Culver artist’s jewelry to be featured at Academy Awards

By: 
Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor

_ It’s You! Gallery owner Peyser’s handmade silver will be gifted to Hollywood elites in February _

Jan Peyser's remarkable journey from New York to the Midwest -- currently as owner of It's You! Art Gallery in downtown Culver and herself a silversmith jeweler in her adjoining studio -- is taking an even more extraordinary turn, this time in the form of an invitation to gift over 200 celebrities with her jewelry in the gift lounge for next February's Academy Awards ceremonies in Los Angeles.

Peyser's jewelry, chosen for its innovative designs and beauty, will not only be exhibited by her at a table at the event for the Oscars, but will be among items given to some 250 nominees, celebrities, L.A. boutiques, and media, who will be in attendance by invitation only from the Secret Room Events, one of the groups in L.A. that provide gifting suites for the stars.

And, as if that weren't enough, Peyser has been told she can request additional celebrities not already on the invite list be invited to the event, so she can gift them with more elaborate jewelry from her collections.

Peyser's journey to the Oscars began with her feeling “over the moon” with excitement, had an unexpected turn to disappointment, and then returned to joy, when the gifting committee -- a group independent from the event itself, but a presence at awards such as the Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, MTV Awards, and the like -- first asked Peyser to gift celebrities at the Emmy Awards in September.

However, in July, after the initial invitation came early this past spring, which she had accepted, an email arrived saying one of the partners of the group was extremely ill, and for the first time in nine years, they would not be able to do a gift lounge for the Emmy Awards.

"I was on my way home from Valparaiso with my husband at the time I saw the email and didn’t read past the first, startling lines of the email, saying, ‘Oh no!’ saddened by the news of the partner’s devastating illness and then the shock that this once in a lifetime opportunity was gone," Peyser recalls. "I closed the email, figuring I’d finish reading it once we were home."

Instead, Peyser and husband Ray Gleason (both retired from teaching at Culver Academies) returned home beneath understandable clouds of gloom at the news.

The cloud was soon to be lifted when Peyser read the rest of the email.

"Suddenly, in the middle of the next paragraph, it said, 'However, we are asking all those we invited to gift at the Emmys to agree to be moved to gift at the Oscars in February, 2016.' Talk about a 180-degree turn...I was stunned!"

Around 40 businesses were invited to gift the attendees, and Peyser was told there will be only two, at most three, jewelers invited to this event, so she is duly honored to be one of them. She was told they “look for innovative designs and products that they think celebrities, the media, and boutiques in Los Angeles will like.”

Peyser's jewelry not only will be given to and potentially sell to a host of the industry's hottest celebrities, but hopefully some boutiques in the city will want to carry her jewelry after seeing her display and speaking with her about her captivating designs.

THE PATH TO SILVER

Peyser is a silversmith working in Argentium sterling silver, a "finer, purer, higher quality, and highly tarnish-resistant sterling" with less copper and added germanium, a white crystalline element which inhibits tarnish and keeps the jewelry beautiful always.

Argentium, she notes, was invented in the mid-1990s by Peter Johns, professor of Chemistry at Middlesex University in England, who was asked by a board of directors at a local hospital if he could create a sterling silver for surgical instruments that would not tarnish. He did so, and it is used in a number of engineering professions now, not just by artists.

"I have always known at some point in my life I would be able to honor the artist in me and actively pursue that field," she explains, though the route to that pursuit was a circuitous one.

Peyser says she's loved jewelry since childhood, her mother had "extremely fine taste in jewelry" and she inherited beautiful pieces from her grandmother. Peyser herself always hoped to put her designs into a creative process which would allow them to be worn, and during the summer of 2002, at the end of her 15th year of teaching English, by then a teacher at Culver Academies, Peyser studied metal smithing at the Mendocino Art Center in California, beginning thereafter a process of honing her skills in her spare time.

"Practice, practice, practice;' I did that for the next five years," she says. Peyser began using Argentium in 2005, after she had worked with regular sterling for three years.

She turned an upstairs, spare bedroom into a working studio, and Peyser recalls with some mirth the first loud "pop" elicited from a fusing machine, which compelled her husband to jump from his chair on the first level of their home. After he became used to all the noise, he’d tell people, “She often gets her inspiration after midnight and tiptoes into the studio to work.”

Peyser says, “Between lesson planning, drawing, and creating, there were never enough hours in the day.” The proving ground for Peyser's art, however, came after her retirement from teaching in 2008, after which she spent two years "on the road" throughout the eastern seaboard, from New York to Florida and in the Midwest from Chicago to Memphis presenting her work in juried art shows.

"It was well received," she recalls. "The people at the shows said it was ‘captivating,’ the ‘intricate designs and details drew them in,’ and ‘the designs made them smile,’ which made me smile.”

ORIGINS OF IT'S YOU!

Based on those positive reviews and sales, Peyser decided to open a shop, and her first retail venture was in South Haven, Michigan, where she sold only her jewelry. A similar venture in New Buffalo, Michigan followed, which she describes as "fabulous, but I had to be closed the long winter months, because it was the frozen tundra with empty streets. But, I did very well there and had a wonderful clientele, especially from Chicago, which is right across the lake, only an hour and twenty minutes’ drive."

After a few years, tired of commuting and hungering for a full-blown art gallery, Peyser began looking closer to home, honing in on the former Collector's Antiques and Bear End store fronts in downtown Culver, which had been standing empty a few years by then. Eventually, the space at 110 South Main Street became available, and the “extraordinarily friendly and accommodating” Don Mackey, the owner of the building, renovated the two spaces according to the vision Peyser had long had for a gallery and studio, turning it into a side-by-side space divided by drapes for easy, yet private, access to either side.

“The renovation was beautifully and professionally implemented by Don and his lovely wife Lori, and with the possibility of customers from in town, the lake homes, and visitors nearby cities and nationwide, I crossed all my fingers and toes. Sure enough, it's been a wonderful ride so far, having opened on November 7, 2014 with a lovely champagne opening and packed gallery -- to now, where an established clientele frequent the gallery, the summer guests continually discover there’s an art gallery and jewelry boutique in town. And I did not have to close even once during the winter. What a blessing."

As well, she cites two events, Christmas in Culver (each November) and this year's Cupid's Crawl on Valentine's weekend, as having produced "fantastic turnouts" at the gallery.

THE PROCESS

As for her art, Peyser explains all her designs are from her imagination, yet it’s important to note she draws many on paper first, an important step which allows her to replicate a design in limited editions in a way an artist creating "free form" into any three-dimensional medium on the spot cannot recreate.

"That (drawing the designs on paper prior to sculpting them in silver) does enable me to make a limited edition of certain designs, which is not mass production," she emphasizes, adding that that process means each piece still is individually handmade and will be unique in its own right.

Peyser begins, sketch at hand, with a flat sheet of Argentium sterling, using a hand saw to cut out the initial design. She then may hand-engrave the piece with a floral, scroll, or leaf design, or texture the piece using a variety of hammer faces, or occasionally she will use a rolling mill with a steel pattern plate. To sculpt, she uses many different types of pliers, and/or a nylon mallet and wooden or steel stakes, which allow her to position the silver piece and form or strike it exactly where she has planned to create a fold, curve, or curl.

"One of the most fun and delightfully strenuous aspects of physically creating the piece is doing the hand sculpting," she adds. "For instance, when a piece is sketched out on a piece of paper, I have to mathematically determine where the folds and sculpting will occur. The diagram has to be precise, and it’s interesting to see how the design evolves from paper to finished product."

As an example, she points to her "signature piece," Blossom necklace, which has hand-engraved striations on the front, floral work on the reverse, and intricate hand-sculpting.

"Much of my jewelry represents novel expressions of nature and the essence of movement.Though my jewelry is contemporary, the lines are fluid, not geometric. If I had to choose influential artistic eras, it would have to be the Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau periods.

"When the inevitable question, 'How long does it take you to make your jewelry?' arises, my response is two-fold: first, I say, 'A lifetime,' and, if my first response clearly isn’t enough for the person who posed the question, my second reply is to give an approximate time as I point to a specific piece. One piece may take 10 days and another an hour; another may take a full day."

Right now Peyser, whose silver jewelry is visible not only in her shop and on her website, www.janpeyserjewelry.com, but in a handful of galleries in other states, is working on her designs to include in the gift bags for the Academy Awards nominees, L.A. boutiques, and media, while specially-chosen pieces are planned for the particular celebrities Peyser chooses. She also is working on a leather and silver bracelet design for the male celebrities and guests.

"It is important to me to make something to gift that adds a colorful ‘pop’ in addition to the silver," she says, indicating the richly colored gemstones and Swarovski crystals she uses to adorn some of her designs.

"Some people are strongly attracted to color, so I will have a nice balance of colorful and only Argentium sterling items to present."

During and following the event, celebrities will be photographed wearing her jewelry and Peyser has been told the stars will share their own photos with her via Instagram and Twitter.

It all promises to be a remarkable episode in her east to west journey, which began, Peyser says, “with a young child gazing at her sophisticated mother seated at a handsome, mahogany vanity table carefully adorning herself with jewels, like stars in a timeless tableau.”

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