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I was born in Paducah, KY, raised in Eminence, KY and currently live in Lebanon, KY after a short stint in Burbank, CA. I was introduced to art as most kids, in elementary school.
Getting to go to the art room in elementary school was always something special for me. I loved getting my hands dirty with clay, painting and drawing. Shop was another my favorite class, allowing me to experiment with power tools and learn the basic concepts of home design. Since my father is an engineer and I was good at math and shop, I always thought I would study architecture.
In fact, I was convinced of this as early as the 7th grade. I took mostly construction, drafting and other classes in middle and high school in order to prepare myself for admission to the College of Architecture at the University of Kentucky. I still enjoyed drawing, painting and theatre, but those were relegated to extra-curricular activities.
During the summer of 1992, I attended the Kentucky Governor's Scholars Program (GSP) at Centre College as a physics major. However, I regained my love of drama and the arts, finding myself spending my extra time with those students. After GSP, I had a meeting with the Dean of Architecture at the University of Kentucky and found that I needed to take an art class in high school in order to prepare for the entrance exam. I promptly dropped Introduction to Computers and picked up Art I. With my love of art rekindled, I decided to study art in college.
I studied the visual arts in college, taking courses in oils, acrylics, ceramics, photography and printmaking. I also took quite a few art history classes, becoming infatuated with a range of artists including Edgar Degas, Mark Rothko and Judy Chicago. In 1997, I graduated from Campbellsville University with a degree in art, intending on studying art history in graduate school. I moved to California the month I graduated and opted to work full-time, painting in my spare time.
In the fall of 1999, I returned to Central Kentucky to work as office manager and web designer for my mother's computer company. However, after working for years in jobs that had nothing to do with the arts, I had a life-changing moment in 2002. During a visit to my OB/GYN when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was booted from my studio, despite my acrylic paints were non-toxic. Needing a creative outlet, I found myself in the craft aisle at a location store. I soon began stringing beads and making rosaries to pass time. I became a self-taught beader, learning through an expanding collection of books and magazines, as well as experience.
Shortly after my daughter, Amber, was born, I left my office job and opened a small art gallery and coffee bar in Lebanon. The gallery, These Precious Things, currently represents 30 Central Kentucky artists, and allows me to spend "down time" making jewelry at my desk. Having a storefront has also built a customer base in my hometown, as well as allowing me to expand my services to jewelry repair and redesign.
I often begin a piece as a way to examine a new stitch or color palette then let the piece tell me where it wants to go. The ideas for my pieces come from a variety of sources. I have a "slight" addiction to beading magazines and books but most of my inspiration comes from a background in painting, sculpture, music and nature. I love color and texture, which I believe show in my jewelry. I'm one of those people that has to walk through a museum with my hands in my pockets or I'll get in trouble! The Van Gogh exhibit several years ago was tough, as I wanted to run my fingers across the surface of the paintings.
My favorite technique is freeform beading as I feel it allows my greater opportunities to express myself. I also don't feel confined to traditional methods, which I believe is due my lack of formal training in jewelry design. If a piece speaks to me or wants to go in a new direction, I don't say "no". It's very rare that I map or sketch out a design, unless I'm working a detailed pattern in peyote or stitching a complicated embroidery layout.
Additionally, I have come to think of my pieces as "wearable art" rather than "just jewelry," which I feel allows my greater creativity when designing and working on my pieces. I have a few standard designs that customers occasionally request, but most clients return to me because they know that their piece will truly be one-of-a-kind. I also accept commissions and my clients have come to be fairly vague in their requests. Many times, requests will come only in the form of color, length and price range.
I'm very ADD when it comes to my craft, learning new techniques constantly and playing with the results. I guess you could call it contemporary tradition! I do everything from pieces that look vintage to incorporating computer and watch parts into my pieces. Venturing into the gallery, one can find bead embroidery, stringing, bead weaving, chain maille and even paintings to which I have adhered beads as focal points.
I have also ventured into cold-connected metal work, traditional wire wrapping and silver clay but always return to the beads, elaborating on traditional designs and creating my own. Recently, I have become infatuated with the industrial look of the Steampunk movement and creativity behind handmade paper beads. One never knows what I might find when looking at my workspace!
My work has been featured in the Fire Mountain Gems Comprehensive and Best Sellers Catalogs, Bead & Button Magazine, local media and Internet outlets. I also filmed a segment for HGTV's "That's Clever!" which is tentatively scheduled to air in February 2009.
I have also won several awards for my pieces over the last few years, including finalists in the Fire Mountain Gems Contest in 2006, 2007 and 2008, an Honorable Mention in Rings & Things' "Your Designs Rock" 2007 contest, selected artist in Maker's Mark's 2008 "The Mark of Great Art" show, finalist in the 2008 Bead Dream competition and a semi-finalist in the 2008 Swarovski "Create Your Style" competition.
I'm an active member of the Marion County Arts & Humanities Council, Lexington Art League, Sheltowee Artisans, Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce, Main Street/Renaissance Committee, Leadership Lebanon-Marion County, Marion County Quilt Trail Committee, ConnectKentucky eCommunity Leadership Team, Downtown Incentives Research Committee, Bluegrass Etsy Street Team and Etsy Beadweavers Street Team. I also enjoy teaching jewelry-making classes at the local community education center.
Besides my own gallery, I sell my jewelry at arts festivals throughout the year, including St. James Court in Louisville, KY, and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, KY. I'm also represented by Highland Raku Studio and my work can be found in several retail outlets throughout Kentucky.
|Jama Watts, Lebanon, Kentucky, USA|