ARTS BOHEME

WORDS: KATE WEINER

IMAGES: COURTESY of ARTS BOHEME

I learned about Arts Boheme thanks to Dominique Drakeford of MelaninASS (you can read our interview with this trailblazing sustainable stylist here). And although Arts Boheme gorgeous pieces are stunning studies in color and craft, what I especially love about this budding brand is artist Cheryl Domenichelli's vibrant spirit and passion for giving back. A former high school arts and science teacher and current educator at UC Berkeley, Cheryl wants her company to support social justice and equity. I was fortunate enough to connect with Cheryl by phone last week. Tune in as we talk ethical craftsmanship, education, and the creative process. 

KW: What inspired your love for jewelry design? 

CD: As a little girl, I fell in love with gems and minerals for the sake of their inherent beauty. When I was in my thirties, I even discovered that I had a library book I had checked out at that age that I had never returned! 

Jewelry serves to show off the beauty of gems and minerals. In all of my work as an artist, it's about letting the design emerge from the components. It truly comes from the heart.

KW: What is your creative process like? 

CD: Color speaks to my soul and so part of my process really begins with [discovering] what beads complement each other. Especially in the morning, when my brain is clear, I will see a particular piece and just know what piece should go with it. I had this London blue sapphire for two years and it was just waiting, as it were, and one day I was in my studio and found its complement. My art really keys in on color and my passion for African jewelry. When people create African jewelry, it's always very tribal. But there's more to the culture than that. My passions are rooted in cultural identities and colors and so that's how my design process works. 

KW: What kind of transfer of energy do you hope your jewelry will bring to your customers?  

CD: I'm very aware of the traditional energies that people talk about in certain stones. [But] in my design work, I don't go to that space around energy. I go to a space that's aware of empowerment. When I speak to empowerment, I am talking about the way people feel about themselves shapes how they interact and walk through the world. 

My jewelry pieces are designed to empower people so that they can put out what it is that they want to put out into the world. When I originally started our company, our tagline was "Who do you want to be today?" I've changed the tagline since then but the essence is still the same: when you put on a piece of jewelry, it should speak to who you are and the kind of energy you want to put out. It should empower that spirit within you. 

KW: Why is ecologically sustainable and socially conscious craftsmanship particularly important to you?

CD: I'm 60 and I grew up in an era of environmental consciousness and social justice. I have the good fortune to have a science and arts background. As part of my journey, I taught science and art in high school. I love earth sciences! I love learning about and sharing the things that we get as gifts. Historically [however] we have abused those gifts. We have over harvested the land and torn it up. We cut down trees without thinking about regrowth rates. We're not thinking about what it means to put a pipeline through someone's drinking water. People just take what they want and don't care about how it affects other people and the environment. But there needs to be responsibility around what we need to sustain our society.

As a company, we build relationships [on the ground] so that we know, because we've been there, that this group of people is being served well. I'm working right now with a company in Ghana. We have bead from them that's granite. It wasn't made for the purpose of a bead, but when it no longer serves its purpose as a tumbling stone, they sell it as a bead. I think that kind of thing is absolutely fabulous! To takes and repurpose pieces...

KW: How have your travels shaped your work?

CD: I still do part-time work with UC Berkeley where I'm in charge of their program for visiting school leaders—we work for social justice and equity—so I just came back from a meeting in China with the education ministry. When I go to places, I always look for components for jewelry and so I brought back handcrafted jade and wood beads from there. 

I've been to Venice to get Venetian glass. Most of the glass is handblown but there are artists in Venice making things that we don't typically associate with Venetian glass. I found amazing beads that have been handmade with silver and gold lines.

I went to the Czech Republic where there are many glass and crystal makers. Those communities are bead makers and pig farmers and so when you visit the artists, many of them live on farms. That was absolutely amazing!

When I was in Cuba this summer, I was not only there on a people-to-people excursion but also to pick up things from street vendors and artist colonies that were representative of the community and culture. [Wherever I go] I'm not buying my products in mass quantity. I'm hand selecting for the quality, the source, and the uniqueness.

My sister has done work in Kenya with a small village to bring water to their community. She knows an artist who does glass blowing and she brought some of the beads back home. I'm trying to be in community and network with people I trust and know I share values.

KW: How do you envision Arts Boheme growing in the coming years? 

CD: I'm not particularly motivated by money. I never have been. I have this philosophy that if you are pursuing what's important to you, money will show up, because you will do excellent work, you'll be doing some good in the world, and the world will support that.

It's important to me that this venture supports my larger goal of creating social justice and equity. At the end of this year, we will make a contribution to an organization doing boots-on-the-ground work in their community. Right now, I'm working with a grassroots group that are guardians for education for predominantly African-American young men in high school and middle school. Their work is difficult and they are up again the sometimes immovable system of public education, but they continue to help kids tremendously. 

There are other organizations I've learned about that don't get a lot of serious funding but are a direct connect to individuals. In Kenya, my sister formed a non-profit that helped the village of Machakos build a reservoir and then a medical clinic. She was working with the government to create self-sustainable systems in Kenyan communities and it's those boots-on-the-ground people that I want this company to be known for supporting.

When you buy a piece of my jewelry, you're helping somebody. As my company develops, I want to keep in conversation with matters of social justice and equity.