Southlynn, the jeweler

Artist's view, Artists: Southlynn, the jeweler


Southlynn, the jeweler

Story: Bridget Broihahn

Photos: Bridget Broihahn

Jenny Southlynn stands by a painting she created in graduate school. This semi-retired director of the after-school program at St. Matthew Catholic School in Champaign talks about her creation.

“It’s called ‘Family Tree,’” she said from her tastefully decorated condominium.

Southlynn has had quite a career. She’s an artist, writer, editor, painter, and now a jeweler. Originally from the Westchester County, New York area, she remembers fleeing from a horrible relationship to C-U with a baby in tow and another on the way.

“It was 1971, on April first, ironically. I eventually achieved my masters in painting,” she said.

One day she was web-shopping she came across a lovely piece of jewelry. It intrigued her senses.

“I was looking in the Sundance catalog at a lovely necklace made with padre beads. It was understated. I loved it. However, it was very expensive,” Southlynn said.

Now, Southlynn taught painting in the fine arts departments at both the University of Illinois and Illinois State University. She was one of the founding members of 40 North 88 West, of which the Boneyard Arts Festival is her baby. She still remembers the joy she felt when she first saw the Boneyard Arts Festival billboard on Lincoln Avenue during its premiere. She was one of the co-creators of the now defunct Octopus, an independent news publication, and a former writer and editor for the Mahomet Citizen. She had a short tenure at the Spurlock museum. She was also the energy behind “A call to arts,” a successful, local artist-to-artist venue where artists gave feedback to each other. And the list goes on. Southlynn readily admits that her resume is pretty complicated.

So, in light of all of her artistic prowess, she figured she could make a necklace made of the padre beads. She was certainly creative enough.

“I went on eBay and ordered the beads. I made my own for $20,” she said.

And she loved it. The beads were interesting. They were substantial and earthy.

“They have physical authority, and no plastic,” she said.

In fact, the name padre bead comes from the type of beads that Spanish priests wore. Spaniards call priests “padres,” and the name of the style of bead caught on. They were highly traded as the Spaniards started their descent into the world by ship in the late 1400s. Southlynn was wearing her double strand of padre beads when At Home in Central Illinois visited her last month.

She also uses trade beads in her creations. Trade beads were used as currency during the period from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. The glass beads are colorful and vibrantly patterned. She will use the trade bead in a design to set-off the pattern, making the stand of beads more dramatic.

“I’ll pick something and strike a balance. It creates another kind of dynamic with the trade bead. Then, it has to just feel right to me,” she said.

Her sister really encouraged her in the craft. Now Southlynn is hooked. She likes to create double stranded bracelets and necklaces the most. She’s even started selling her creations on Etsy.

“I’ll take out my boxes (of beads) and start with a couple of them. I’ll add a dash of color with a trade bead, and somehow I know it’s right. I feel the balance,” Southlynn said.

This mother of three sons and one daughter, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild- and another on the way- said she’s still evolving.

“It’s so much fun,” she said.

She encourages others to find their path when it comes to their own artistic endeavors.

“There are traditions, but don’t forget those things about you that are unique to you. Art teaches. When you look at art and you observe art, it teaches you something,” Southlynn said.

To see more of Southlynn’s creations, go to etsy.com/shop/jsouthlynn.