Klaaren started beading her own jewelry approximately six years ago after a visit to the Eager Beader on Clingan Ridge Road in Cleveland, a studio/shop owned by Avery McNeese.
“We went to the Eager Beader in Cleveland, and [McNeese] taught me how to make an earring. That was the first earring I ever made,” Klaaren said. “I had fun, and I thought, you know, I can make my own jewelry.”
Since there are no bead stores in Athens, Klaaren started buying beading supplies and natural stones that were not available locally. She made jewelry for friends and family for a few years, just beading for a hobby. Then she found the website for Vintaj Natural Brass Co.
“I’d never really worked with brass before. I liked how it looked rustic and kind of vintage,” Klaaren said. “So I just got online and found some classes on YouTube. I’ve taught myself how to do everything.”
In 2010, Klaaren participated in her first design challenge through the Vintaj website. The theme was “Starry Night,” and Klaaren threw herself into designing a necklace specifically for the challenge.
“I spent like two weeks working on it,” Klaaren said. “It was like a casual representation of Van Gogh’s painting.”
Even though it was her first challenge, Klaaren still won first place. She was also asked to be a featured artist on the Vintaj blog, her first interview as an artist.
“That was kind of an ‘Aha’ for me, like, maybe I should start taking this more seriously,” Klaaren said. “I just started dedicating more time to it and building up an inventory.”
Klaaren took her jewelry to the Pumpkintown Festival in Athens and participated in Peddlers Row. Her success there prompted her to take her jewelry to the Athens Area Council for the Arts, and they invited her to do a trunk show with them as well as offer her space in their gallery.
Klaaren decided to submit photos of a piece she had designed to Bead Trends magazine in February 2012 and was published on her first time.
“From that point last year, everything has just spiraled,” Klaaren said. “It’s been kind of insane.”
Since her first publication, Klaaren estimates that she’s been published in Bead Trends 15 times, including one design that made the cover of the magazine in December 2012.
Next, Klaaren applied to become a member of The Artisan Group, an exclusive group of approximately 600 members worldwide that collectively provides hand-crafted products to Hollywood celebrities.
Through that group, Klaaren has gifted her jewelry to Hollywood and beyond: a necklace to the stylist of the hit HBO series “TrueBlood,” rings to “The Wendy Williams Show” for the hostess, producer and a few select audience members, and crystal earrings to the 2013 Academy Awards to be used in the GBK Gift Lounge bags.
Most recently, Klaaren sent 30 necklaces for an exclusive Celebrity Earth Day gifting event on April 22. According to The Artisan Group’s website, recipients will include Hayden Panettiere, Ginnifer Goodwin, Edward Norton, Atrian Grenier, Kate Bosworth, P!nk, Leonardo DeCaprio, Rachel McAdams, Emily VanCamp, Woody Harrelson, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Daryl Hannah, Malin Akerman, Ted Danson, Orlando Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Hartnett, Sting, Barbra Streisand, Alicia Silverstone, Courteney Cox, Cameron Diaz, Sheryl Crow, Mark Ruffalo and Natalie Portman.
Five of the gift bags will go to charity auctions, as well, Klaaren said.
“I did have to give away 30 necklaces, but if one person wears it or tweets a picture or something, then the work is worth it,” Klaaren said. “Sometimes these things amount to nothing, but it’s the opportunity to get it out there in front of somebody. And I’m pretty excited about that.”
She has also established an Etsy store, as well as her own website under the name Cellar Door Jewelry
Klaaren creates her jewelry in her own living room with tools she learned to use by watching YouTube videos, reading articles and tutorials, and lots of trial and error.
“My hammer is probably my favorite thing because I use it for almost everything,” Klaaren said. “Then I have texturing hammers, round nose pliers, basic jewelry pliers, bail making pliers which have two different sizes, flush cutters, crimps, hole punches. I’ve got a steel bench block, a dapping block which I use to take flat things and make them round, a heat gun and soldering gun.”
Klaaren is hoping in the future to improve her skills and continue learning new skills by taking classes in metalworking and jewelry making.
“I would love to be able to take a class, but when you have kids, it’s really hard for me. And I’d have to go to Gatlinburg or farther to find a metal-working class,” Klaaren said. “There are some things I’d like to learn to do with chemicals and things, and I’m kind of scared to just try on my own because I don’t want to set my house on fire or hurt myself. There are definitely limits to what I can learn on my own.
Klaaren’s jewelry is inspired by many different things, such as nature, space and time.
“My family are kind of like hippies,” Klaaren said, laughing. “So obviously that comes through in my jewelry.”
There are also some pieces in her collection that pay homage to the steampunk style.
“A lot of the steampunk you see is rusty and industrial. I try to bring my own flair to that and make steampunk more classy,” Klaaren said.
Klaaren said that sometimes, especially when she is getting ready to design new pieces, she has to stop looking at other jewelry completely because she does not want them to heavily influence her jewelry. She does inspect other pieces of jewelry as examples of how to achieve different looks or use different skills in her own pieces.
Through all of this, Klaaren has also continued working as a licensed Realtor, so she is currently running two businesses out of her home. As her jewelry business grows, she is considering retiring her license and making jewelry full time so that she has less hassle on the business side, but she knows there are risks in that.
“It’s not easy to sell jewelry,” Klaaren said, adding that she is competing against companies like Origami Owl as well as department stores. “The hardest part is just getting it out there in front of people.”
Klaaren also mentioned that she likes being able to keep jewelry as a hobby because then it is not so time-consuming and leaves more time for her to care for her two sons, the oldest of which has autism.
“My oldest son is autistic. He’s very high-functioning, but I still have to spend a lot of time with him,” Klaaren said. “It’s time-consuming just being a mom, so I don’t know if I will really have time to go further than I am.”
While Klaaren is unsure of how far she will go in the jewelry business, she has a few ideas of things she would like to do. Her goals include submitting photos of her jewelry to more publications, working up to doing more events each year in different cities and states, and perhaps eventually teaching classes.
In the meantime, Klaaren will continue selling her jewelry under her newly established business name: Cellar Door Jewelry.
“That’s kind of a throwback to the movie Donnie Darko,” Klaaren explained. “Drew Barrymore in the movie says that people who care about words say that cellar door is the most beautiful combination of words in the English language, and that just stuck in my head.”
Klaaren’s work is available for purchase at Jonathan’s Master Hair Design in Athens, the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum in Athens, the Athens Arts Council Gift Shop and Nostalgia in the Old City in Knoxville. Her work was most recently added to the Museum Center at Five Points gift shop, the only place her work is available in Cleveland.
In addition to selling through local venues and festivals, Klaaren’s work is available in her Etsy shop, available through Cellar Door Jewelry’s website, www.cellardoorjewelry.com
Klaaren’s next event is the Blooming Arts Festival at the Museum at Five Points, April 26-28.