Jeffrey Burroughs possesses dueling energies that are equal parts precision-focused and “what-the-hell-let’s-try-it.” The iconoclast of a sports-loving Michigan family, Burroughs, who uses they/them pronouns, was a creative kid, more drawn to music and theater than the football field.
“I played everything from oboe to hand bells,” Burroughs shares. This versatility landed them at the UNC School of the Arts to study theater.
Next came two decades in the Big Apple as an actor/entrepreneur, where Burroughs founded one of the country’s first EcoTheatres (a genre focused on environmental-themed content), among other ventures. They also designed jewelry and clothing as fun side hustles.
Then came the economic crisis of 2008, which prompted Burroughs to narrow his myriad paths. “I apprenticed with a jeweler … and the world opened up.”
A significant part of “the world” was Jeffrey Burroughs New York, which launched in 2009. But after a successful decade, life changed again — suddenly and drastically. In February, 2020, Burroughs ended up in the hospital with COVID-19 — except no one knew what it was yet. They suffered two-dozen debilitating symptoms, spent months in bed, couldn’t exercise for over a year, and had a near-death vision: “I saw mountains. I knew I’d die if I stayed in New York another winter.”
After a 4am “Top 10 Mountain Towns” Google search, with Asheville emerging a top contender, Burroughs and husband Jason decided to relocate sight-unseen — and drove through a hurricane to do it.
“We knew we’d made the right decision when we ran into multiple people we knew from New York during our first week [in Asheville].” One recognized Burroughs from their trademark bold rings, a strength-bestowing armor of sorts.
Ongoing symptoms stopped Burroughs from working for nearly a year-and-a-half, but they emerged thankful for surviving. The artist still has a studio in New York, and the local gallery — “Jeffrey, The Jewel of Asheville” — opened last October in the River Arts District.
This is where Burroughs showcases the jewelry that has been featured in And Just Like That … (a sequel to Sex and the City that’s now in its second season), splashed across the pages of iconic fashion mags like Vogue and Marie Claire, and dripped from the arms, necks, and digits of some of the world’s best-known entertainers. (Burroughs also creates namesake leather goods, clothing, and is developing a signature fragrance.)
Burroughs’ collections have been inspired by antiquities, world cultures, and full-on futuristic concepts, executed with precious metals and precious and semi-precious stones. Like artists in many genres whose physical limitations have branded their unique respective styles, Burroughs has used (COVID-related) hand-dexterity issues to forge new ways of seeing and shaping his work.
A collection informed by Burroughs’ life the last few years is slated to debut in 2024, but until then, private clients clamoring for ceremonial pieces keep the artist plenty busy. “I’ve loved working with queer couples, designing commitment rings, and I’m designing heritage pieces for a New York client and her daughters inspired by her father, who they lost recently,” Burroughs reveals. “We found letters with her father’s signature and incorporated it into the piece.”
Amid daunting challenges, the move to the mountains has been both grounding and inspiring. “We’re rooted here, figuring out what’s next. I don’t want to self-analyze excessively, I just want to keep moving forward, doing what I love, while slaying, stopping traffic, and being.”
Jeffrey, The Jewel of Asheville, 20 Artful Way Studio 101 at RADVIEW, River Arts District, jeffreyburroughs.com.