We had the good fortune of connecting with Nanette Pengelley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nanette, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I’ve always been a creative, ever since I was a kid. I used to want to be an artist, but my parents told me I would never make any money doing that. They said I should consider something more practical like being a nurse or going into tech. I’ve also always been pretty stubborn, so no one was shocked when I promptly ignored that advice and applied to art school, where I studied Jewelry & Metal-smithing. After graduating though, they were also not shocked to hear I was having a hard time finding work that would cover my living expenses. Being a bench jeweler pays minimum wage, and it is emotionally exhausting to make someone else’s creation come to life for them, while they receive all the glory (not to mention the big bucks). Instead of working in my field, I took a position at a sailing company that had I worked for during the summers while I was in school. I stayed for 5 years, eventually becoming assistant manager… and hating my entire existence. The pay was good, but being a creative stuck in a job in hospitality was the worst hell I could imagine- I would pour all this extra energy into making our menu board aesthetically pleasing, redesigning our logo, even color coding the storage racks– and it was leading nowhere. When I finally worked up the nerve to quit and try my hand at being an artist full time, I told myself that I never wanted to work for someone else ever again, and like I said, I’m unbelievably stubborn, so here we are today 🙂
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I work with found objects and materials, and my practice is centered around sustainability, both in the studio and within my community. Sustainable art practices are rare yet particularly important within the jewelry field- ethically mined materials are costly, and therefore not usually used by mainstream jewelry companies producing on a large scale. As a black artist though, I find it important to verify the origin of all my materials before proceeding with a project, and I donate 20% of my weekly sales to various groups. I get excited to uplift other members of my community- other people doing fundraising work, other queer artists, mutual aid groups, people doing restorative justice work, and bail funds across the nation. This feels like a moment in history when things are shifting, for makers, for the world. It feels important that my work try to shift along with it, to reflect my community’s needs and ethos. I would say that getting to this point professionally was easy– it’s not difficult to take into consideration that we are all struggling towards one goal, and I would say that is safety & equality in every regard. Every time I need to make a decision about my business, I try to think what will cause the least harm to others & the earth, and what will have the greatest positive impact overall. Once you start thinking like that, the decisions pretty much make themselves. Along the way, I’ve learned that you can make a change- you just have to start small, but people will listen, they will pay attention, they will want to be apart of the change.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my best friend were visiting Boston, I would pick her up from the airport on a Tuesday because that’s when flights are usually cheapest, and since she will be starving from the plane ride we would go directly to get all you can eat sushi from my favorite spot, Yamato, by Boston College. We would stuff our faces and when we couldn’t eat any more, we would head over to Jamaica Plain and probably take a stroll down Centre Street to walk off the meal. The next day I would bring her to Turtle Pond first thing in the morning, and we would hang out on the dock and swim, take a break for lunch and get tacos from Achilitos, and then probably go for a hike in the Blue Hills. Then off to bed early, we need our beauty rest because tomorrow is Thursday, which means Queeraoke is happening at Midway Cafe, so we will stay out late. The day after that we are so tired, so we are sleeping in and going to brunch at Brassica, where they make the best breakfast sammies. We will spend the afternoon thrift shopping at Saver’s, and then go home to have a little fire at the community garden in Forest Hills. Saturday we would probably get coffee at Ula’s and hand out in the Arboretum, maybe read in the sun on a little blanket. Sunday I would take her to the beach in Quincy, Monday we would be our last night together so we would eat out at Committee in the seaport and talk about what an amazing week we just had.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Well to start with I have to thank every single person in my life who never once judged me for putting my dream on hold for five years. The patience that my friends and family afforded me let me know there was no pressure to rush into something I wasn’t ready for. My partner Martha has been a huge support, always ready to pose for a photo, assist me with lighting during a shoot, set up camp with me at a craft show- you name it, she never complains and is always ready to help. Then there’s my dad, the biggest skeptic of my career choice at first, but was later the one to loan me his professional camera indefinitely, to help with photographing my work since the quality of my iPhone 5 wasn’t quite up to the job. And last but not least I have to shout out my best friend Quinn, who, when I told her I needed to quit my day job and I didn’t have enough money to purchase equipment for my studio, she bought me my very own oxygen/acetylene torch, which is why she is the best friend a girl could have…now all I have to do is make her jewelry any time she asks haha.