that she has much more than just aesthetics on her mind. Kathryn is interested in the deeper psychology of how and why we choose certain objects over others, and how the love of those objects can curate conversations and connections with others.

KC: You’ve said that “statement jewelry is a social practice” - can you elaborate on the ways in which jewelry has built a community for you or others you’ve known?

KJ: One of my favorite parts of wearing jewelry has always been the conversation it sparks with strangers. I’ve always had a touch of social anxiety at the same time as I’ve always been hungry for connection, so jewelry is a way to interact with people over something more interesting than the weather, at the minimum.

I’ve also found that talking about what we wear, especially something as purely ornamental as jewelry, can be a direct line to what’s most important to people. It represents who they love, how they want to feel, what they want people to know about them.

It’s a bit of a pretentious art school phrase, but I think it captures something about objects not just existing in a vacuum, but coming into their full form as they come in contact with people. While it might not have a functional purpose, jewelry definitely has an emotional purpose. I also think the term “statement jewelry” is so interesting. The idea that it has something to say. But I think all jewelry speaks.

KC: Putting creative work into the world is scary for most people. Do you have any advice for people looking to push past that fear and take a leap into whatever creative field they’re passionate about?

KJ: I started making jewelry because it felt safer than the art I made in school. It was fun, and it seemed to make people happy. It reminded me of making things less self-consciously as a kid, and I didn’t have my identity so tangled up in it. As a result, I had a much higher tolerance for mediocrity (however I was defining it). Even if it wasn’t brilliant, it still deserved to be in the world. That’s something I lean on a lot, still. At least it exists when it didn’t before, which means it can spark encounters and conversations and anything else. This very article is an unanticipated result of putting something out there for others to react to, and that’s exciting to me. Again, jewelry as a medium of interaction!

KC: Do you have a background in fashion, design, or art? How was Freund Things born?

KJ: I studied art and art history, but I grew up making things before I knew to put a “maker” label on it the way we do now to give the respect back to craft which it was denied for a while. My mom has a strong creative impulse that’s humble at the same time. She is very practical, and she also likes to be surrounded by thoughtful, beautiful, and well-made things. Freund is her maiden name, and the name of the tool company her father ran. It means “friend” in German which seemed to tie into the connection idea that’s so interesting to me.

I guess it was born out of a desire to keep being creative but avoid the stresses of capital “A” art, if I’m being honest.

KC: Most of your jewelry is made from polymer clay, which is such a unique medium to use when it comes to jewelry. Why did you choose polymer? How long have you been working with that medium?

KJ: I chose polymer because it seemed to be a bit novel in the jewelry community, but very familiar with me—I have been working with it since I was 12. My best friends and I would play with it at sleepovers and I loved figuring out new techniques. It’s the most deeply motivated I remember being growing up. And I could get to that place because it’s so accessible—it’s cheap, colorful, forgiving, and you can cook it in a toaster oven which makes it so easy to use.

KC: What’s your studio space like? Are you working from home or do you have a dedicated maker space?

KJ: Until recently, my studio was a desk next to the bed in a one-bedroom apartment I shared with my husband. The desk was on his side, so when I had late nights he’d put on noise-canceling headphones and cover his head with a pillow so I could do my thing. He’s a light sleeper, so he really took one for the team on that.

I’ve had external studio spaces in the past, but I rarely used them. I just love being at home so much. I recently moved and now have a small office space entirely dedicated to my creative work, which is something I didn’t dare dream about before.

Space is a luxury in a city like San Francisco and I’m proud to have built this practice in the nooks and crannies of the time and space I had. Now I’m seeing how having more space can grow or shift a practice. There is something to having space to dream bigger. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to figure it out.

Spark Earrings and Red Stone Slab Earrings

KC: Where do you find inspiration for your designs, and in what ways have you been challenged to continuously create new designs?

KJ: I’m really inspired by materials and usually start there. I made felt jewelry before this because I loved how pieces of colorful felt looked stacked up together. I also like bringing in techniques from unexpected places. Polymer clay was big in the 90s but disappeared for a while. I like finding the places where an unexpected or underestimated material meets current trends—statement earrings for example.

KC: Do you have a favorite thing you’ve created?

KJ: I have a pair of long earrings that were the result of intention mixed with chance, which I’ve always found to be better than intention alone.

KC: Are there any other mediums you’re interested in pursuing in your jewelry line? If not, what are some future projects or ideas you have for the future of Freund Things?

KJ: I’ve taken metalsmithing classes at Scintillant Studio in the Mission, and would love to do more metalwork and enameling. Holding a blowtorch is such a powerful thing. Metalsmithing has also made me more sensitive to the chemical properties of all media. You can’t change the rules of elements like silver and gold, so you need to learn how to work within natural constraints to achieve what you want.

I’m at a bit of a turning point with polymer clay. I love that it’s colorful, affordable, accessible. But it’s plastic. While it’s not single-use (could be worse), I would be comforted by my work being more sustainable. There’s another clay I like that uses beeswax as a base. It’s more expensive and I’ll have to learn its rules, but it could be a worthy challenge.

KC: In reading the About Page on your website, you strike me as a reflective person who goes about their life with intention. Is that so? If it is, can you talk about how those qualities developed in you?

KJ: Haha, I appreciate that it comes through. I’m a sensitive person so things affect me a lot, so I try not to forget that my actions affect other people. This can be paralyzing sometimes and it makes me feel like I move more slowly than others, but I’m accepting it’s how I am, and that it’s a good counter-balance to the speed and recklessness of modern life.

I’ve also had a strange string of medical issues since I was a child which has made me not take life for granted. You can skate on the surface of things which can feel mundane, or choose to go deeper and find that there’s no bottom, actually. Life is a series of small decisions, and it doesn’t really matter what you decide, but the meaning you invest in the decision. Even as ordinary a decision as what to wear can be filled with thought, intention, and purpose. Even the purpose to connect with the people around you.

You can find a selection of Freund Things jewelry at our brick and mortar store or online

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