Janis Kerman: 45 years Creating Contemporary Jewellery

This spring the jeweller Janis Kerman is celebrating 45 years of creation. The Guild is proud to present Reminiscence: 45 Years Creating Contemporary Jewellery, a retrospective exhibition depicting Quebec jeweller Janis Kerman’s various creative paths, to be held from April 27 to May 28, 2017. We took advantage of this anniversary to ask some questions about her career, her creative process and her point of view about being a jeweller.


How did you begin making jewelry?

From a very young age I believe I had a fascination for jewellery… from my grandmother’s full charm bracelet that clinked and shone to my mother’s unique pieces, each spoke to me to my core. At summer camp, when I was limited from participating in all sports activities, I ended up in Arts and Crafts where one of the counselors was teaching elementary jewellery classes.

I took to it immediately. When I returned home, I had both knees operated on and while I was recuperating, my grandparents bought me my very first set of hand tools that I still have and use today. My first simple workspace was in the furnace room of my parent’s house and it remained there for the first little while.



What about your training?

I took preliminary courses in Montreal at the Saidye Bronfman Center and studied under Wendy Shingler. These courses gave me the foundation to begin building my skills. I looked for summer courses that interested me and first travelled to Sheridan School of Crafts where I added working with Pewter and Lost Wax Casting to my skills. In this era in Montreal, there were few schools and courses to take. I did try a course with Armand Brochard but, at the time, my French wasn’t strong enough to continue it.

I was lucky to have the strong support of my parents and after CEGEP I went to study at Boston University’s degree program called the Program in Artisanry. I spent one year there where, for the first time in my jewellery experience, I was surrounded by endless amounts of equipment and talent. I remember working day and night and loving every minute of it. I studied with Patricia Daunis-Dunning, J. Fred Woell and Vincent Ferrini.

When I returned to Montreal, I began researching the American craft schools that offered summer courses and over the next few summers studied at Penland (Jim Malenda, Bob Ebendorf), Haystack (Hiroko Sato Pijanowski), Peter’s Valley (Marcy Zelmanoff / Heikki Seppa) and Washington University (Heikki Seppa, Barry Merritt and Gretchen Raber). Every artist teacher I came in contact with over these summers influenced me creatively, adding to my skillset and in their honest critique of my work.





When did you start doing it seriously or when did you know you would do it professionally?

I think the idea of concentrating on making jewellery as a career came to be upon my return from Boston. At that time I also began teaching at the Visual Arts Centre in Montreal and in Ottawa at Algonquin College. It was a lot to juggle but when one is young, one is invincible. When I think about it, the evolution of my career was more organic than planned. Of course, there were times when I had to consciously choose a path and then planned for that but overall I would say one opportunity created another and so on so that now, 40 years down the road, here I am! In 1983 I met my husband whose family had a jewellery background. His fresh eyes and experience in the field gave a new insight into future possibilities. Up until today, he continues to be a supporter, cheerleader and mentor in innumerable ways.


Did you have a model at that time?

Many contemporary jewellers began setting up shop and creating the model of the independent successful artist. I met one such artist when I was in Boston and I think that sparked the “idea” that it could be possible to build something like that for myself.



Was it difficult to work as a jeweller in Montreal?

After studying in Boston and the other US workshops where everything was at my fingertips, the major difficulty was that tools and supplies were hard to come by locally. The good thing about that was that I had to be creative in making tools and finding alternative ways to do what I wanted to do without the “right” tool. This has served me well even till today. It makes one strong at problem solving and finding ways around any situation.

What is your favorite material?

I don’t think I have one favorite material. Over my long career I have experimented with many and some continue to make up most of my work today. There were some that I dropped because I found them trendy and not useful in my creative explorations. For a period of time I had a fascination with patinas as a way to achieve color in my work but now use gemstones to reach that same end result. Niobium also played a large role for that same reason. With the demands for my work, being sometimes overwhelming, the one thing that has been sacrificed is the aspect of experimentation. This is unfortunate, but one can’t do it all, I suppose. Ideally it would be great to dedicate one day a week, one month in the year for everything else to stand still so that this could happen.


What about your creative process?

In all honesty my process has many facets. When I have a commission the parameters are laid out for me and I need to work within them. For example a client will come to the studio wanting a specific item. I’ll pull out endless examples, either that I have created or that I’ve cut out and accumulated over the years and by the time the client has left the studio, we’ve determined what direction to head into. I’ll do some rough sketches, color them in, cut them out and “try” them directly on the client. That way, in real time, we can decide width, proportions, position, shape etc. before any formal drawings are made.

I follow a similar model when designing for a themed show using the given parameters. As for how I create when I’m free to make anything I want, I collect ideas of images that I like from magazines, books, Instagram, Pinterest and from there a design will start to emerge. My stone trays are color organized and they are laid out in front of me for additional inspiration. Also, i am attracted to geometric forms and therefore to a measured and controlled visual. Patterns that repeat themselves intrigue me. The shapes that I still return to are the circle, square and triangle. I continue to use these shapes in all their iterations, breaking them down, multiplying them, superimposing them until I reach an intuitive balance that pleases me.



How do you work with collaborators? With Nicole Lachapelle or your daughter Erin? Was it stimulating for you?

Each collaboration is different due to the personality of the collaborator as well as the goal of the collaboration. With Nicole Lachapelle it was organic… one of us would start with an idea and the other would jump in with “what if we did this”? and then the piece would come to life.



Erin and I came to our collaboration completely out of the blue. Erin was exposed to my jewellery from the first day of her life, even before, from her conception. I think her understanding of my aesthetic, was innate as a result. Over her youth and teen years, she was always encouraged to be creative and she took to it like a fish to water.


So when Erin was preparing for her graduation show at NYU, and had “staged” the show, her presentation right down to the last details of how she’d dress, of course the topic of her jewellery for the evening came up. She had some ideas in mind, specifically for rings, which we mocked up and made. Much too both our surprise, the reaction and reception to these pieces was overwhelming to the point that she called and said “Let’s make some rings together”. Of course, how could I refuse, but without a clear understanding of where this simple statement would lead! Five collections later, Bande des Quatres is an ongoing concern. As Erin lives in a different city than me, we need to carve out time to create and to be aware to balance our “family” and “work” time so our relationship isn’t too heavy in the work part. We’ve designed around a swimming pool, in my studio, at a restaurant, drawing on the paper tablecloth as we did for the first Bauhaus Collection. Because hers and my aesthetic is so in sync it isn’t hard to find middle ground. Erin brings concept ideas to the table and I bring the “makers” experience. Erin is responsible for all marketing and managing and selling of the line, whereas I’m responsible for the production.


Is it important to have a signature as a jeweller?

But of course. This holds true for any and all designers. To be derivative is the worst thing one can be. Why make/create if one plans to copy. Every artist needs a signature to stand out amongst all the designers and makers in the field.


When did the Its the balance not the symmetry became your …leitmotif?

In 1988, after Erin was born I moved away from making fashion accessory jewellery and began to concentrate on using precious metals and stones in my work and more specifically earrings with an asymmetrical approach. The more I played with these, the more they became associated with who I was as a jeweler. Truly, balance is what I strive for in my work and the challenge and ultimate success of making an asymmetrical pair of earrings be balanced fulfills this for me. For many years I had a friend who helped me with writing for various publications and entries. She is the person responsible for coming up with this statement which has become my leitmotif.



You taught for many years at the Centre des arts visuels. What is your relationship now with young jewellers?

I was approached by the director of the Visual Arts Center and taught an introductory class from 1977-1985. I had no formal training on how to teach so I modeled my course outline on my experience with my first teacher, Wendy Shingler. I had many students who returned year after year. It was a challenge to teach continuing Adult Education students as their overall motivation was to learn enough to make gifts for family and friends so attention to details such as finishing was less interesting to them. I’m a perfectionist so, as the years passed, I found this aspect frustrating.

My contact with young jewellers comes from workshops I’ve been asked to give and from some who have worked with me in my studio. When I’m approached, I’m willing to take the time to answer, refer, help in any way I can but at this time, I am running two businesses and therefore, unfortunately, don’t have time or space to open my atelier to any and all students who want the experience to work with me.


Why Jewellery?

I believe that jewellery has many functions. It acts as a complement or accessory to one’s outfit. It states a person’s taste and can “disappear” or “stand out”. I feel fulfilled and happy to participate in creating jewellery that will help define the end wearer. Of course, with my investigation of asymmetry this requires a confident person with a strong aesthetic and understanding of who they are. I’ve always wanted to make something that is not trendy and has a longer aesthetic life. Many years ago, my husband coined the expression “Classic with a twist” to describe my work. I am always interested to see older work still worn by clients and friends and to see how the pieces have stood the test of time, both physically and in their timeless design. Jewellery for me completes a look, connects one to a memory or has a tie to their past, present and future family history. These are important connections and, that my oeuvre over 40 years, has created so many pieces that encompass these values makes me feel very satisfied.