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Shannon De Jong

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Shannon De Jong

South Pasadena, California, is a tree-lined suburb northeast of Los Angeles, where I live and work. I grew up in a small town in rural Iowa, the oldest of four kids in a working-class family. It was a town of primarily Dutch immigrants–hard working, devout, and kind people. I was lucky to have a large extended family around me, including both sets of grandparents. Some of my fondest memories are of humid summer nights playing in our backyard, fireflies everywhere, and of weekends baking cookies at my grandmother’s house.

As a child, I was always repurposing. “Waste not, want not” was a way of life in my family, and I extended that to rescuing any materials from the trash that might be transformed into an adornment or embellishment of some sort. I learned to sew from my grandmother, and to embroider from my mother, and this early exposure to crafting, I believe, was integral to my future career path.

Shannon De Jong

From my father I learned the art of collecting, of curating found objects and antiques, which is also a creative endeavor. It takes imagination to see the aesthetic value in an old soda bottle, an unusual stone, or a rusty saw, for example. I believe it was the marriage of handcrafts and collecting in my youth that most shaped what ASTALI would someday become.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique… It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

– Martha Graham

Creating, specifically working with my hands, is when I feel most grounded, calm, and purposeful. I find it endlessly therapeutic to be able to channel an overactive mind into a single purpose that results in a tangible outcome. I realize that for many people, their life’s work exists only in digital form, and I feel fortunate to be able to physically hold the fruits of my imagination and labor in my own hands.

I have had this passion for creating for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I considered it could be my career. Where I grew up, women didn’t typically go to school for fashion or design, so it didn’t occur to me that I could have an artistically-based career until after I was already doing it.

ASTALI Hand-Crafted Jewelry

I was able to teach myself some basic techniques of jewelry-making simply by deconstructing and modifying existing pieces, and used this understanding to make my own personal jewelry and gifts for years. After moving to California, I received my first real training on the job in my early 20’s, when I was hired by a local designer to learn her techniques and help produce her pieces. After that I moved on to other jobs in the fashion-jewelry industry: sample making, sourcing, fabrication, etc. for the following ten years. By day, I would learn the skill sets that would later support launching my own line, and by night I would experiment with the materials that resonated with me personally, gradually building a cohesive collection that was all my own.

When an idea first pops into my head, I might jot down a note or a thumbnail sketch just so I don’t forget it, but I don’t spend a lot of time illustrating before doing. I prefer to jump right in and make a mess. I gather up the materials I think I’ll want to use, and then gather up the auxiliary materials that may come in handy, often in physical concentric circles of importance around me. I like to keep everything that might be of use within eyesight when creating, which may sound messy or chaotic, but I’m painstakingly organized about it. The point is that I know I’ve considered all options when I’m done–I haven’t overlooked any possibilities.

I am all about the tactile experience. The tactile experience is the common denominator in my inspiration and in the materials that I work with–silky feathers, jingling coins, supple deerskin leather, vertebrae that interlock like puzzle pieces. These things appeal to the senses, eliciting not only an emotional reaction, but a physical interaction with that object. My aesthetic inspiration was born from scouring flea markets for rusty gems with my father, spending long hours studying animals at natural history museums with my grandfather, and a personal penchant for wanting to give discarded objects a second chance.

In the rare moments when I ask myself “What’s next,” I look around at what I have naturally been collecting since the last time I asked that question. I study those things, what makes them beautiful to me, and figure out how to share them, how to make some part of their essence wearable.

Shannon De Jong

Sparticus, a 13-year-old ebony chinchilla who has shared my workspace with me for 12 years now and counting, would have to be my most loved item in my studio. Sparti is stoic and calm. She has an energy about her that I interpret as powerful and wise.

Nothing I make can be static–it has to move, it has to welcome touch.

There’s something about sharing a workspace with animals and plants–things that are alive and growing–that elevates the mood, and offers a distraction at just the right moments. When I feel bogged down by administrative tasks, while yearning to work with my hands instead, I can hold a chinchilla in my lap while I work and feel better. If progress is slow-going on a new collection, I can take a few minutes to admire the sprawl of a plant that I’ve nurtured; it is a reminder that progress is happening whether I can see the growth at this exact moment or not.

Over my years in this business, something has emerged as a guiding light of my ambition. That light is the recipient, the person who uses my tools, my creation, to express himself or herself. What does he or she need to say? As a maker of statement jewelry, I contemplate what the intended “statement” is for any given piece. But the even more pertinent question for me now is: who is that statement really for?

Shannon De Jong

I had long assumed that adorning oneself with jewelry was primarily an expression to tell others who you are. (It’s true; jewelry has been worn to convey status and symbolism between humans for 100,000 years, based on the oldest surviving beads.) But what I dwell on currently is the idea that the message given to oneself when choosing one’s personal ornaments is the most significant and motivating message of all.

It’s empowering to empower others, and that aspiration is my driving inspiration. My earnest endeavor is to help a man or woman say to him or herself, “I am strong. I am unique. I am bold. I am sensual. I am romantic. I am a badass. I am beautiful. I am courageous. I am wild.” Any of those messages, or any others for that matter, that convey a truth to the wearer that he or she needs to remember, those messages are the motivation for me to continue to create pieces that stretch the boundaries of conventional jewelry and common expression.

Shannon De Jong

South Pasadena, California, is a tree-lined suburb northeast of Los Angeles, where I live and work. I grew up in a small town in rural Iowa, the oldest of four kids in a working-class family. It was a town of primarily Dutch immigrants–hard working, devout, and kind people. I was lucky to have a large extended family around me, including both sets of grandparents. Some of my fondest memories are of humid summer nights playing in our backyard, fireflies everywhere, and of weekends baking cookies at my grandmother’s house.

As a child, I was always repurposing. “Waste not, want not” was a way of life in my family, and I extended that to rescuing any materials from the trash that might be transformed into an adornment or embellishment of some sort. I learned to sew from my grandmother, and to embroider from my mother, and this early exposure to crafting, I believe, was integral to my future career path.

Shannon De Jong

From my father I learned the art of collecting, of curating found objects and antiques, which is also a creative endeavor. It takes imagination to see the aesthetic value in an old soda bottle, an unusual stone, or a rusty saw, for example. I believe it was the marriage of handcrafts and collecting in my youth that most shaped what ASTALI would someday become.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique… It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

– Martha Graham

Creating, specifically working with my hands, is when I feel most grounded, calm, and purposeful. I find it endlessly therapeutic to be able to channel an overactive mind into a single purpose that results in a tangible outcome. I realize that for many people, their life’s work exists only in digital form, and I feel fortunate to be able to physically hold the fruits of my imagination and labor in my own hands.

I have had this passion for creating for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I considered it could be my career. Where I grew up, women didn’t typically go to school for fashion or design, so it didn’t occur to me that I could have an artistically-based career until after I was already doing it.

ASTALI Hand-Crafted Jewelry

I was able to teach myself some basic techniques of jewelry-making simply by deconstructing and modifying existing pieces, and used this understanding to make my own personal jewelry and gifts for years. After moving to California, I received my first real training on the job in my early 20’s, when I was hired by a local designer to learn her techniques and help produce her pieces. After that I moved on to other jobs in the fashion-jewelry industry: sample making, sourcing, fabrication, etc. for the following ten years. By day, I would learn the skill sets that would later support launching my own line, and by night I would experiment with the materials that resonated with me personally, gradually building a cohesive collection that was all my own.

When an idea first pops into my head, I might jot down a note or a thumbnail sketch just so I don’t forget it, but I don’t spend a lot of time illustrating before doing. I prefer to jump right in and make a mess. I gather up the materials I think I’ll want to use, and then gather up the auxiliary materials that may come in handy, often in physical concentric circles of importance around me. I like to keep everything that might be of use within eyesight when creating, which may sound messy or chaotic, but I’m painstakingly organized about it. The point is that I know I’ve considered all options when I’m done–I haven’t overlooked any possibilities.

I am all about the tactile experience. The tactile experience is the common denominator in my inspiration and in the materials that I work with–silky feathers, jingling coins, supple deerskin leather, vertebrae that interlock like puzzle pieces. These things appeal to the senses, eliciting not only an emotional reaction, but a physical interaction with that object. My aesthetic inspiration was born from scouring flea markets for rusty gems with my father, spending long hours studying animals at natural history museums with my grandfather, and a personal penchant for wanting to give discarded objects a second chance.

In the rare moments when I ask myself “What’s next,” I look around at what I have naturally been collecting since the last time I asked that question. I study those things, what makes them beautiful to me, and figure out how to share them, how to make some part of their essence wearable.

Shannon De Jong

Sparticus, a 13-year-old ebony chinchilla who has shared my workspace with me for 12 years now and counting, would have to be my most loved item in my studio. Sparti is stoic and calm. She has an energy about her that I interpret as powerful and wise.

Nothing I make can be static–it has to move, it has to welcome touch.

There’s something about sharing a workspace with animals and plants–things that are alive and growing–that elevates the mood, and offers a distraction at just the right moments. When I feel bogged down by administrative tasks, while yearning to work with my hands instead, I can hold a chinchilla in my lap while I work and feel better. If progress is slow-going on a new collection, I can take a few minutes to admire the sprawl of a plant that I’ve nurtured; it is a reminder that progress is happening whether I can see the growth at this exact moment or not.

Over my years in this business, something has emerged as a guiding light of my ambition. That light is the recipient, the person who uses my tools, my creation, to express himself or herself. What does he or she need to say? As a maker of statement jewelry, I contemplate what the intended “statement” is for any given piece. But the even more pertinent question for me now is: who is that statement really for?

Shannon De Jong

I had long assumed that adorning oneself with jewelry was primarily an expression to tell others who you are. (It’s true; jewelry has been worn to convey status and symbolism between humans for 100,000 years, based on the oldest surviving beads.) But what I dwell on currently is the idea that the message given to oneself when choosing one’s personal ornaments is the most significant and motivating message of all.

It’s empowering to empower others, and that aspiration is my driving inspiration. My earnest endeavor is to help a man or woman say to him or herself, “I am strong. I am unique. I am bold. I am sensual. I am romantic. I am a badass. I am beautiful. I am courageous. I am wild.” Any of those messages, or any others for that matter, that convey a truth to the wearer that he or she needs to remember, those messages are the motivation for me to continue to create pieces that stretch the boundaries of conventional jewelry and common expression.

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