The year was 1980. Jennifer Jenkins had decided to preview the weaving program offered at Haywood Community College, but she didn’t stay for the main feature. Instead, she signed up for the school’s Professional Crafts Metals/Jewelry program after discovering its studio. “I found both the studio and its tools mesmerizing. So I thought I would give it a try,” says Jenkins. Just two years later, she was making and selling her own pieces.
“I was a bookkeeper, mom, and managed my first husband’s carpentry business before deciding to become a full-time jewelry artist, though.” When she did make that leap, she began doing production jewelry work and exhibiting and selling her pieces in art shows around the country. After 1990, she went to work in a high-profile, independent Asheville jewelry store. “The opportunity to work in a first-class jewelry store along with other accomplished jewelers was a huge part of my career.
“However, there’s nothing like designing and building your own pieces and having someone appreciate it and want them,” she adds. After 12 years, she struck out on her own.
Before long, she and one of her jewelry-designing friends began tossing around the idea of opening their own retail space where they could sell their creations. “We had not intended on a gallery carrying other mediums of work,” says Jenkins, “but it evolved into that before we even opened.”
They started Miya Gallery in downtown Weaverville in November 2004, first in a temporary location behind Shope’s Furniture, and soon after in the current location on Main Street.
“We had a hard time choosing a name,” says Jenkins. “Finally, we landed on Miya. It was not trademarked, it was short and sweet, and the meaning was relevant.” A name of Japanese origin, “Miya” actually has many meanings, including palace, shrine, or temple. It can also mean beautiful and alas. “We did like the beautiful and alas,” she says.
Maybe she was a little biased, too. “I have a daughter named Maya, so it was close enough.” And then serendipity came into play. “Our landlord also has a daughter named Maya.”
From modest beginnings, Miya has grown to be one of the area’s most popular art venues, and now represents more than 60 regional makers working in photography, fiber, paper, glass, metal, leather, mixed media, two-dimensional art, sculpture, and, of course, jewelry. Jenkins and her two business partners, Sue Ferguson and Jan Justice, are responsible for jurying new artists for the gallery. “We do have a waiting list in most mediums,” says Jenkins.
Many of the exhibitors have been with the gallery since it opened, and it’s been mutually beneficial for most — sometimes greatly so. “I just did a count of the number of cards we have sold that were created by Diane English [of the Great Cosmic Happy-Ass Card Company] — well over 10,000,” says Jenkins.
Staying eclectic while appearing exclusive — that’s the secret to a successful gallery, says Jenkins. Friendships and community are the non-fiscal benefits. Another well-known jeweler and one of Miya’s original artists, Jason Janow, moved his studio to the gallery last June. “Because of this, I decided to move my studio out of my home and into the back of the gallery, where I share space with Jason,” says Jenkins. “He is a breath of fresh air and we are not letting him leave, ever.”
Still, away from the gallery, there are a few things she’d like to find time for. “I want to travel with my husband [architectural ironworker Bob Gursky]. And I want to learn more jewelry-making skills. I have plenty of ideas to fill the rest of my life.”
Miya Gallery: Fine Art and Fine Craft, 20 N. Main Street, Weaverville, open 10am-5pm Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 828-658-9655 or see miyagallery.com.