By Gina Malone
Growing up in the mountains of Amherst, VA, Jason Janow learned to appreciate nature. He didn’t care much for school, he says, but school helped point him in the direction of creating. He signed up for a father/son birdhouse-making workshop one weekend and discovered that he was good at it. “In junior high school, I started taking industrial arts and won my first mentor, teacher Ralph Smith,” Jason says. “I asked for tools for Christmas, and Mr. Smith mentored me after school.”
Jason’s father was an attorney and his mother, an elementary school teacher. “Both of their careers were based on helping people,” he says. “I can remember them placing emphasis on appreciating nature and treating others the way you want to be treated. I remember my mother leading a teachers’ strike and my dad giving all he had to those his career put in front of him. He later went on to become a juvenile judge and my mom gave 33 years to teaching children.” Although his father tried to introduce him to a possible career in the judicial system, Jason says he was not interested. “I knew from an early age that I wanted to make my living with my hands. My mom instilled in me an appreciation for natural things, small and large, but mostly small—things like stones, moss, crickets and praying mantises.”
Through the years he worked on farms building fences and for a local home builder. It was in high school that he began using the pieces of nature that were always finding their way into his pockets—river rocks, sharks’ teeth, deer horn and wood—to make necklaces. “When I went to my parents’ basement to work on a piece, I lost track of time,” he says. “Although I was humble in showing my work, I longed for people to love it and that drove me to become better, making cooler and cooler stuff.”
He spent his twenties working his way up to lead positions on landscaping and carpentry crews before deciding, at age 30, to go back to school to learn professional jewelry making. He earned an associate’s degree from Haywood Community College, securing a spot in the National Honor Society along the way. “I went all out and it felt so good excelling in something that was so difficult,” he says. “After graduating, I began acquiring galleries, doing a few shows and some jewelry repair, and creating custom wedding rings.”
The things in nature that appealed to him in his youth, Janow says, are always present in some form or fashion in the jewelry that he creates today. “I work hard to reward myself with time in the woods or on the river,” he says. While hunting or fishing, he finds inspiration in the smallest things: river stones, branches, tree bark, gemstones. “Having all of these elements at the ready enables me to act on a piece or a design quickly,” he says. “Sometimes I pull out trays of these elements in hopes of getting new ideas.”
Like any other creative pursuit, jewelry design has its dry spells. “I have learned that I can’t force creativity,” he says. “Having said that, it’s my job to create; it’s how I earn my living. Jewelry is always being made and jobs are always getting completed in my business. But for the new designs or lines of jewelry that are required to stay fresh, I let them come. When the ideas come, there’s no holding them off, so I do my best to quickly sketch or jot them down to revisit when time permits.”
He is inspired, too, he adds by those who seek something meaningful in jewelry. “Jewelry can remind us of a lost loved one; remind us of something important like nature, earth, a memory, self-love; and make us appreciate things such as family.” For family connections, he turns to birthstones. “I recently made a necklace for myself with my wife’s, son’s and my own birthstones along with bark and a river stone. Wearing this piece helps me remember the most important things in life and helps me appreciate that I am a lucky man during times of getting down on myself.”
Janow’s work is represented in galleries all over the country, with galleries in Asheville and WNC each carrying a unique collection. “It’s my goal to strive for local representation and for creating work that is representational of Asheville and the Appalachian Mountains,” he says.
In this new year, he plans to create an official wedding line on a new website and, perhaps, introduce online sales. “My wedding collection will consist of similar designs that I’ve been creating for years as well as new works that truly speak to Asheville and lovers of nature,” he says. He works out of a studio at Miya Gallery in Weaverville. “Moving my studio here has helped me to feel more connected to my customers than ever. And Miya gallery owner Jennifer Jenkins is my mentor, colleague and new best friend!”
Jason Janow meets with clients by appointment at his studio in Miya Gallery, where his work is available. Miya Gallery is at 20 North Main Street in Weaverville. To learn more and to find a list of other galleries that feature his work, visit JanowMetalsmithing.com, or find him on Facebook or Instagram.