Joanne Fisher: When did you graduate from ACAD?
Jennea Frischke: I graduated in 2006.
FISHER: You started at Red Deer College - were you originally intending on doing jewellery and metals?
FRISCHKE: I have always had an interest in adornment and accessorizing. I’ve been making jewellery since I was little. My first business was a jewellery business that I had when I was 13 called Forget Me Knot — I sold friendship bracelets. Although I knew that making jewellery was what I enjoyed doing, I hadn’t thought about it as a career.
Even though my high school art teacher had really encouraged me to go into the arts, I hadn’t thought seriously about being an artist. I took two years at Red Deer College and then it became apparent that art was what I wanted to do.
I started off as a ceramics major in my first year. While in Ceramics, I was making beads. Also, I was working part-time in a bead store. I decided to apply to ACAD’s the jewellery and metals program, and during my second year, I focused on working in the sculpture department, working with bronze and metals to get myself acquainted with the processes.
While I didn’t see it at the time, it was obvious that [jewellery] was the path I was taking. When I was invited out to parties in high school, I’d bring necklaces and jewellery with me. I would make sequin necklaces. I’d stack them all up, they’d break all over the floor, and then I’d spend the rest of the party picking them up. I’m sure anyone that went to school with me would say, “Yes… that makes sense that she’d go into jewellery.” I still use sequins, but I have my adult take on it now.
FISHER: Tell me about your experience at school, at ACAD. What would your advice be for students in school now?
FRISCHKE: Explore as much as you can. ACAD offers so many courses. Dabbling is important. And take the time to make those big pieces where you’re putting 40-100 hours into each one, because having that time is really a luxury — take advantage of that.
For example, through dabbling I learned that I also really love fibre. I don’t use a lot of fibre in my practice now, but I took many fibre courses at ACAD. It definitely helped drive the direction of my work then, and influences what I do now.
Ultimately I went back to adornment. I was torn, I really wanted to be involved in the fashion industry, but woke up one day and realized that jewellery is still fashion — just a different vein of it. I didn’t really feel like I knew what my artistic voice was until my very last year at ACAD. In fact, I am still figuring it out…it continues to change.
Also, take the time to learn things like writing grants. It really helps.
Ghost and UFO necklaces
FISHER: Did you learn [grant writing] in the Professional Practices Course?
FRISCHKE: Yes. And then after I graduated, I wrote a grant every year until I got one. I haven’t really written any grants since then because my practice has changed quite a bit; I lean more towards markets and production now, a though I love exhibitions and exhibiting my work and try to do that at least once or twice a year.
Grants are great because when I am making exhibition pieces, a lot of time goes into the pieces. That, plus exhibition work doesn’t make much money. But when I am making for markets, it’s more about having a great design that I can make fast and make a decent wage on.
When you’re doing creative work full time, you need to make sure you have a work-life balance, which I think can be really hard for artists. This goes back to advice that I’d have for people in school. Take care of yourself. I didn’t — I didn’t sleep or eat very well because I’d get so involved in my work. It’s simple: if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t work.
FISHER: Do you do a lot of travelling with your work?
FRISCHKE: I travel around Alberta mostly. I’m hoping to do more travelling for markets in larger cities. Currently, I do Calgary, Edmonton, and some in Saskatchewan. I’m hoping to eventually do some in Vancouver and Toronto. I find that everything’s working really well for me locally, so I haven’t travelled as much.
I was very fortunate to receive a travel grant from the AFA in 2009/2010 to research Victorian mourning jewellery in England for 3 weeks. When I was going to ACAD, there wasn’t a historical jewellery component. Art History in general is so important and jewellery history is very important. I’m interested in antiques and vintage so combining that with my practice is very important.
With the grant, I travelled all over England visiting museums, looking at and studying historical mourning jewellery. I went to one Maritime museum in Greenwich where I had a special appointment to look at jewellery that wasn’t on display. It was a whole collection of mourning jewellery from sailors that had passed. I had to handle the collection with special gloves. I was so fortunate to be able to look closely at all these amazing pieces; they didn’t even know who the sailors were. At the museums in London, there’s such a wealth of historical jewellery. It’s baffling. Receiving that grant has really benefitted my practice.
In 2011 I had my first solo show at the Alberta Craft Council. It was called Victorian Inclinations and was based on the research I did through that grant. I love working with horsehair and I see it as a jumping off point for mourning jewellery, because I’m referencing human hair. People don’t really want to wear random human hair, so I use horsehair.
Model: Sam Halsted. Photo: Darryl Pollock Photo.
FISHER: So how do you incorporate what you’ve done with the mourning jewellery? Do you create your own?
FRISCHKE: Yes, and that’s reflected in more of my commission-based work. Right now, my practice is definitely broken up into different segments: production work for markets, wholesale, and some consignment stores. I’m definitely leaning towards wholesale. And on top of that, there is also commission work. The commissions are really where my interest and fascination with mourning jewellery comes into play.
Recently, I finished this beautiful piece for a lady using her mother and father’s ashes, which I put it in a capsule and incorporated with crystals. I’ve done jewellery with people’s hair, and teeth, although most of the teeth work I’ve done isn’t from people who have passed, but people who are still living.
I call it modern mourning jewellery because I think it’s beautiful and people don’t need to find it to be creepy. I wish the taboo would be removed, so I’m trying to remove it. I don’t post as much of that stuff on my social media as I would like, but I’m trying to post it all right now, showing everything I’ve done throughout the year. I figured since its October and Halloween season, it’s more acceptable right now.
FISHER: It’s a keepsake and very personal. I find it quite lovely – not creepy.
FRISCHKE: I’m finding more people who don’t find it to be [creepy]. At markets and trade shows I have a mix of products on my table, including some of my horsehair pieces and some of my crayfish claws, which my friend from ACAD casts for me. That opens up a conversation with some people and it definitely creeps out others. They’ll ask, “Where did you get that hair from?” which will lead me into talking to people about it. I often get commissions from people who just get a hint of what I do and then will talk to me about it from there.
Definitely 5 years down the road, I want to be doing more commission piecework and fewer markets. I love doing wedding bands as well as memorial work.
FISHER: You have a focused plan. What would your advice be for people who are newly graduated?
FRISCHKE: I remember when I graduated I was thinking, “What am I going to do in September?” It’s important for people to make sure that they are busy the fall after graduation! I had another full-time job but was fortunate that I had a mentor that I had built a relationship with while I was at ACAD, Jackie Anderson. When I was graduating, she said to me, “It’s very important that you have something going in September. Would you like to collaborate on a body of work with me?” So I did a body of work with her called Bejeweled and then we were part of a Christmas show. The September after graduation, we started working and designing and went into production mode for November.
Not everybody is going to have that opportunity, but you’ve got to create a lot of your own opportunities. In that case, make sure that you have a studio practice, even if you are working a day job. Serving is a great job for artists because it gets you out of the house and interacting with people, which is important… otherwise you might find yourself hiding in your studio, not talking to anybody but your cat.
Set up a scenario that will get your creative juices flowing and then don’t stop working. After that production piece that I did with Jackie, there was about 8 months where I didn’t do anything art related and I was more focused on my vintage and antique business. I was a vintage picker in a textile factory for a year and a half, which helped drive a lot of my interests and got that fiber need I mentioned out of my system. From there I could focus on metal. Every path is different.
Model: Sam Halsted. Photo: Darryl Pollock Photo.
Have a project and try to figure out what it is that you want to do. Be honest with yourself and if you really don’t like doing something, don’t base your practice on that.
Don’t give up. A lot of artists have self-doubt and anxiety issues. Don’t give up. Always keep going, don’t doubt yourself, and don’t compare yourself to other people. Especially with social media right now, it’s so easy to compare yourself to others and that is not a rabbit hole you do not want to go down.
When I graduated, I was not interested in doing markets. If you told me I’d be doing markets 10 years down the road, I would have laughed at you. But I really enjoy and love it now.
After leaving ACAD, I wanted to be in a lot of exhibitions and have publications — the typical 5-year planning of scenario. I didn’t have a proper studio set-up, so one of my big recommendations would be to design within your means. I did a lot of riveting and cold connection work without using a torch for a long time. I’ve also had some great connections where I’ve been able to use people’s studios.
It’s great to have my own studio set up now. That was a long time in coming. I’ve always had a little bit of a space but it hasn’t always been great.
Find places that do support you like the Alberta Craft Council or, if you’re a painter, become part of the Painter’s Guild of Canada. Try to be involved in the community.
I’ve talked to the Craft Council about the struggle between the production process and the artistic process, and how it’s still important to have both those things. That was my biggest shift from when I was going to ACAD – to turn something that I loved doing into work. I had a bit of a mourning process when I had to take my practice it from something that I did when I wanted to do it, to having to do it because that’s my livelihood. It’s definitely a mind shift.
FISHER: Of the people you graduated with, how many are still working and practicing?
FRISCHKE: I know there are a lot of people who still make art on their own time. Of the people I graduated within jewellery and metals, there’s a handful that are still full-time artists and a lot who still work part-time. One girl I graduated with is now a graphic designer. When I graduated from ACAD I was encouraged by instructors in my department to teach, but I figured out that that’s not my thing.
FISHER: What kind of obstacles and difficulties have you seen along the way?
FRISCHKE: A big one was not having a very good set of business skills. I had to learn it — accounting, doing books. I’m not great with numbers. It’s really important to realize when you need help; I’ve always had an accountant, and I’ve never done my own taxes. It’s all a part of making sure that you have the right support. Definitely not really knowing the business end of things has been hard and a struggle for me, but luckily knowing how to market myself has been intuitive.
When I got out of school, I was more exhibition driven and interested in wearable art. You make money, but it’s not a lot of money. I had to have a full-time job when I was doing that work. I started getting into markets about 7 years ago. I’ve had figure out how to make faster products at cheaper price-points. If you only have items that are $200 and up, they will sell but they will take longer to sell. It’s good to have things for a $35-$50 price point at markets.
You wear so many hats as a business owner too, not just that of artist, craftsperson, designer but also CEO. I’ve been doing my own web designing, which I’ll now be getting help with. Like I said before — you need to outsource sometimes.
FISHER: How did you go about getting into markets?
FRISCHKE: Being involved in the community and being aware of what’s going on, which has happened via word of mouth a lot of the time. The internet’s been great for researching all the markets and deciding which ones I wanted to apply for and knowing which ones fit me best. The main markets I do now are Market Collective locally, Make It Edmonton and there’s a new one called Vixens of Vintage. I also do conventions. I did a tattoo convention and I’d do that again. I am trying to do fewer markets and be in stores more because markets are very tiring and draining. One I did this year was a great experience — it was at the Calgary Stampede. It was 11 days, 12-14 hours a day, and I had a great group of friends that helped out.
FISHER: As an alumnus, how do you envision ACAD supporting the alumni?
FRISCHKE: It’s awesome to see that ACAD is putting more focus on the alumni. One thing that is so important is reaching out with opportunities — I’d say that the alumni email has been pretty good for that. Also, access to knowing what’s going on at the school is important. There are so many visiting artists and amazing lectures that go through the school, but I don’t actually know how to properly find out about them. Sometimes they’re mentioned in the emails, sometimes not.
I asked my friends that are alumni and one thing they mentioned is having more access to the facilities. I know that after graduation if you were teaching in extended studies, you were able to access the facilities and the studios, but that’s not the case now.
Also, really communicating to alumni that we’re encouraged to come in and watch the artist talks and lectures. I know they want the turnout. I’m sure alumni would come out to them if they knew more about them. After graduation, I didn’t feel there was much support. I’d find out about lectures by running into a couple of instructors. I’ve also heard about events after the fact. My friends and I probably would have gone to those events had we been aware of them. I think just keeping us alumni aware and informed is a huge step
I’d also like to see more of an alumni community — maybe more meet and greets with alumni or events where people can meet alum and talk to other people involved with ACAD. Maybe even extended studies courses or professional courses available to alumni at discounted rates.
For example, the Market Collective hosted a course with an accountant about how to do your own books. All artists should have access to professional marketing classes, and information about promotion and branding. There are so many awesome things I learned in my degree, but I never learned about branding. Even if ACAD’s not offering it, maybe ACAD could get a discounted rate for business classes. That is one thing that I wish I had done sooner. In 2011, I hired a business consultant to help me figure out marketing and the importance of line sheets.
FISHER: You were talking about getting out of markets a little bit so what’s the future holding for you? What’s coming up for you?
FRISCHKE: I want to be more selective with markets and put more focus towards being in more boutiques across Canada. I’d like to be in a boutique in every major city in Canada, and do more custom based work. I’d like to be involved in making a lot more wedding jewellery — I’m really interested in making something so important for people. Something that has memory and staying power over the years.
Crystal stud earrings
FISHER: Where do you think creativity fits in the big picture?
FRISCHKE: It’s different for everyone. Creativity is important to every person because everyone has it. There’s creativity in everything. It is the jumping off point for everything. Even in the most technical disciplines, there’s creativity involved.
FISHER: Tell me about the necklace you are wearing.
FRISCHKE: I call this my sequin stirrup necklace. A lot of my work is equestrian. I was allergic to horses growing up and wasn’t allowed to ride horses. My dad wanted me to be a barrel racer, but it was not in the cards for me.
The sequins are vintage. I source them online, find some in thrift stores and estate sales, and have a vintage seller I get them from. It’s a special style of sequin they started making in 1905 and stopped making before WWII. It’s a special kind of plastic, but all of the best colours are really old. I hand cut the brass tubing and match them up with different precious gemstones. It looks like a stirrup.
FISHER: How do you use horsehair in your jewellery?
FRISCHKE: I cut the bottom end of the tail because horses need to keep their tail to swat. I braid the bottom pieces and use them in different ways. I’ve used long braided pieces where you are wearing actual hair against the neck, I’ve put smaller braided portions into tubing, and made bracelets. I’ve also cut up horsehair and put it in resin, but I’m trying to work less with resin. It’s so bad for you, even with the right masks. I did a bolo tie recently where part of it is horsehair, then it transitions to leather, and then the bolo.
I want to show you that cremation piece. Depending on how you tilt the tube the different crystals will show up. Instead of doing pictures of the flowers in it I used the shadows of the flowers because it worked better with the piece. That’s glass tubing, and in it are her mother and father’s ashes along with the crystals.
FISHER: That’s beautiful. It has real meaning because it’s so personal.
Do you have a favourite piece that you refer back to all the time?
FRISCHKE: Yes, it was one of the pieces that I did at Red Deer College; it was an animal study — a fox study. I was making wood burning pieces on which I would burn one aspect of an animal on one side and on the other side. They were reversible. The piece that I really love is a fox drawn on one side and on the other side is a skull. Depending on your mood, you can wear it either showing the living or dead side. There’s beauty in death too. There’s beauty in everything. Skulls and bones are very fascinating to me.
FISHER: What would you like to be recognized for?
FRISCHKE: I want people to see my passion and how much energy and love I put into what I do. I put a lot of thought and care into crafting and finishing each piece I make. People aren’t going to see my CV and they won’t see everything I’ve done or that I’ve tried to do. I want people to see that end product, know that I had a vision, and that I put a lot of work into where I’m at now.
ACAD taught me the importance of artistic integrity. I want to be recognized for having integrity in my work. I want to be acknowledged for being an artist, not just a craftsperson