Sensitivity is a Gift for Soulful Jewelry Artist Jessica Jordan Coté
Jessica Jordan Coté’s detailed jewelry designs are a metaphor for life. “The idea of numerous small parts coming together to create a rich and complex whole is appealing to me. Everything delicate gains strength and resilience when compounded,” she says below, in this interview with our contributor, Jill MacKay. Read on to meet this inspiring jewelry artist and see what encourages her to keep creating art in spite of tragedy.
Jill MacKay: Please describe yourself and your work in under 200 words.
Jessica Jordan: I’m a southern silversmith out of a small town in North Carolina. I come from a long line of blue collar creatives, self-made men and women who have made their way in shipyards and sewing plants, as authors and educators.
Growing up as an only child, I frequently spent time at my grandparents’ farm in Virginia. I remember, during one of those visits, my grandmother sharing with me the contents of her jewelry box. I was shocked. Here was a woman I knew as a gardener, a laborer, provider, and caretaker of land, family, and animals. Rarely had I seen her wear anything other than her wedding ring, and yet this box contained all the history and sparkle of her years as a young southern belle engaged in higher society. It was evidence of a woman I’d never known. That stuck with me. My jewelry has evolved with that memory in mind: a blend of bold and vintage aesthetics that house soul, depth of detail, and character. I want to capture all facets of a woman.
Jill: Why do you do what you do?
Jessica: I can’t imagine living an uncreative life. Making is something I need to do in order to be happy. As for the medium itself, I suppose working with stone and silver—these ancient and natural materials—just felt right. Working with hand tools and fire felt right. It all aligned with something in my soul.
Memory is very important to me, and I’m a ridiculously sentimental woman. Most of my hammers belonged to my grandfathers. My workbench is an old piano. Nearly everything in my studio is reclaimed, reused, repurposed or just plain old. That’s how I like it, and it’s the same notion with jewelry. It feels good to wear a ring passed down through generations and be reminded of where I come from. Perhaps that’s the drive behind my passion; to create tangible, wearable works of art that will remain long after I’m gone, that will bring smiles or strength to future females as they recall the matriarchs that came before them.
Jill: What would you consider your specialty as far as your process goes?
Jessica: I suppose if I had any specialized area of my work, it would be the detail. I love layers. I love areas of light and dark, depth, and repetition working together. The idea of numerous small parts coming together to create a rich and complex whole is appealing to me. Everything delicate gains strength and resilience when compounded. There’s a beautiful metaphor in this, I think.
Jill: Please describe a life experience that inspired you.
Jessica: I lost three friends to breast cancer within 14 months. When the second one passed, it ripped me out of what had been a prolonged period of burnout. This woman was an artist in the truest sense of the word. Knowing that she’d have loved to have been able to continue that life, that passion . . . it jarred me out of my slump. I became more aware of time as a gift, creativity as a gift, sensitivity as a gift. I picked my torch back up because she had to put hers down. My work has had more soul, more intention ever since. I keep her art and ashes at my bench.
Jill: What is your favorite part of your work as a jewelry artist, and why?
Jessica: My favorite part of the process is the release, the letting go. It brings me immense joy to witness the work being worn by someone who really loves it, who can own it as an extension of themselves. I consider personal adornment to be such an act of self-definition. For me, no piece is truly finished until it has a home on the human body. When handmade jewelry is worn, the creation process is finalized and the purpose of the piece itself is fulfilled. Maker and Made have found gratification. The circuit closes. It is complete.
Jill: What part of your job as a jewelry artist is your least favorite and why?
Jessica: My least favorite part of the jewelry-making process is the marketing. I think a big problem with art schools and design schools is that students are taught to make the work but not how to sell it. Most artists are not proficient salespeople, and I certainly fall into that category. It’s a constant struggle for me to find a balance between the administrative side of running a small business and being a productive artist, and to engage constantly when I’m naturally more of an introvert.
Jill: What is something we may not know about you?
Jessica: While I love the other part of my job, traveling and teaching silversmithing around the country, I’d also be perfectly happy as a recluse. I love my hometown. I love my family and my flock of backyard chickens and my little house under the oak trees. My husband and I are working to renovate a building at the back of our property so that I can teach proper workshops here at home. That would allow me to do it all—travel to teach when I want to, but also be here enjoying my time as a mother, wife, writer, instructor, and creator. It’s a lot of hats and they each mean something to me; I don’t want to have to choose!
I became more aware of time as a gift, creativity as a gift, sensitivity as a gift.
Jill: What is the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?
Jessica: I’ve taken one formal jewelry class. It was an elective in college. I spent nearly a full semester on a necklace, using every technique I’d been taught somewhere in the design. In the end, when I presented it to my instructor, she looked it over carefully and then finally looked at me. “It’s very uninspiring,” she said. I was crushed.
But, I had to agree with her. I had been so intimidated, so worried about being technically perfect, that I had been miserable the entire three months I had been making the piece . . . and it showed! In three words, she taught me as much as she had during all our previous hours together . . . there has to be passion, there has to be joy in the work. Technical skills are fantastic, but they mean very little if your soul can’t be seen in the final product. Otherwise, why not just buy something machine made? Even now, I consider “playtime” an imperative part of my design process.
Jill: What career project do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
Jessica: I think my biggest success in my career thus far has been teaching. That’s a personal triumph (remember, homebody) and a professional one. I’ve had a lot of people help me over the years to grow as an artist and as a person . . . giving back and doing what I can to encourage beginners in turn is incredibly important to me.
Jill: Please name one key thing you do every workday that helps you be successful?
Jessica: I read a little every day. Books like Art & Fear, The War of Art and The Obstacle is the Way have all aided my steps on this creative journey. When I’m out of things to read, I’ll either start a book over again or delve into TED talks on creativity and self-awareness. I also say a prayer. To God, the Muse, the Inner Critic, the Higher Self . . . whatever you want to call it . . . I say thank you for my creative gifts, and I ask for help being the best artist I can be on that given day. Then I get to work.
Jill: What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your career as a jewelry artist?
Jessica: That’s tough. Money, for one. This isn’t an inexpensive medium, so when work doesn’t sell, I feel it fast. Time is always an obstacle and I find that, as I grow into the second half of my thirties, I’m still working on ways to better my time management. Then there’s the mental clutter. We never leave our work at the door when we come home, do we? As artists, our minds are always going. We are always multitasking, problem solving, balancing mental space for work and family, physical space for projects and living, etc. So many irons in the fire, so many plates in the air. It’s worth it, every bit of it, but it isn’t simple, and it isn’t easy.
Jill: What were some of the unexpected benefits in your career as jewelry artist?
Jessica: The people! I’ve met some of the most inspiring, kind, and creative souls over the past several years. Whether customers, students, or other instructors—I’ve been touched beyond words and definitely made better because of the lives with which I’ve had the privilege of interacting.
Jill: What piece of advice can you give to our readers that are aspiring to make a living as a jewelry artist?
Jessica: Know your worth but don’t be cocky. Improvise and adapt as you go. Take a business class. Ask for advice from others who are making it happen for themselves. Allow yourself to fail, and don’t take personally any critiques or unkindness. Give back, give it time, give it everything. And don’t give up.
Get to know more about Jessica on her website, RosyRevolver.com, and follow her on Instagram @rosyrevolver.