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!

Filthy Rich Chocolates at Home in Jamaica Plain

We love collaborating with local artists. Especially when their products are high-quality, original, and utterly irresistible. So it’s with great excitement and a little bit of mouthwatering that we welcome JP’s own Kymberlee Keckler into the Jamaica Plain gallery this June. To celebrate First Thursday on June 4, we’ll be hosting Kymberlee and her exquisite handmade artisan chocolates for a grand tasting and chocolate making demonstration. In anticipation of this event, we were able to do a great mini-interview with Kymberlee about her life as a chocolatier, maker, and artist in Jamaica Plain. Give it a quick read and join us in store for a delicious evening!


Fire Opal: How long have you been making chocolate?

Kymberlee Keckler: I’ve been making chocolates since 2011, but I didn’t always know what I was doing in the early days. I enrolled in training as a professional chocolatier through Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, BC and graduated in November 2012. In April 2014, I attended Valrhona’s Ecole du Grand Chocolat in Tain L’Hermitage, France. And just this past April, I attended more master classes at ICAM in Lecco, Italy. I plan to return to France in October 2016.

FO: We know you also make beautiful soap – how do you balance the two?

KK: One good thing about soap is that the older it is, the better it is – so I am able to make soap during times of slower chocolate sales. Chocolate sales peak around certain holidays and is generally slower in the summer. I like making soap in the summer because my ‘soap factory’ is in the basement where it is cooler. I’ve discontinued some scents to free up some time for chocolate making. A person can spend $30 on soap and have enough for a year or so….but if they spend that on chocolates, they can eat them and come back the next day.

FO: What do you love about being an artist in Jamaica Plain?

KK: I love JP’s commitment to the arts, the diversity in our neighborhood, and the sense of community.

FO: What’s your favorite kind of chocolate?

KK: Tough question – and one that I get a lot. The base chocolate that I use is Valrhona’s Manjari. There aren’t any that I don’t like and wouldn’t sell them unless they met my standards. My favorite flavors include passion fruit, hazelnut, and earl grey tea. I also love my raspberry hazelnut crisp, hazelnut coconut, and espresso. I’m always experimenting…and will be headed to the kitchen very soon!


Piercing the Sky – Amy Casher Designs

Industrial yet organic, Amy Casher’s jewelry is clean, contemporary, and distinctive. As a self-taught metalsmith, Amy has had many influences that have informed her work and helped her to find her own personal style for making and designing her jewelry. Working mainly in copper, bronze, and sterling silver Amy’s pieces play with shape, texture, and color. Each piece has natural elements inspired by everything from leaves and flowers to stars and the moon as well as strong metal structure giving it a whimsical yet urban feel. Keeping her studio in Boston’s South End, Amy is a great local artist and we are so pleased to have her as our featured artist at July’s First Thursday Event. Come by the Jamaica Plain gallery on July 11th (yes it is the second Thursday this month) from 4pm – 8pm to meet Amy and fall in love with her beautiful jewelry.

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How long have you been designing professionally?
I stated making jewelry professionally about 9 years ago, after making it as a hobby for 15 years.
What has been your biggest inspiration as a jewelry maker?
My first jewelry studio was in a hay barn up on a horse farm in Marlborough, NH. I was surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees and animals, so it was hard not to be inspired by my exquisite, natural surroundings. Now that I’m based in the South End of Boston, my aesthetic has become a bit more urban, but I can’t help but continue to find inspiration in the natural world. I love taking natural forms and giving them a more urban/modern interpretation.
How have your academic pursuits and travel influenced your work?
I initially learned to work with silver and other metals when I was 15 years old, at an arts-focused summer camp, Bucks Rock, in New Milford CT. When I returned to high school that year, my art teacher invited me to do an independent study with him for the year. For the next 15 years, I tried to find a place — usually a community art center or an adult education facility — where I could sign up for whatever metalsmithing class they offered and use it as a place to make jewelry for a few hours a week. Meanwhile, I studied French Literature in college, worked in education for five years, and then went on to get an MBA and work as a strategy consultant in the business world. I had no idea that I would become a professional jeweler one day! I suppose the fact that I am mostly self-taught has influenced my work process in that I am very experimental. I haven’t necessarily learned the “right” way to make jewelry, so that frees me up to play with the metal, make lots of “mistakes” and find news ways to get things done.
What is your favorite part of being a jewelry designer?
Of course, I love the design process, but I think my favorite part of being a jewelry designer is working with customers to help them pick out a special piece or two that make them feel and look great. There’s nothing better than getting feedback from someone a week — or a year — later, telling me how much they love their jewelry!
What does an average day in the studio look like for you?
On a typical day at the studio, I’ll spend some time doing design work, and some time in production mode. When I’m doing design work, I’m either playing around at my jeweler’s bench, using my saw, files, hammers and dapping tools, or I’m on my feet at my soldering station, trying to figure out the best way to put a piece of jewelry together. When I’m in production mode, I spend a lot of time soldering, grinding and smoothing. My tumbler, which I use to work-harden and polish up all my pieces, is constantly going in the background.
What is your favorite kind of jewelry to wear?
I used to design jewelry essentially for myself — that is, I would sit in my studio and make pieces that all looked great on me! After a few months, I think the MBA in me recognized that my customers not only had different tastes, but also different sized necks, wrists and fingers! While I tend to wear my biggest and boldest designs, I now make a wide range of jewelry for both my bolder and more conservative customers, and I even enjoy wearing some of my smaller, simpler pieces!
If you had to do something other than design jewelry, what would it be?
At the moment, I split my time between being a jewelry designer, an independent business strategy consultant, and a mom to a 16 month old girl. I have had many careers (teaching high school french, teaching college-level English in Belgium, university administration, various types of corporate and nonprofit work), and I truly enjoy the balance in my life right now. I love to travel, and I love to give back to others, so if I weren’t designing jewelry, I suppose I’d find a way to combine these two interests by volunteering abroad in some capacity.

Lauren Blais Jewelry – Dark, Delicate, Intriguing

Our latest installment of artist profiles is an interview with Lauren Blais. Lauren has been running her jewelry studio in Somerville since graduating from MassArt in 2008. Her jewelry is feminine and funky with a vintage feel and a dark edge. In the style of Victorian mourning jewelry each piece is intricate, elaborate, and personal. Meant to evoke the feeling of heirloom jewelry with a storied past any Lauren Blais piece is sure to become a personal favorite for anyone who wears it. We’re so excited to welcome her into the Jamaica Plain store and are hosting her at our First Thursday event April 4th. 
1. When did you first start making jewelry?
I grew up in Providence and was able to take many classes at RISD.  I had always thought I wanted to go to school for Fashion Design and had taken a few fashion and costume design classes, then I took a Beginning Jewelry class and started working with Providence artist Boris Bally and knew I wanted to make jewelry. I ended up going to MassArt and studying small metals.
2. When did you open your studio? How has your business changed since then?
I graduated in 2008 and got a studio space in Joy Street Studios in Somerville, MA almost immediately. Making jewelry requires a lot of chemicals and noisy hammering and gets messy so I knew it would be difficult to work from home without a designated space…and even with a space the hammering would be difficult with neighbors in a Boston apartment. When I first moved into my studio I was only part-time making jewelry and doing very small shows such as SOWA. Now I have a wholesale business and also participate in many high-end retail shows so I am always in my studio.
3. How did you get introduced to Victorian mourning jewelry, and what speaks to you about that style?
While I was at MassArt, I realized that pieces of jewelry create their own history. Often times a sentimental piece of jewelry is passed through a family throughout many generations. I thought the most fascinating example of this was Victorian mourning jewelry. Although it was such a morbid concept, beautiful and intricate pieces were being made to celebrate and remember a loved ones life. Also, Victorian mourning jewelry often used alternative materials such as jet and hair and I found myself using materials such as leathers and furs.
4. Do you have a piece of jewelry you wear everyday? 
I do. I always have an armful of bangle bracelets. At first I would keep the ones that were not quite perfect enough to sell and over time have collected some from other jeweler friends.
5. What is your daily routine in the studio?
I’ve got a pretty “normal” studio routine down. I try to do a typical 9-5…I always say I will stay on top of inventory for shows, orders and commissions but, I do find myself spending a lot of late nights and weekends working when I have a lot of shows scheduled. I love being a metalsmith and feel fortunate I am able to spend my time making jewelry.
6. What are three words you would use to describe your personal aesthetic? 
I often say my work is a bit dark, delicate and intriguing. I am drawn to a darker metal….so the majority of the sterling silver I use is oxidized with a matte finish…I think it gives the metal a bit more dimension I am influenced heavily by the ornamentation of the Victorian Era and often find myself hand piercing or etching delicate wallpaper patterns into the silver and some of the other materials I am drawn to are a bit macabre and intriguing I think…
7. A lot of your jewelry incorporates fibrous material with the metal and gemstones. What is your favorite fiber to incorporate into your work and why?
For me the texture is a really important component to the pieces I create. Metal can be so one dimensional, right now I am really influenced by the texture of leather. My favorites right now are stingray leather, tilapia leather and python. I am also really influenced by the natural surface of gemstones.
 8. How does the Boston/Somerville arts community inform your work? 
I was fortunate to be named ‘Best of Boston’ by the Improper Bostonian a few years back. It was completely unexpected and a great honor to be given the recognition in a city of great designers.
9. Who is your favorite jewelry designer?
This is really tough! I am always awestruck by the works of Rene Lalique. Through the shows I do, I have been fortunate to meet many great jewelers who have been creating jewelry for years. I always love the work of New York based designer Raul Frisneda and Massachusetts based art jeweler Linda Kaye-Moses


MoonTide Dyers: Color, Pattern, Movement


MoonTide Dyers began as a collaborative effort between classmates. Abbie Chambers & Maura Cronin met in Artisanry School at UMass Dartmouth and after swapping ideas and techniques in separate studios they decided to work together on an experimental line of women’s t-shirts. That was in 2005. The t-shirts were a sell-out hit at a New Bedford craft fair, and from that short run of only 30 tops, Moon Tide Dyers was born. Abbie works mainly in garment design and construction, while Maura does much of the dyeing and patterning. But they both can agree that their inspiration words are “Color, Pattern, and Movement”. Based in a New Bedford studio space, MoonTide is a community based business and works hard to maintain ethical and responsible business practices by regularly sourcing new material, and working with local factories for the creation of larger runs of garments. MoonTide’s garments use a soft, 4-way stretch jersey fabric that is stylish enough to wear for special occasions, yet soft and cozy enough for lounging around. Abbie and Maura strive for the ultimate in wearability and work hard to ensure their pieces are functional and flattering. We are so grateful that they were able to take some time to talk to us for the blog and are very excited to host a trunk show with them and the new spring line on Friday March 22, 2013 from 1pm – 6pm in the Brookline store. Read on for some background on these two great local artists and their growing business.

 How old were you when you started making clothes?

Abbie: Although I didn’t start making clothing until high school, one of my earliest memories is of my grandmother sewing.  She used to have a clothing store in Canada and she did alterations.  When I was a baby, she would take care of me there.   I remember watching her sitting on a high stool, hemming something.  My mom also did a lot of sewing while I was growing up, making Halloween costumes for us, and beautiful dresses for herself.

Maura: I never really wanted to make clothes, although my grandma was an amazing seamstress and I did love watching her make something out of nothing.  My desire has always been with color and surface texture.  It’s probably why I am in a partnership – we can share our skills and do the things that we like and are the best at.

Have you had any specific inspirations for this season? 

Maura: I think Abbie and I have always been interested in color and how design patterns on garments work on the body.  We have always wanted to create for dance.  This season we did bring in a few garments that are good for yoga lifestyle.

Abbie: For me it was mainly color.  I really like the soft springy colors that we chose.

Are you branching out into any kinds of new pieces or techniques?

Abbie: Maura and I are both doing different projects this year.  In some ways, we are taking it back to the roots of what we did before Moon Tide.  Both Maura and I used to make yardage using various techniques, batik, screen printing, and potato dextrin (our favorite!). Maura has made a limited run of garments patterned with potato dextrin and sold them at some of the craft fairs we do, they’ll be on the website soon. I’m working on wrap dresses made of West African wax prints (very different from Moon Tide)  I think we both have been working with knits for so long, that we have a desire to work with woven fabrics again.

Maura: I do love working with potato starch as Abbie mentioned!. I hope to start making some garments on woven fabrics as well, mainly silk.  I like to think about keeping the garment structure as simple as I can – then highlight  with pattern and color – let that be what sticks out.

What is your design process like? Do you sketch and plan or start directly with the fabric & dye?

Abbie: Both, but mainly we work directly with the materials.

Maura: We do a lot of experimenting in the studio before we start.

Do you have a daily routine in the studio?

Abbie: We just went through a big move this fall and split into two studios.  Things have not really settled into a routine since this happened, but it’s getting there.

Maura: I now take care of most of the production (the actual making of the product – dye and pattern) and Abbie does all the design of constructing the garments.  Of course we are in constant communication about that process.  I do know that every Monday I need to make lists and do computer research (set the tone, get inspiration), and every Friday I need to clean (end of the week cleansing, mental and emotional, and of course physical).  Mid-week is left for the more production-like work and it is when our assistant is working so I like to work with her.

How did you decide to make New Bedford your home? How does your community there inform your work?

Maura: I live in New Bedford and now our studio is in my live space.  It is a wonderful artist community in our building.  New Bedford worked because it was affordable to start a business here.  It has been great to create here and to connect to the textile industry as well.  New Bedford still has raw roots.  There is no pretense here.  For me, it is helpful because it keeps it all real.

Abbie: And luckily for us it has a big artist community.

What’s been your biggest accomplishment so far and what is your professional goal for 2013? 

Abbie: I can’t nail it down to one big accomplishment, but I feel proud of what Maura and I have created.  We started this business from scratch back in 2005.  It started very small and we had no business plan or anything.  We’ve kept it going through the years, learning and growing from each experience.

Maura: I like that answer!  I think while keeping Moon Tide going Abbie and I are also branching off into more specialized and personal adventures with our art.  It’s extremely important to keep this part alive and moving.  Moon Tide will grow with us and our other creative endeavors will inform it.  I think one of my personal goals for 2013 is to work with the local Buzzards Bay coalition here in New Bedford that works to clean up our waters.  I have been wanting to make a ’cause’ shirt that help support that.

Digging Deep with Bound Earth

Home Spun – Local Artists

For our second piece in the Home Spun – Local Artist series, we caught up with one of our favorite Massachusetts based jewelry makers, Andrea Williams, of Bound Earth Jewelry Design in Cohasset, MA. Andrea’s award-winning jewelry first came to us through the American Craft Council trade show, and since then we have cultivated a great relationship with the prolific and eco-conscious designer.  Andrea prides herself on using reclaimed materials and natural inspirations to create true works of art. Take a peek at our conversation for some insight into her design process, inspirations, and what it means to her to be environmentally responsible in the jewelry making world.

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When did you found Bound Earth?

I started Bound Earth in 2007

 How has your jewelry changed since you began your business?

My designs are constantly evolving and becoming more complex. I strive to come up with unique new designs every year, always trying to push both my skills and the limits of the materials a bit further each time.

What has been your biggest accomplishment?

Just being able to be a full time working artist, wife and mother, I am living my dream!

 What is your design process like? Do you sketch or start directly with the metals and stones?

 I do a lot of my designing in my sleep, when I wake up I sketch the designs over morning coffee. Then I head for the studio and work out the details in metal and stone. I usually start with a quick sketch and then take off from there, most of the design comes intuitively, Each line I carve informs the next and so on. I use accumulation to achieve the depth and intensity that I want.

 Do you start with one piece and let that inform new work or do you plan each piece individually?

The inspiration can be for small or large works then I design complementary pieces to work together as a line.

Do you have a daily routine in the studio?

My studio is heated by a wood burning stove. I start my day with splitting wood, getting the fire started and then while waiting for the studio to warm, a four mile walk in the woods for exercise and inspiration.  Once in the studio I hunker down and start carving!

 How does your community in Cohasset inform your aesthetic?

I am very lucky to live with a huge state park behind the house and the beach just a mile away. I find daily inspiration in all things natural.

You describe your jewelry as “eco-conscious” what does that mean to you?

It means striving towards making jewelry that reminds people of their connection with the earth and their natural surroundings. I use found objects, 100% reclaimed metals and lab grown gems stones. In this way I am assured that my work is not contributing to the strip mining that is so devastating both to the earth and the people that are made to work for them.

 You mention that you work exclusively in lab grown gems instead of mined stones. What are some of your favorites? 

I mostly use lab grown white sapphires, they give a sparkle that enhances my Starry Night designs.

 You do commission work, using stones with personal/sentimental value. What has been your favorite commission piece to create? What do you like best about creating commissioned work? 

One of my favorite commission works was a pendant made with a stone from the banks of the Yang Tze river [in China], collected by a woman just before the town that she grew up in was flooded forever. I really enjoy meeting with a client to talk and get to know them, everyone has a great story and it’s very exciting to try and work those threads into the piece I design.

 What is your favorite material to work with?

Fine silver, it’s just buttery.

Is there a piece of jewelry you wear every single day? Why/why not?

I wear one of my Repeated Meme pendants. I just fell in love with it, and it is made with a stone that I picked up in my mom’s home town in Switzerland.

What are you working on for 2013?

I’ll be at the ACC Show in Baltimore from February 20 – 21 and I just found out that my Vinculum Chain Necklace (pictured above) will be featured as the cover of  Lark Jewelry’s “Showcase 500 Art Necklaces” Book coming out in July. Other than that stay tuned!

Many thanks to Andrea for taking the time to talk with us about her work. Keep checking back for our next Home Spun – Local Artists piece.