BERLIN — When John and Judy Fisher opened j.j. Fish Studio and Fine Craft Gallery 10 years ago, it was much more studio and fine craft gallery. In fact, initially the plan was to use the space as a way to show both John’s and Judy’s work while allowing them a place to produce for their many wholesale buyers.
John has been making jewelry all of his adult life. Like any other artist, his designs tend to follow themes that evolve into distinct series’ representing a period in his career. But also, like any other artist, there are the designs he’ll always be known for, including and possibly especially worry bead rings.
Fisher has been making worry bead rings — wire wrap-style rings with gold and silver moveable beads — since the mid-1970s and they continue to be popular gifts. While there have been the occasional copy-cat attempts to reproduce the design, Fisher’s has remained both dominant and American made throughout because it is a process to which he’s committed.
As the rings grew in popularity, Fisher engaged the help of the Worcester County Developmental Center. Employees there string the beads as part of a piecework contract and Fisher does the wrapping, cutting and finishing.
For her part, Judy’s own works in Irish waxed linen string are wonders unto themselves. She weaves miniature baskets, some thumbnail sized and others no larger than a child’s palm. Judy worked down from making larger baskets because she preferred the close work and the intricacy she could bring to the smaller projects.
As the years have passed, however, the balance has reversed. The bulk of the store space and retail attention is applied to crafts provided by other artists while the Fishers’ work has faded a bit into the background.
While it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision, it was the right one for their business. As traffic increased in the store and Judy made more and more contacts at craft shows, the Fishers were able to get a better handle on the demographic dispositions and react to them.
It could also have been affected by a bit of humility. Fisher is one of those rare people who is both humble and loves to talk. Eager to extoll the artistic virtues of all of his producers, he shares both his familiarity with and affinity for all of the artisans’ work in his shop.
It is in this way that customers can get as much or as little information about the items they’re purchasing as they wish. Each item for sale at j.j. Fish was hand made in America by an artisan and has a story to go along with it, which is what sets apart a gift, or any item really, purchased there.
The very short story behind of many of the items at j.j. Fish is often presented on a small card that goes with the purchase. But if someone is interested in knowing or sharing the story behind any piece in the shop, either of the Fishers can provide it.
Judy said that since they go to the large craft shows to find wholesalers for their own work, they have access to artists and artisans doing the same thing. Seeing so many people with such regularity gives them an insight into their various producers’ personalities and from that a deeper picture of what makes a particular piece unique.
But for all of the effort they’ve made in finding just the right people to provide just the right choices, some of the finest and most popular pieces sold at j.j. Fish are created behind the counter during off or slow days by the owners doing precisely what they’d opened the store to do — make and share art.