Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Jan Dee looks back on 45+ years as custom jeweler
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-06-20

This article shared 3086 times since Wed Jun 20, 2018
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


For as far back as Jan Dee can remember she has always been interested in arts and crafts and has parlayed that into her own business, Jan Dee Custom Jewelry, now located at 1425 W. Diversey Parkway in Lincoln Park.

"When I was a child, I loved creating things with my hands," said Dee. "My art teachers told me I was the best, fastest and most creative student they had."

Dee grew up in Boston and graduated from Roxbury Memorial High School in 1958. After a stint at a community college in Boston, Dee worked for a psychiatric agency but her dreams of doing something creative never went away.

"I quit my job at the agency and went to Italy to learn how to be a goldsmith," said Dee. "There was a man named Gian Carlo who owned a gold factory where everything was made by hand. His friend referred me to him and he invited me to become his student so I went over there from 1967-'68. He taught me everything I know about making jewelry. I studied hard and worked 10 hours a day, six days a week on my craft. It was a wonderful experience."

Dee said she was unsure about how to begin this new career so she got a waitressing job to pay her bills but that did not last long. She told her parents that she wanted to quit her job and start making silver jewelry full-time.

"My mom said 'you should have a shop in our basement'," said Dee. "At the time, silver was a dollar an ounce. I had $600 to my name so I bought 600 ounces of silver in all sizes. I set up my equipment and silver in the basement and put a little sign outside my parents' house advertising that I was in business. I had one showcase to display my wares and would get a few people coming in now and then to look at my jewelry. That lasted for six months and then I decided I needed a little store."

Dee explained that she was one of a few silversmiths in her neighborhood at the time.

"I opened my store but most people did not understand silversmithing because they were used to buying costume jewelry," said Dee. "I ended up closing my store at that location and the following summer, I opened a silversmithing shop at Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The shop I rented was a converted boat house on the water. I called it The Silvershop. This lasted for a couple of years. Business got better but not well enough because people had not caught onto silver jewelry. It took awhile to educate people.

"While at Rocky Neck, Woodstock was happening [1969] and all my friends said we should go. I told them I had to stay back and mind my store and that day I made four dollars. I was so mad because they came back and said, 'You do not know what you missed.' This made me realize I need to seize the moment when it comes and I have done that ever since."

One way Dee seized the moment was by doing wholesaling to other stores in New England. She was able to support herself on those sales alone. At the same time, Dee met a woman who was visiting Provincetown from Chicago. They started dating and she invited Dee to visit Chicago. Dee said seeing Lake Michigan made her fall in love with the city because it felt familiar enough to the East Coast. When her then-girlfriend invited her to come live with her she said yes. She opened a workshop in their home and continued her wholesaling business.

Dee decided to create a catalog of her wares in 1971 and it was so popular she was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week to fill her orders. She explained that due to her jewelry's popularity she had an opportunity to sell to a large corporation that had 300 stores across the country. Dee turned them down even though she would have received $900,000 from the initial deal because she did not want the responsibility of opening a large factory. After Dee turned down the corporate offer she ceased selling her jewelry wholesale.

"While I was selling my jewelry out of our home, I realized a little storefront would be a better option so I opened a summer store in Provincetown, Massachusetts," said Dee. "I met a younger woman in Provincetown whom I took under my wing to teach her silversmithing. I gave her my extra bench and she worked for me for quite awhile. She later moved to Chicago to continue as my apprentice."

At the Provincetown store, gay and lesbian couples felt comfortable buying commitment rings since the town had many LGBTQ residents and vacationers. Dee felt that a summer store was not as opportune or convenient as a year-round store so she rented a storefront in 1973 at Belden and Clark Street in Chicago. She stayed at that location for more than 15 years.

Dee wanted more autonomy over her store so she bought a building on Diversey Parkway in 1990. It had been vacant for 14 years and had to be completely renovated. The building used to be the location of CK's Lounge, one of the largest gay bars at the time. She said people were surprised that she would open a store in a remote area where there was no retail. Dee explained that her other stores had many window shoppers and numerous complaints about parking availability and this new location offered more amenities. She noted that most people who visited the Diversey location came to purchase items or come in for design services.

"Our philosophy is to make a person feel as comfortable as they can when they come into the store, ask as many questions as they want, educate them and take their time in making a purchase," said Dee. "We have always been a service store and pride ourselves on the quality of our repairs including sentimental pieces and other jewelry. Caring for our customers from the time of purchase is very important to us."

Over the course of her 45-plus years in business, Dee has had many customers come through her door. Dee noted that during the 1980s, there would be many times when a straight and a gay couple would come in simultaneously to buy engagement or wedding rings. She said the couples would spend time getting to know each other and that "would make my heart sing."

"The fact that people accepted each other for who they were and shared their stories about their upcoming celebrations was great to witness back then," said Dee. "Everyone felt comfortable shopping at my store because we have a welcoming business."

Dee said she came to Chicago at the right time to be an out lesbian business owner because it was after the height of the gay bars being raided by the police. She said her store's location was also a factor since the neighborhood was LGBTQ-friendly even in the 1970s. Dee explained that LGBTQ bankers, high school principals and doctors were among her friends and that she never had one person or group try to boycott her store.

"Chicago has always had a stronger LGBTQ activist base than many other places," said Dee. "I did not come out until I was 28. One of the catalysts for me moving to Chicago was Boston got too small and it was not a friendly place for LGBTQ people who were out and proud back then."

Dee said that when she had the Clark Street location Stedman Graham, Oprah Winfrey's long-time partner, came in and bought an elongated pearl with a diamond accent ring for Oprah.

"Stedman's gift was mentioned in the INC column and I was credited as a Chicago jeweler," said Dee. "They never mentioned our name and I always felt sad about this."

Among the other notable people who bought wedding rings from Dee's store was Walter Jacobson.

Dee explained that a gay violinist from Russia, Artem Kolesov, wanted to buy wedding rings for him and his fiancée Lalo.

"A friend of mine called me and asked if we could take care of Artem," said Dee. "I said it would be a pleasure. When they came in to pick up their rings, Artem showed his appreciation by bringing his violin and playing a solo for us in the store."

"We love the rings and get a lot of compliments on how beautiful they look," said Kolesov. "We are extremely grateful to Jan for her amazing mastery and precision. I do not have to take off the ring when I perform since I cannot even feel it on my finger."

"A lesbian couple who are friends of mine from Aukland, New Zealand would only buy their wedding rings from my store," said Dee. "They came here to buy them and had a beautiful wedding in New Zealand. I also designed wedding rings for many other wonderful gay and lesbian couples from all over the United States."

Dee decided to go back to school to further pursue her interest in art. She went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago ( SAIC ) from 1979-'81 with a focus on photography. In addition to her own photographic endeavors, Dee also did the photos for the construction benefit to finance Horizons ( now the Center on Halsted ) location on Montana Street. She also did photos for Open Hand Chicago's brochures. Dee recently donated her entire darkroom to the SAIC.

"I also went to Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation on April 25, 1993 and photographed the attendees and speakers," said Dee. "It was a moving and exciting experience to be there and hear from LGBTQ activists across the country in one place."

One way Dee gives back to the community is through her membership in the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois and the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce. She has also attended many benefits and donated gift cards and items from the store to non-profit group's silent auctions. Dee said this gives her a chance to give back and introduce herself and the store to new people.

"When Horizons first opened I started a fund for them," said Dee. "They wanted 10 people to donate $300. In return, they would have their name on a plaque on one of the office doors. I raised $3,000 and they were very happy with this. My friends felt so proud to help."

Now Dee has gotten into the Airbnb business. She recently renovated the upper floors of her building to accommodate up to 12 people. Dee previously lived in the space with her partner Janet Gutrich whom she has been with since Dec. 17, 1994. The couple now live in the South Loop.

See www.airbnb.com/rooms/25139005 to book Dee's Airbnb.

For more information about Jan Dee's store, visit www.jandee.com/ .


This article shared 3086 times since Wed Jun 20, 2018
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

PASSAGES Kevin McCarthy
2021-01-19
Kevin Creedon McCarthy, of Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, passed away after a brief illness on Jan. 11. He was 53. Raised in Arlington Heights, Kevin studied communications at the University of Missouri before embarking on a long ...


Gay News

Joffrey Ballet announces Feb. 12 world premiere of 'Bolero'
2021-01-19
The Joffrey Ballet announced the world premiere of Bolero—named after the acclaimed orchestral piece by composer Maurice Ravel and choreographed by Joffrey company artist Yoshihisa Arai—on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. Bolero, to be performed by ...


Gay News

National COVID-19 Memorial Service Jan. 19 to remember lives lost
2021-01-19
CHICAGO, IL— Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and the City of Chicago, in partnership with the incoming Biden-Harris Administration, invite everyone in Chicago to take part in the National COVID-19 Memorial Service to remember the lives lost ...


Gay News

COVID-19 restrictions for Chicago, suburbs relaxed, but still no indoor dining
2021-01-19
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced that Chicago and its suburbs would move to Tier 2 mitigation restrictions, effective immediately, The Chicago Tribune reported. Under the updated metrics, four regions under the reopening plan will ...


Gay News

CRS pays tribute to Rustin's legacy
2021-01-18
Community Renewal Society (CRS) highlighted a new partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative (BRLI) as part of a virtual Martin Luther King Day observance on Jan. 18. The event paid tribute to the ...


Gay News

Lightfoot and city leaders lead MLK interfaith event
2021-01-18
Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot virtually gathered with civic, business and religious leaders this weekend to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the City of Chicago's 35th Annual Interfaith Celebration. This year's ceremony ...


Gay News

'Dixie's Happy Hour' streaming Jan. 26-31
2021-01-15
On the heels of Dixie's Tupperware Party and Dixie's: Never Wear a Tube Top While Riding a Mechanical Bull (and 16 other things I learned while I was drinking last Thursday), drag personality Dixie Longate is ...


Gay News

Disability Culture Leadership Initiative launches online hub with Chicago artists
2021-01-15
--From a 3Arts press release - CHICAGO, IL (Jan. 15, 2021)— 3Arts, the Chicago-based nonprofit grantmaking organization, announced today the launch of the Disability Culture Leadership Initiative (DCLI), featuring a new online platform created to elevate ...


Gay News

Tribute event to honor Chicago's first Cultural Historian Jan. 28
2021-01-14
--From a City of Chicago press release - CHICAGO, IL — Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) today announced a tribute event to honor Chicago's first Cultural Historian, Tim Samuelson. Samuelson recently retired after 3 ...


Gay News

Affinity Burning Bowl hosts first-ever virtual event amid pandemic
2021-01-14
Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Affinity Community Services (Affinity) held its annual Burning Bowl Jan. 9 on Zoom and Facebook Live. This year's theme was "Community Undivided." Among other items, the Barbara "Robbie" Smith Award of ...


Gay News

Report: Here are the highest grossing LGBTQ+ actors on Netflix
2021-01-13
--From a Journalistic.org press release - Highest grossing LGBTQ+ actors on Netflix - Kristen Stewart comes in first, with a net worth of 70 million dollars - Bisexual women are the top earning members of the LGBTQ+ community - The TV industry ...


Gay News

Artemisia Theatre announces entirely virtual 2021 season
2021-01-13
--From a press release - CHICAGO - In order to continue its strong feminist story-telling tradition, Artemisia Theatre announces an entirely virtual 2021 season. The new season includes two World Premiere theater productions and eight audio performances airing on its podcast ...


Gay News

Choucair part of Biden/Harris COVID-19 response team
2021-01-12
Dr. Bechara Choucair—the senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, and onetime commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health—is part of new President Joe Biden and ...


Gay News

Mayor Lightfoot, DCASE announce $2.5M in arts grants
2021-01-11
--From a press release - CHICAGO, IL — Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) today announced $2.5 million in funding opportunities for Chicago artists and arts organizations. A new "Artist Response Program," ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Laverne Cox, lesbian coach, Jim Parsons, 'Brokeback,' theater items
2021-01-11
Laverne Cox is teaming with Meryl Streep and Rashida Jones to executive-produce a new documentary exploring one of the most critical issues at the intersection of race, feminism, and power: the sex industry, out.com noted. Sell/Buy/Date ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.