JANE DIAZ - “My ideas; their hands, their skills.” How anthropology, art and dance are drawn together by craftsmen in Nepal.


OUR DESIGNER: Jane Diaz, has always been fascinated with miniature things. When she was a little girl, her mother had a charm, a tiny tin man fashioned out of platinum, with legs and arms that moved. Jane would ask her mother if she could bring him out so that Jane could hold him and look at him. When Jane was sixteen, her mother gave her the tin man as a birthday gift. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with charms, trinkets, jewels—anything small and precious. For Jane, jewelry is more than something just to wear: it’s something compelling, that speaks to us, connects, carries sentiment or spiritual significance. And as with all compelling things, it is the indefinable presence of that something ‘other’ that can so often be the most persuasive.

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Jane parallels her fascination with miniature things with the love some people have for dolls houses. Perhaps it’s the size, the delicacy, the fragility of tiny things that speaks to something inside us. Theories abound: that it relates to scale and our sense of being in control; a stepping away from reality; that it taps into our sense of mystery or awe or wonder; that tiny things unlock our imagination, affording different perspectives or visions of the world; that it offers us a kind of God’s eye perspective. Whatever you believe, the fact is that as a race we have long invested time and emotion in the creation and adoration of decorative things, many of them small-scale, some of them tiny. And jewelry is one manifestation of this creativity.

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It isn’t surprising that, as a student of anthropology, Jane’s inspiration comes from a variety of sources, from all around the world. While Jane claims that, as a student, she found anthropology dry and (somewhat paradoxically) disconnected from what it purports to do (though she admits that textbooks have probably evolved since she last studied!), it is a clear influence, both in her openness to culture and her commitment to perpetuating traditional techniques. Jane’s travels have taken her from Mexico to Nepal to India, but her career probably began in South America, when she first came across the milagros, or religious folk charms, that are used as votive offerings, frequently attached to shrines and sacred objects in places of worship. These little charms come in a myriad of forms, from kneeling praying people, to individual legs and arms, to hearts, hens, and sheep—all imbued with their own special symbolism. Being a charm-lover, Jane bought a bunch, carried them back to the US with her, and began making jewelry from them.

But it is Nepal—a place that Jane describes as ‘an exotic jewel box of shrines and temples and prayer flags, where monkeys and cows roam the streets, and snake charmers sit outside your door as you look at stones’—that has most influenced her direction. Nepal is a country rich with color, texture, and a people of refreshing honesty and good-natured humility. It was in the dusty streets of Bhaktapur, one of three royal cities in the breathtaking bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley, that a casual interest in the potential of some beans and yak’s teeth grew from an artistic musing into an ongoing collaboration with a local group of silversmiths. Jane sketched out her designs – what she modestly terms ‘doodling’ – and they crafted them into jewelry. It worked. Jane doodled some more, and they crafted some more. And thus was born her jewelry business.

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Jane still works with the same group of artisans today. She is deeply respectful of traditions that originated in the caste system, where trades like silversmithing would be passed from father to son, but which have been threatened as traditional societal structures break down and economic imperatives dictate changes in the way things are done. The quiet pride that permeated the old way of doing things, the attention to detail, the desire to live up to the reputation of one’s predecessors and carry on family tradition—these are less common today. But Jane works with local craftsmen to ensure that the same standards are met, with the aim that the same pride can be shared, even if not by fathers and sons. Her mission is to ensure that these crafts are kept alive.

 

Jane’s jewelry has evolved much from the early days of milagros, though charms are still one of the things she loves to make. But the same passions and interests are present, as is her openness to things, her ability to find inspiration in the most unprepossessing objects, as well as the most inspiring moments. Jane also studied fine art and dance, particularly the ritualistic dance forms of Africa and South America, with their rich heritage as physical expressions of spiritual belief. Both art forms play an important role in her design. Movement and energy, in the form of graceful arcs and swirls, curving organic forms, and vivacious little pendant forms that dangle and chink with movement, are a staple element in her designs. So too are the forms of more recognizably ethnic origin, drawn from nature, referencing plant and animal life, and those of the art movements that took place in the middle of the 20th century: smooth, amorphous forms, spheres and ellipses, as well as more rigid delineated constructions.

But Jane also likes creating things that look like things your grandmother might have had. And that doesn’t mean old and fuddy-duddy; it means elegant, timeless, defined by quality. She is alert to what’s going on in style and fashion (but not trend), the movies (especially period movies), history, travel, and beliefs. She loves Art Deco and antiques. She loves ritual. She melds it all together in a distinctive, individual aesthetic that references her myriad interests and her spiritual sensibility. And she remains loyal to the workforce and traditions that helped define her work from very early on: “My ideas, their hands, their skills. We are mutually dependent.”

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