Janis-Kerman-092_1048_westmountmag.ca

Janis Kerman: “It’s the
balance, not the symmetry”

Jewellery designer to the bold and powerful reflects on her career and accomplishments

By Carmen J. Michaud

June 19, 2021

Sometimes a face seems familiar…

At my shop on Crescent, I was usually found behind the wall in the atelier, working on design and production but every now and again, I wandered into the shop to feel the energy and see the reactions of customers.

One late afternoon, I noticed a wonderful-looking woman. Tall with short brown hair. She had a strong face. She seemed familiar. I asked our store manager, Martial, what her name was.

Kerman. Janis Kerman.

Janis Kerman - photo: James St-Laurent

The name struck a chord. There had been a teacher in my high school named Mrs. Kerman. Related? I approached Janis and asked if she had a relative who had taught high school. No. Hmmm.

Janis Kerman has enjoyed a long and recognized career in design. Her jewellery is found in the collections of the bold and the powerful. Bold and powerful, just as the pieces she has created.

I, too, seemed familiar to her. I suppose when you’ve lived in a certain area for a while, some faces are recognizable. We chatted and I learned she was a jewellery designer.

We carried a few pieces of jewellery in the shop but these were conversation pieces, not “real jewellery”. In retrospect, we should have mounted an exhibit of her pieces, which are works of art, in the same way we held exhibits of paintings by Zilon, Corno and Dick Walsh.

Once, while taking a meditative break in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I came across some examples of the works of Janis Kerman. I felt proud that I had a certain if distant connection. It was great to see a local designer showcased in our museum.

Last year, Janis Kerman, readying for retirement, had an exhibition on Boulevard St. Laurent at Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h – Ciao: Hello Goodbye – who has showcased her work in the past. There are still works available for sale.

Janis Kerman has enjoyed a long and recognized career in design. Her jewellery is found in the collections of the bold and the powerful. Bold and powerful, just as the pieces she has created.

 *  *  *  *  *

How did you get started as a jewellery designer? Was this a lifelong love, or did it evolve from another medium?

I was always interested and involved in art but my jewellery story was more serendipitous. I was at summer camp, spending a lot of time in Arts and Crafts due to knee issues. Someone was teaching simple jewellery making and I was hooked.

I came home and had my knees operated on and once I was mobile I signed up for classes at the Saidye Bronfman Centre, and I never looked back. I do feel had this not been the situation, I would have gravitated towards jewellery making anyways. I was always fascinated and intrigued by it.

‘I was always interested and involved in art but my jewellery story was more serendipitous. I was at summer camp, spending a lot of time in Arts and Crafts due to knee issues. Someone was teaching simple jewellery making and I was hooked.’

And you studied jewellery design? Where?

After my years at the Saidye Bronfman Centre studying with Wendy Shingler, I took summer classes at Sheridan College of Craft in Mississauga Ontario. My next big step was, once I had completed CEGEP, going to Boston University to study in the Program in Artisanry.

From there, I returned to Montreal and started producing and honing my practice. I was asked to teach at the Visual Arts Centre in Westmount, which I did, from 1977 to 1985, and at Algonquin College in Ottawa from 1980 to1981.

Did you also apprentice with designers?

I apprenticed with two jewellers in Montreal. Wilhelm Friedrich was a jeweller in Alexis Nihon that my grandmother had found. He talked me up and Mr. Friedrich had me work with him for a short while. The other was Hans Gehrig who was a Swiss-born goldsmith. He had been a partner of Walter Schleup’s.

Janis Kerman - photo: James St-Laurent

I learned the finer details of working and the attention to detail and precision from both of these men. How lucky was I to have had these experiences at a young age. It is what formed me to be the jeweller/creator I became.

I always feel that hands-on learning with a little direction is the greatest education. Apprenticeship doesn’t seem to happen enough today. Have you taken on young designers as apprentices? (apprenti? apprentiae?)

I have had bench assistants… not apprentices per se. The difference for me is that a bench assistant is being trained on the job while an apprentice is being taught on the job.

‘I learned the finer details of working and the attention to detail and precision from both of these men [Friedrich and Gehrig] . How lucky was I to have had these experiences at a young age. It is what formed me to be the jeweller/creator I became.’

One could say there is no distinction between these two words but there is. When I apprenticed, I was making what the goldsmith set out in order to teach me specific techniques. Time was not taken into consideration but technique and craftsmanship were what counted most.

As a bench assistant, I would be teaching them techniques and craftsmanship but also time was an important factor as they were hired to produce work that was to be sold. Time is essential in the pricing of that work. It also meant that the item had to be crafted perfectly as the work had my stamp and my name associated with it so it reflected on me.

You have given presentations at colleges. What do you cover in your presentations? And how was the response?

There were a number of different topics I covered. I had begun experimenting with Niobium (one of the Noble Refractory Metals) that can be coloured through electricity conduction and gave many workshops on that technique.

Janis Kerman - photo: James St-Laurent

As well, I developed a workshop talking about marketing. Pretty much what I was doing in my business and tools I developed to run my business. It was very well received and covered many different aspects from being organized to planning, contacting galleries, etc.

I think sometimes it was a lot of information for people to absorb but the feedback I got from the teachers was always positive and that I “overwhelmed” their students they thought was a good thing! It was the intro to what their career life would look like after the safe space of school.

‘Peretti was also one of my influences and an icon in the industry as were Paloma Picasso, Robert Lee Morris and Angela Cummings. These four were the first fine art jewellers that broke out when I was starting out/coming up in the field.’

Elsa Peretti recently passed. I had admired her work since I first saw an article about her in Vogue, in those halcyon days of Diana Vreeland who showcased great talent… in all the arts. Are there designers for whom you have a particular penchant? Some great influences?

Peretti was also one of my influences and an icon in the industry as were Paloma Picasso, Robert Lee Morris and Angela Cummings. These four were the first fine art jewellers that broke out when I was starting out/coming up in the field.

Insofar as jewellers that I respect and feel proud to have shown along with at many of my galleries… Todd Reed, Barbara Heinrich, Ivy Ross, Robert Ebendorf, David Tisdale, Peter Schmid, Wilhelm Buchert, Ute Buchert-Buge, and others that I just respond to… Elena Camilla Bertellotti, Alishan, Daphne Krinos, Ted Muehling, Melanie Georgacopoulos, Barbara Heath… I could go on and on.

You create your work in precious metals and semi-precious and precious gems. As this is quite costly, it limits your customer reach. Have you ever been tempted to create “commercial” jewellery? Fast fashion, so to speak?

At the early stages of my practice, I started out making limited series work mostly in sterling silver combined with nickel silver… then combination brooches/ bracelets/ earrings with copper/ brass/ bronze and silver. I’ve explored using slate that I hand coloured with coloured pencils and oil pastels. When Nicole Lachapelle and I created pieces under the brand Kerman Lachapelle, we used nickel silver and niobium combined with coloured silk cord and leather.

So the answer is yes. I did do fashion accessory jewellery pieces that were used to accessorize John Warden’s collections amongst other local designers.

Around 1988, when my daughter, Erin, was born, I made the decision to move more towards finer metals and gemstones and never returned to the alternate materials.

‘… my most precious memories are more from the commissioned pieces my clients came to me for… either to recycle something they were gifted and it wasn’t their style, or a life cycle event… engagement/ wedding/new baby/anniversary that I made something to honour that special time in their lives.’

You have pieces included in the collections of Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Danielle Mitterand, and other notables. How were you approached, and did they have input into the design of the pieces?

I was commissioned on a number of different occasions by both Mrs. Mila Mulroney and Madame Aline Chretien to create gifts that they, on behalf of the Canadian government, offered to the first ladies and leaders of the G7. Mostly, I was given free rein to create the pieces without too much input. The cufflinks that I created for the leaders of the G7 were to have a Canadian theme and I suggested using the Canadian symbol of the Beaver and surrounded them with ten dots to represent the ten provinces.

I also made an asymmetrical pair of earrings for Princess Diana that I believe should still be in her collection… somewhere!

As honoured as I am to have been asked to make these pieces, my most precious memories are more from the commissioned pieces my clients came to me for… either to recycle something they were gifted and it wasn’t their style, or a life cycle event… engagement/ wedding/new baby/anniversary that I made something to honour that special time in their lives.

Janis Kerman - photo: James St-Laurent

As a follower of your Facebook page, I was taken aback when you announced your retirement. My reaction was “Retire? Artists don’t retire!!” What does “retire” mean to you?

To be honest, I truly don’t know. I have been so busy and regimented with my time from my early 20s that I am trying to just let there be space without restrictions. I recently emptied and moved out of my studio and set up a bench and some small tools at a friend’s studio because I just wasn’t ready to sell all and move on. I do know that I don’t want to get back into making a quantity of pieces. I want the time and freedom to play and explore… but who knows.

‘I have been so busy and regimented with my time from my early 20s that I am trying to just let there be space without restrictions… I want the time and freedom to play and explore…’

You are keeping the creative line moving in a recent collaboration, “Bande Des Quatres”. What is Bande Des Quatres?

My daughter, Erin, was studying Photography at NYU and was coming up on her graduation show. She had created the unique works to display and wanted to create her “look” for that as well. This included some rings that she designed and I made for her. Subsequently, she kept getting stopped and asked about the rings… she called me and said, “Mom, let’s make some rings together”… to which I responded, “Sure!”… but little did I know that this would result in a line of six collections under the name of Bande des Quatres.

Many of my galleries showed the pieces and there was Erin’s strong push to market and sell them. It created another responsibility for me and my studio assistant to the point that one more person had to be added to the team to fulfil the orders. It was a lot of juggling and also we had to use our together family time to design as she lives in NYC but it was a great experience albeit tiring for me in the end. There are still pieces around from this line, available at Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h (Montreal), Penland Gallery Shop (Penland, NC) and 18Karat Gallery (Toronto).

Bande des Quatres on Vimeo.

Today it seems ever harder for young, hard-working creatives to find a stage. Can you offer any advice to them?

The only advice I can give is to create something that is unique to you, well crafted and stand by it. The rest will have to be sussed out as the way to market/sell is changing so fast that my way of thinking and the ways I did things are irrelevant these days. Think outside the box… that’s so cliché but couldn’t be more true. The way you make your pieces unique you need to do the same in getting it out there and being seen/sold.

And now that you have relinquished the studio, how will Janis Kerman express her artistry, her vision… her “eye”?

To be honest…still TBD. The key for me is to take it day by day and see what the day brings. Something a very programmed/planned person like myself hasn’t done.

I do have a garden sculpture design to create for a large vine that my father trained over the years. It used to be supported by three large Acacia trees that we had to cut down last year due to inner rot… so that’s a project.

‘The only advice I can give is to create something that is unique to you, well crafted and stand by it… Think outside the box… that’s so cliché but couldn’t be more true.’

I still have the majority of my stone inventory and therefore have a lot to play with. I have piles of sketches that I still have to go through to trigger what’s next. I just don’t want to get into the same “rut” of making what becomes more inventory as there are still available pieces at Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h in Montreal and de Novo Contemporary Jewelry in Palo Alto, California.

Sometimes when following a creative path, we run into obstacles or a lack of support. Often these are well-meaning concerns for our future. Did you find support while following your path?

I would say that my parents, and in this, I was super lucky, were very supportive. They never questioned where I wanted to focus my energies and were behind me 100%. I only realized how unique this was when I studied at Boston University and met so many other students who were not studying what they were passionate about because their parents wouldn’t support them. I know I made them proud and part of my attention to detail in my work has to do with my father drumming this into me from a very young age. “If you are going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all”. This is always in my head when tackling anything in my life but totally pertinent for crafting jewellery. Precision, design and fine craftsmanship are and were my three mantras.

‘… part of my attention to detail in my work has to do with my father drumming this into me from a very young age. “If you are going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all”… Precision, design and fine craftsmanship are and were my three mantras.’

The other person I received immeasurable support from was, and is, my husband, Simon. The expansion of my career came because he insisted I hire a capable/trained assistant who had the training necessary to make the kind of work I wanted to. This came in the form of my assistant, Petra Luz, that I worked with for twenty-five years. That is also a testament to our shared vision and me relinquishing the idea that other hands than my own could still make my designs and it would still be considered mine. That was a hurdle that once I accepted, I was freer to design even beyond my technical abilities, let me blossom as an artist/maker.

When speaking of your work, you make a point “It’s the balance, not the symmetry”. Might this also apply to leading one’s life?

I guess this statement has been my guiding principle even before I “named/defined” it. I’ve never followed a “prescribed” path so there’s always been the play visually or figuratively, I suppose.

… and then the Proustian questionnaire…

What is your most treasured possession?
The first letters/telegram I received from my husband when we began to date.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I’d come back as my daughter Erin.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel and being with my family on beautiful holidays

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Honesty, integrity and faithfulness

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Accepting of who I am without judging.

Who is your hero of fiction?
Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

On what occasion do you lie?
Never

What is your greatest fear?
Snakes

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Calm

Photography: James St Laurent

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caOther articles by Carmen J. Michau
Other recent articles


Carmen Michaud - WestmountMag.ca

Carmen J. Michaud likes to write (and paint) and is majoring in Curiosity.

james st laurent photographer

James St Laurent‘s work is all about the idea of communicating through images that convey an emotive context and engage the viewer by presenting a visual paradox. Different subjects and genres require different approaches, but the result is still a compelling image that captures your attentionjamesstlaurent.com[/col][/row]


There are no comments

Add yours