At one point, making jewellery by hand was a means of survival for Pam Jackson. She was 16 years old and living on the streets of Merritt, and her knack for creating hippie-chic pieces with nothing but a few donated beads, some free wire, and a borrowed pair of pliers kept food in her mouth until she eventually found the resources to get the hell out of Dodge. Then life happened—she found work, got married, had a kid, and so it goes.
But fastforward 25 years and Jackson found herself with an empty nest and a job that wasn’t creatively fulfilling. So she started making jewellery again, only this time round, instead of wood beads she was working with elegant gemstones, and rather than base-metal wiring, she invested in sterling silver and 14-karat gold fill, which she weaves like finely spun thread.
“It’s wirework, so there’s no smelting, there’s no casting, and there’s no soldering,” Jackson explains during an interview with the Straight at an East Van café. “It’s all cold connections, so there’s no heat involved. I bend it. I form it. I hammer it. I crochet it. I knit it. I lace it. I wrap it.”
All that finely detailed craftsmanship pays off, too. Her pieces have an heirloom quality and an ethereal delicacy to them. She calls these lovelies Street Cat Designs. The reason is twofold.
“Here’s my street cat,” Jackson says, pointing to a Facebook photo of her dear departed pet. “We couldn’t get the wild out of him. He liked to prowl at night. In the end, coyotes got him—poor old dude. So that’s why it’s named Street Cat Designs—it’s sort of an homage to both him and me.”
While Jackson makes various necklaces and funky crocheted rings ($65 in silver and $85 in gold), she’s really known for her earrings. Her signature designs include gold crocheted disks with an oxidized sterling-silver rim ($38 to $65). Other hot sellers are her gold-lace chandelier beauties, which she often adorns with a stunning combo of mini crystals, quartz, and freshwater pearls. Everything, including the hooks, is made by hand.
“That’s what sells the most, but they’re also the hardest to make,” Jackson says. “You have to do two of them, and if they don’t turn out exactly the same… Well, then you’ve got two necklaces.”
The fact that they’re so labour-intensive raises the question of why Jackson doesn’t get back on the grid and use some electrical tools.
“Well, even though a lot of the machinery that’s used is really old, I still like just being able to just use my hands and pliers,” she says. “I guess it goes back to when I was 16 and everything was portable. Also, when I’m doing it by hand, it’s so therapeutic.”
Interestingly, she never actually enjoys the fruits of this impassioned labour.
“I don’t wear jewellery,” she admits. “I just don’t like jewellery. I will occasionally wear somebody else’s. But to wear my own would seem like I’m bragging—almost like, ‘Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.’ ”
So she’s not exactly great at promoting her amazing product. Thankfully, though, this incredibly gifted artisan’s work sells very well on its own merits and has since she launched in 2006.
“It just sort of mushroomed. It really did, like all of a sudden it just took off,” says the former homeless teen from Merritt, whose work is now carried throughout the Lower Mainland, including at Two of Hearts (3728 Main Street) and Blushing Boutique (579 Richards Street). “I was lucky. I was really, really lucky.”