Jewelry maker is a bridge-builder
Patty Kahn has always been an artist at heart, but it took an illness nearly a decade ago for her to branch out into jewelry.
An elementary art school teacher in Ohio at the time, Kahn took up jewelry-making after receiving encouragement from the mother of one of her students.
She quickly developed a love for jewelry making, something that has only grown to this day.
Not surprisingly, Kahn — who attends Temple Beth Sholom, 4200 S.W. Munson in Topeka — has integrated her spirituality into her craft, finding Christians, Muslims and Jews now look to her for her artwork.
In the process, she said, she hopes she can use her creations to help bring people of various religious traditions together.
Kahn came to Kansas a year ago and is in her second year as an art instructor at Emporia State University, where she is a “teacher of art, elementary education teachers and art therapy candidates,” she says.
While much of her own previous artwork has been done with fibers, she continues to evolve as a maker of jewelry. Her designs use only nontoxic materials and metals, such as gold or copper. Stones include rose quartz, garnet, turquoise, peridot, onyx and pearls.
As often as possible, she combs beaches as far away as Israel to find other materials, including shells and rocks.
One of the rocks she tries to find is a pebble with a natural hole in it, found at Netanya Beach, in the Holy Land.
“It takes awhile to find them,” Kahn said. “You have to walk the beach. But they’re there — and they’re very special, especially for Christians who want a memento from the Holy Land.”
She also has gone on garnet-hunting treks in Israel for pieces she can use in her jewelry.
In one memorable occasion a few years ago, she said, she was referred by someone in the United States to a jeweler in Israel.
The only problem in locating him was her broken Hebrew, she said. But because of the hospitality of those in Israel, she quickly found people ready to help.
She ended up in a police station with people there trying to help her find the jeweler. While at the police station, they gave her watermelon to eat, while she listened to their stories.
“They told me how to get there,” she said. “That’s one of the beautiful parts about Israel — being with the people there. No one’s a stranger. It’s people helping people.”
Beyond finding materials for her jewelry-making in Israel, Kahn said she also draws inspiration from the rich and varied colors of the country, doing all she can to import the “beautiful blue of the Mediterranean Sea” to the United States. The ever-changing colors of the old city of Jerusalem also have left a mark with Kahn, who has visited Israel 11 times and who has a son living there.
Kahn said Israel is a kind of gateway for three major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her visits there have reinforced the need for interreligious cooperation and communication.
“I’ve tried to expand on that and not only do Judaica, but crosses and Islamic symbols, too,” she said. “Because in Israel, many religions are represented — which is special, how the religions come together.
“I think one of my missions in life is to bring people together through art.”
Kahn said she sometimes wore her handmade jewelry to parties, occasionally selling what she wore to people who liked it.
In other cases, she would talk to someone to get an idea of what they wanted in a piece of jewelry, then create something to match that person’s preferences.
Through the years, Kahn said, her jewelry has become a bit more sophisticated and intricate. She learned the art of wire-wrapping in Arizona, and she also has become an accomplished pearl-knotter.
As more people find out about her artistry, Kahn is finding her services are all the more in demand. But since there are fewer Jews in Kansas than in other parts of the nation where she has lived, Kahn finds it a bit more challenging to sell her wares.
She said she is considering going online with her products, but she realizes there may be limitations, as her items are one-of-a-kind and aren’t mass-produced.