Jamming with Hilken Mancini & Girls Rock Campaign Boston

Our community never ceases to amaze us. For instance, did you know that the owner of Jamaica Plain’s 40 South St, Hilken Mancini is also the rock-star founder of Girls Rock Campaign Boston? Well. She is. And we’re so pleased to announce that this year the GRCB is our charity of choice during the holiday season. We’ll be supporting their fundraising efforts through our annual holiday giving events, including our annual gift wrap drive in Jamaica Plain, as well as special shopping events on First Thursday (December 3) and JP Shop with a Cause (December 5) where we donate a percentage of all sales made during the event.

We’re always on the look-out for charities that serve the JP community and we couldn’t help but fall in love with GRCB‘s mission to empower girls to believe in themselves by providing a supportive community that fosters self-expression, confidence, and collaboration through musical education and performance.

We’re also excited to get the inside scoop on their origin story from Hilken herself!

FO:How did you find yourself in Boston?
HM: I moved here to go to the Boston Conservatory 1988 and quit in 1990 to be in a rock band. My band, Fuzzy, that I sang, played guitar and wrote songs for was signed to Atlantic records from 1993-1997. We toured extensively throughout the states and some of the UK/EU with bands Dinosaur Jr, The Lemonheads, Redd Cross, Buffalo Tom, Belly and were managed by Fort Apache Records (the same people that managed the Pixies and Tanya Donelly’s Throwing Muses and Belly and Juliana Hatfield) We put out 2 records on Atlantic. After we were dropped from Atlantic I founded Punk Rock Aerobics – the anti exercise fitness revolution – and co-wrote the book Punk Rock Aerobics released on DaCapo press in 2004. We held the classes only in rock clubs until I started doing it at Girls Rock Camps.

FO:What brought you to Girls Rock?
HM:I was asked to lead a Punk Rock Aerobics class at the original Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland Oregon back in 2007. I went there to volunteer and was leading the girls through Punk Rock Aerobics in their morning assemblies. When I got there the organization and what they were doing totally blew my mind. I felt like PRA was a good mission match for the RnRcamp4 girls, serving the “misfits” and challenging stereotypical feminine expectations and images of beauty. What they were doing was incredible. All these girls and women supporting eachother, teaching eachother to play music and building eachothers’ self-esteem up!

I wanted Boston to have something just like it. I knew so many amazing women in rock in Boston. So it changed my life. That’s also where I met Nora Allen-Wiles who is the co-founder of GRCB and our Executive Director. Coincidentally, she was born and raised in Somerville MA – so we planned to get together and see if we could pull something like this off in Boston. We did! And Here we are 5 years later!

FO: How has music empowered you personally?
HM: Being a musician, as a woman, you had to be really strong about what you wanted. I constantly felt challenged and defensive because I was wearing a miniskirt and mascara.I was in mytwenties when we were on tour and most sound engineers at rock clubs were men. They would tell us to ” turn down your Marshall so we can hear your pretty voice” and talking down to us as if we didn’t know what we were doing or wanted to do. People assumed I was the “girlfriend” and not the lead guitar player.

Also touring helped me grow a really thick skin. Opening up for bands like Dinosaur Jr. it happened a lot that the crowd hated us because they were just there to see the band they paid for – and definitely not us. I remember being on the road with them and saying in the mic “ok this is our last song” and people cheering and saying, “YEAH! Get off the stage,” It would happen a lot and it made me able to brush of that kind of hatred and be like “No. You are gonna listen to me and my song and what I have to say…” it empowered me to stand up for myself in a sold out house.

FO:How many instruments do you play?
HM: I play guitar really, that’s my jam. I can sing pretty ok. I am a bad drummer – but I like to think I can play drums. And I can play bass sometimes. But not really.

FO:How does your work with Girls Rock impact you as a working musician?
HM:Even though I just went on tour to Europe, I’m not actually a working musician. It’s one of those, “You do it cause you love it,” things. I own a vintage clothing store – 40 South St. JP and I work part time as the Program Director of GRCB and that’s how I buy my groceries and pay my rent. As far as playing music in Boston – I think we have a ton of support from everyone who is involved and helps out with GRCB, and we go to each other shows which is a totally awesome and very supportive environment. Two bands I am active in are Shepherdess and The Monsieur’s.

FO:GRCB is going into it’s 6th year, what’s the impact you’ve seen in the work so far?
HM: We’ve grown a ton! During our very first year in 2010 we held one summer session with 45 girls and 1 ladies rock camp with about 45 women. That’s it.

This year we held two sessions of our FOR GIRLS program over the summer which means a total of 127 girls were served. We had 26 bands perform at 2 showcases; 100 volunteers worked over our two sessions; and we ran 5,842 total program hours and 6,350 total volunteer hours over both sessions. In our FOR LADIES sessions we were also able to hold two sessions which means 80 women were served by 70 Volunteers over 3,280 total program hours 3,220 total volunteer hours. And over the last 5 years we’ve added an after-school program CLUB GRCB where we serve 10 girls with 7 volunteers over a 10 Week Session.We also have 13 active, year-round volunteer teams with 45 members.

FO:What are your “big dreams” for GRCB?
HM:Well I just got out of an all day strategic meeting with our Board and operating team so I can talk to you about our Strategic plans for 2016 til’ I am blue in the face. However – a big dream is to find a location – a space where we can hold programming year round and have our office space and our gear all in the same place. This would help our programs and after school club grow so we can support more girls and give more lessons and hold more workshops and drop in spaces for other organizations within our community.

Join us as we celebrate and support this awesome, creative, feminist organization by stopping in on Thursday December 3 from 6pm – 8pm and Saturday December 5 from 10am – 2pm when 10% of every purchase will be donated to GRCB!

Hand Hewn Treasures – Sarah Swell Jewelry

We  have a number of new artists in both Brookline and Jamaica Plain this spring. One great new (to us) jewelry designer is Sarah Greenberg, owner and designer of Sarah Swell Jewelry. A product of the New England sea coast and a transplant to the Bay Area in Northern California, Sarah’s jewelry is strong yet fluid and is made to be worn, enjoyed, and admired. We’re featuring her earthy yet delicate pieces at our First Thursday event in Jamaica Plain on May 2 from 6pm – 8pm, so come by to take a look at all of the wonderful pieces we have from her collection.

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How has your jewelry changed since you started Sarah Swell in 2008?

In so many ways!  I think it has still retained the rustic quality that I began with, but I have refined things a bit over the years.  Living in a gritty city like Oakland has influenced my design aesthetic as well, but I’ve been feeling a stong urge to return to my roots.  I’m excited to see what comes next, I’m hoping its the perfect marriage of nature and the urban landscape.

What are your favorite materials to work with and why?

 I love 18k yellow gold.  It is a dream to work with and I adore the rich gold color, it has an ancient feel to me.
We know you love to travel. What places that you’ve visited have made a direct impact on your designs?
A while back I released an edgier, more fashion forward collection called “ruina” that was directly inspired by a trip I took around the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.  More recently, my husband and I visited Sri Lanka and I was fascinated by the rail system there, specifically the wooden tracks themselves.  I found so many great textures!  It is usually a shape or pattern I am drawn to that becomes loosely translated into a future design.
What is your newest collection? What inspired you to add it to your line?
I have two new mini collections “stargazer” and “scales.”  The stargazer series mimics the night sky with tiny diamonds as stars and was inspired by a custom ring I made that had a similar feel.  The scale series was inspired by fish scales and how they layer upon each other.
Your collections have strong natural influences from floral to fishbones to fossils, what is it about those shapes that appeals to you?
In my opinion, nature can do no wrong.  There is something so imperfectly perfect about the natural world and the shapes just seem made to compliment the human body.
What is your daily routine in the studio?
I always start my day with emails and reading a few of my favorite blogs for some daily inspiration.  Then I’ll place orders for jewelry supplies and get to work filling orders at the bench for the day.  Finally I’ll answer emails again, prepare and pack orders, and do accounting.  Oh, and I try to fit lunch in there somewhere!
What are three words you’d use to describe your aesthetic?
natural, detailed, rustic
You grew up in New England and relocated to Northern California. How do your New England roots inform your jewelry? 
Growing up near the ocean really shaped my whole life and who I am as a person.  This is very much reflected in my jewelry.  The ocean, and nature in general, bring me great solace.  I now live in the city, but I know that the beach is a short ride away.  I’m also thankful for my New England upbringing which instilled in me the value of hard work and integrity.
What is your artistic community like in CA?
I’m very fortunate to have an amazing community of fellow jewelry designers in the Bay Area.  It is invaluable to have talented people around when you’re in a creative business, I think it pushes you further and is comforting at the same time.  Oakland, where I live, has an amazing burgeoning art scene which is also very inspiring.

Is there a piece of jewelry you wear everyday?
I always wear rings on nearly every finger and rarely take them off.  It seems sort of silly seeing as I work with my hands so much, but I truly believe that jewelry should be worn and enjoyed, so I try to design my jewelry to stand the test of time and be worn without worry.  I love rings and bracelets because as the wearer, you can actually admire them yourself.
What has been your biggest professional accomplishment so far?
I started my business with almost nothing with the goal of attending major trade shows, which I was able to do last Summer.  It has been a long and trying road, but being able to accomplish that on my own was very rewarding.

Fire Opal Wedding Registries

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With the growing number of types and styles of wedding registries deciding on the gifts you would like to receive can be tricky. For many people, just the idea of asking for specific things can be off putting. That coupled with the time and care a wedding takes to plan, carving out the time to register is hard. The traditional department store registry or a new “gift card” registry may seem like the easiest options but do they offer the individualized and unique kinds of gifts you and your significant other truly enjoy? Your wedding is a time to express and celebrate not only your love but also your personal aesthetic as a couple. Your registry should be no different. By choosing to register for artistic and handmade housewares you can give your guests the opportunity to help fill your home with beautiful and distinctive American Craft as well as making them feel that they are buying a unique and heartfelt gift.

Here at Fire Opal, we’ve been happy to help many couples express their personal taste through one-of-a-kind registries. From dinnerware & serving ware to art & home décor you can create an exclusive gift list that represents your love and your home.  All of our registries are created in store with specialized customer service to be sure you have exactly what you want. We will work with you to find collections by a great selection of artists. We pride ourselves on our relationships with the artists we carry and can work with them to create specialized pieces or order pieces not regularly in stock just for your registry.

Artists that have been featured on registries in the past include Jenn Bell, Liz Kinder, Beehive Kitchenware, Peterman Boards & Bowls, Patrick Meyer pewter, Sid Dickens, & Laura Zindel, among others.

Once you’re registered we set up a private online shop you can share with your guests to make ordering and delivery a breeze as well as adding your names to our searchable website. Guests can also call the store for assistance in choosing a registry gift or come in to the store you registered in to order.

You can click here to see some of our past registries (link) and to make an appointment for your own registry creation give us a call at: 617.739.9066 or email brookline@fire-opal.com

Source Material – The American Craft Council & Fire Opal Artists

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It is hard to walk through our galleries without stopping to caress the fine textiles and apparel, admire our eclectic collection of pottery, ceramics, and home decor, or eye our stunningly unique selection of handmade jewelry. Curating the aesthetic and philosophy of Fire Opal is our true dedication. We love connecting with artists and cultivating relationships with each one individually. We choose to stock craft from people not only for the appeal and quality of their work, but also because of their own philosophies and commitment to their art. But finding these artists is no easy task. Over the years we have nurtured relationships with Massachusetts College of Art & Design and the Rhode Island School of Design, promoting and supporting graduates from many different departments. We’ve also fostered relationships with artists based in our community and are local to Boston and Massachusetts. But we are always on the lookout for new talents, techniques, and trends. That’s where trade shows come in. There are a few we attend every year. Our first this season is one of the largest in the world, the New York International Gift Fair, but our favorite is the American Craft Council Show.

The American Craft Council has a rich history dating back to the early 1940’s. Originally called the American Craftsman’s Cooperative Council in 1942 the ACC has been a pioneer organization for the promotion of the education, research, and archiving of American handcrafters. In 1956 the Council opened the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the American Craft Museum) in a brownstone on West 53rd Street in New York City, with the exhibition “Craftsmanship in a Changing World” featuring 314 objects by 180 craftsmen from 19 states.   In 1957 the council hosted its first conference, “Craftsmen Today” in California and in 1966 they held their first craft fair “Confrontation” in Stowe, VT. Since then the ACC has expanded its outreach to include a series of craft shows held all over the country each year. Many of these are retail craft shows, open to the public, serving the artists and communities with an opportunity for new inspiration, relationships, and information on American Craft. They are the embodiment of the ACC’s mission to “champion craft”.

But each year there is also one special show, just for trade’s people. This show is a place where artists come together with potential stockists. It is through the ACC trade show each year that we have come to find some of our favorite artists, including:

  • Eric Jensen. Eric’s modern and architectural dinnerware is a collection we consistently keep in stock. Hand-made of high-temperature porcelain his dishes are as durable as they are beautiful. Each piece is food, microwave, and dishwasher safe and are meant to be used and enjoyed. Available in round or square shapes and a selection of color combinations, this dishware adds artful elegance to any table.
  • Michael Baxley. Working in wood, lithographs, acrylic paint, and porcelain, each of Michael’s wall hangings has an elegantly organic feel. Focused on flowers, these pieces are far from conventional, but rather they offer a serene and muted glimpse into the floral world. Michael’s work has been comissioned by hotels, hospitals, office buildings, and private collections across the country and can be found hanging in both of our galleries.
  • Nicole Alfieri – Pico Vela – One of our newest additions, we absolutely love the remarkably wearable Pico Vela sweater collection by Nicole Alfieri. Established in 2011 and based in Washington DC  Nicole’s sweaters are made of high-quality natural fibers and are 100% hand loomed. Her combination of subtle colors and exquisite lines make each sweater a unique piece of clothing and art. Each piece has a distinct shape and flow, meant to flatter the body and showcase the beautiful loom work.
  • Reiko Ishiyama – Haling from the Japanese island of Shikoku, Reiko has been a New York based artisan for over 20 years. Originally a sculptor and now a self-taught jeweler Reiko is inspired by the tradition and attention to detail she witnessed in Japan as she began her work as an artist. In her artist’s statement Reiko says “My work has an almost fragile quality, stressing lightness and mobility.” Meant to be worn as art, not simply as adornment, Reiko’s jewelry is delicate yet bold with clean lines and flowing shapes.

Each of these artists is a testament to the quality and craftsmanship the American Craft Council has dedicated itself to promoting. We are so lucky to represent them here in our community. This year we’re excited to see some new trends, great art, and old friends while we’re at the show in February. Stay tuned for an update of new artists and new stock in the Brookline & JP galleries this spring.

Home Spun – Massachusetts Based Artists

Here at Fire Opal we are always looking for new ways to stay engaged in and support local artistry. We currently carry many designers based right here in Massachusetts and are excited to begin a short series of profiles on some of our favorites. These designers work in many kinds of media including textiles, wood, pewter, and silver and create apparel, accessories, jewelry, and housewares. Some are just beginning their careers and artistic practice and many are veteran artisans with established lines of work. In this post we’ll feature smARTworks and Peterman Boards and Bowls, both based in Western Mass. as well as Boston-based Sophie Hughes, and the Fall River business Beehive Kitchenware. Each of these designers offers unique talents and products to the American Hand Made Craft community of Massachusetts and we are proud to carry their work. Enjoy this post, check out their work on our website, and check back soon for the next installment of Home Spun.

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Based in the beautiful Berkshire Mountain region of Massachusetts, smARTworks was founded by designer Sonya Mackintosh in 1994. smARTworks is dedicated to producing hand-woven scarves to provide warmth and style for any aesthetic. Drawn to colors, patterns, and textures found in nature, smARTworks scarves are distinctive, comfortable, and created as one of a kind works. smARTworks is also dedicated to supporting their community and has created goodWORKS, a branch of the company that is dedicated to giving a portion of the proceeds of smARTworks to non-profit animal rights, cultural, and healthcare non-profit organizations based in Berkshire County. This year partner charities include: The Berkshire Humane Society, Community Access to the Arts, HospiceCare in the Berkshires.

Peterman Boards and Bowls

A fine crafter of wooden serving ware for over 15 years, Spencer Peterman re-purposes fallen trees from the woods of Western Massachusetts. His bowls are hand turned on a custom designed lathe and his boards and platters are carved and finished with care. Using the beauty and uniqueness of each tree that comes in, Spencer especially loves to use flawed and decaying wood for the texture and pattern it creates in the serving pieces. Every piece created by Peterson Boards and Bowls is food safe and meant to be used and enjoyed. Choose from a large selection of styles and finishes including Walnut, Cherry, Ebonized, and Spalted Maple.

 Sophie Hughes

Sophie Hughes is a Boston-based jewelry designer focused on sculptural jewelry. With a BFA in Metalsmithing from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design Sophie runs a studio in Boston’s South End where she creates each piece meticulously with a hammer and anvil.  Sophie creates small unique collections, made up of contemporary silver pieces. Her jewelry is meant to accentuate the lines and contours of the wearer’s body while displaying linear and modern works of art.

Beehive Kitchenware

Inspired by the antique kitchens and cookware of New England and started in a quaint New England house, Beehive Kitchenware creates kitchen and home accessories full of whimsy and charm. Founded in 1998 by Sandra Bonazoli and Jim Dowd, Beehive Kitchenware is meant to be as playful as it is functional. Using motifs of birds, bees, and florals, each Beehive piece is meant to add homey warmth to collections of modern kitchenware and cooking implements. Based in Fall River MA, Beehive Kitchenware has been featured in numerous publications over the last ten years including Oprah Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Everyday with Rachel Ray. Dedicated not only to quality artistry but also to environmental responsibility. Beehive recycles all paper products they use, uses biodegradable packing peanuts and recycled paper and boxes, remelts or recycles all faulty casts and scrap metal, and uses local and national suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint.   If you’re looking for a way to add delicate yet durable touches to your kitchen while supporting a responsible local artisan business Beehive is the way to go.

PHOTOS: Clockwise from top left – smARTworks Shannon Scarf in Mahogany; Beehive Kitchenware Quotes Measuring Spoons; Sophie Hughes Bullet Earrings; Peterman Boards and Bowls Spalted Maple Bowl

Wrapped Up in Giving Back

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**UPDATE:  A huge thank you to all of our patrons who helped make this year’s gift wrap donation drive one of our most successful. With your donations we were able to present Haley House with a check for $1000.00 on January 15, 2013. **

Each year Fire Opal works hard to stay engaged in and loyal to our communities. It’s important to us to focus on the people who live, work, and shop in our city and to reach out to the parts of our network that may need help or support. We believe in participating with our community, employing our community, and working for our community in ways big and small.

Over 15 years ago we began a Gift Wrap Donation Drive during the holiday season (running this year in Jamaica Plain from December 1 – 24). This charitable drive is a way for us to use our dedicated patron base and store resources to help spur community giving. Over the years we have chosen many different charities and community organizations to donate to during the holidays, including: Alzheimer’s Foundation of Boston, Regan Youth League, The Goddard House, and Big Sister Association of Boston.

This year our drive benefits Haley House. Haley House was founded in 1966 in the South End as a very bare bones soup kitchen and shelter for homeless men. Over its 46 year history the range and scope of Haley House’s outreach has expanded and includes an organic farm in Winchendon Springs, MA which provides fresh produce to the soup kitchen, a professional bakery and bakery café in Dudley Square, Roxbury, a rooming house and affordable housing program, as well as the original soup kitchen at 23 Dartmouth Street. All of Haley House’s efforts are dedicated to providing food, jobs, and housing to those who are looking to overcome hardship and move toward economic independence and meaningful lives.

Through shopping at Fire Opal this season you have the opportunity to contribute to this hard-working organization. For each gift purchased in our store we will gift wrap the package for a $1.50 donation. 100% of the donations will be given to Haley House to help continue their effort in our community. Come by the Jamaica Plain store today for holiday shopping, convenient gift wrapping, and the opportunity to help us give back.

Leah Meleski: A life infused with jewelry

Assorted rings by Jamaica Plain jewelry artist Leah Meleski

Fire Opal Jamaica Plain is present the work of local jewelry artist Leah Meleski during Jamaica Plain Open Studios 2012. This year’s open studios will occur  Saturday, September 22, and Sunday, September 23, from 11:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Leah earned her BFA in metals from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She creates work in her home studio located in Jamaica Plain and works as an art educator in the Wellesley school system.

In preparation for sharing her work with the community at Fire Opal, Leah shared some of her working methods and inclinations. Her thoughtful answers below provide insight into Leah’s complex natural forms.

What got you into jewelry design?

Jewelry is something I have always been enthusiastic about.  From as early as I can remember I was in love with accessorizing.  A favorite picture of mine is from when I was about 4 years old decked out in layers of pearls, two armfuls of bracelets and quite a few barrettes in my hair.  The love of accessorizing transformed from me wearing them to the love of making and seeing others wear my creations.

When I was looking at schools, I did not realize it was possible to study jewelry until I arrived upon an open house at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.  Immediately I fell in love with the school and the idea that I could study the art of metalsmithing.  This was the beginning of the end.

Sterling silver drop earrings by Leah Meleski

Do you draw out your designs first or work directly with the metal, making decisions as you go?

I create wearable jewelry that is inspired by the basic formula that nature grows from. I spend hours in the arboretum collecting natural samples and then turning my drawings into wearable sculptures. Radiating patterns turn silver into natural, bold, clean lines that I manipulate intuitively as I work. Pieces are created through a set plan that evolves as I bend and solder wire into complex natural forms, some of which are complimented with pieces created through lost wax casting.

What is your favorite material to work with?

I love to work with silver and natural stones at the moment; I am currently investigating various ways of infusing a stone into the piece through the manipulation of a traditional prong setting.  I choose various natural stones based off the metaphysical and healing properties of each stone.

I am also creating another line of work where I recycle my sterling silver scraps and experiment with the natural properties that allow it to take on a natural formation.

Infused clear crystal quartz ring by Leah Meleski

What does “infused” mean in your work description?

To infuse is to cause to be permeated with something (as a principle or quality) that alters usually for the better.  I am infusing natural patterns within metal to preserve the impermanence of a natural object.  Things that I look to for beauty have the natural occurrence to decay.  I am looking to alter something that is temporary and
beautiful into a memory.  The objects that I collect decay and their beauty transforms through its various states.  I am placing the item into permanence or making it a forever item.

I may not necessarily be making the item for the better, but I am infusing it with a different life; celebrating the beauty of a natural form and placing it upon the body where the admirer can become the celebrated and adorned. My aim is to create objects that synthesize nature directly onto the body.

We hope you’ll join Leah at Fire Opal, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 and 23, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., for a JP Open Studios celebration of Leah’s work. Come see what Leah’s work is all about!