A few lonesome buttons, some spare pieces of fabric, a handful of colorful beads. For some, such items may lie forgotten in a crafts box in the attic, just waiting to be called up for a jacket in need of mending.
But for Fairhope native Jennifer NyBlom, these odds and ends present a treasure trove of artistic possibilities. And she has now brought these possibilities to life in the creation of Proud Gypsy, a line of one-of-a-kind purses, showcasing her own one-of-a-kind style.
Though she has been an artist her entire life, NyBlom began designing purses a few years ago and has only been selling them for about a year. “I couldn’t find a purse I really liked, or one I could afford,” NyBlom said with a chuckle. “So I took bits and pieces I liked and sewed it all together.” She describes her purses as having a “bohemian” and “vintage” style, and every one of them as completely individualized from the others.
Almost instantly, her handbag became popular around town, garnering interested and envious comments wherever she carried it.
”Everywhere I took it, I got asked, ‘Where’d you get that purse?’” The good reception among friends and strangers alike encouraged NyBlom to take to the ever-expanding online handmade crafts market, Etsy.com, to try her luck with turning her hobby into a profit.
Through Etsy, her purses caught the eye of more than just women in search of a statement piece to add to their wardrobes. A stylist with Macy’s discovered her page and fell in love with them. Before long, she was contacting NyBlom to strike a deal.
“I missed the first call, and she said I couldn’t call her back because she was in Milan,” NyBlom said cheerfully. “I thought I’d missed my window, but she did call back a few weeks later.”
In the end, Macy’s bought 20 purses from NyBlom to appear in an up-scale boutique in Macy’s Square in Manhattan. “They’ve got about 200 clients, some quite A-list, and quite interested,” NyBlom said.
NyBlom describes the creation of all of her art as an “organic, haphazard process,” where a single item can inspire the look for an entire handbag or painting. She said, “I just think, ‘Oh, that’s a cool fabric. That’s an interesting shape.’ I work until it looks right.”
In addition to creating these purses, NyBlom has been an artist for her entire life, following in the steps of her parents who were also artists and who moved around a lot as she was growing up. “We called my parents the ‘gypsy artists’ because they were always moving us to a new spot. People would ask us, ‘Is your dad in the military?’ Nope, they were artists.”
Indeed, the nomadic lifestyle of her youth made an impression, as she possesses a degree of that same wanderlust. “It definitely rubbed off on me,” she said, talking of her relocations around the country from Arizona and California to New England and, of course, Alabama. “Every 10 years or so, I’m looking for a new location.”
NyBlom’s mother, in particular, had an enormous effect on her own art. Having passed away this past year, NyBlom received much of her mother’s own art arsenal. “She was an amazing artist, and she had a great collection of vintage textiles and beads,” NyBlom said.
Some of these inherited pieces actually became a part of the purses making their way into the Manhattan boutique, and NyBlom loves that pieces of her mother’s work have received such adulation through her purses. “My mother was a struggling artist. She was never really ‘discovered.’ But I think she was discovered with me,” she said. “I always knew I’d pick up my mother’s paintbrush, but I didn’t realize I’d pick up her needle and thread.”
A full-time professional artist, NyBlom’s main medium is in still-life portraits, combining oil painting and collage, and pulling inspiration from many sources such as immediate surroundings or even just a particular urge she has. “Sometimes, I start with what’s around me, and sometimes I just start with an idea,” NyBlom said. “Like, ‘I want to do a green painting today,’ or ‘It would be nice to travel,’ so I use maps.” Lyons Share in Fairhope displays NyBlom’s paintings.
More than simply creating these handbags and painting her portraits as a means of profit, NyBlom feels deeply called to art. “To me, this isn’t an occupation: this is who I am,” she says.
“I might see a friend I haven’t seen in awhile and they’ll say, ‘Are you still painting?’ And I’ll just respond, ‘Are you still breathing?’”
Given to the philosophy of using every day to the fullest, NyBlom uses her art as a way to see the world and experience it differently. She said, “You’re given so much time, and you don’t want to waste any of it.”
For more information about NyBlom’s art, visit JenniferNyBlom.com, and visit her etsy.com shop called Proud Gypsy to view her purse line.
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