Joli Bogdan brings intricate gemstone jewelry to Allied Arts’ newest artisan shop

by Sheri Baer on April 11, 2014

Penelope’s Den is the newest Allied Arts shop, but if you’re looking for the store’s namesake and inspiration, you won’t find her among the Guild’s lush rose bushes and wisteria vines. Instead, owner and artist Joli (pronounced Yoli) Bogdan points to Ancient Greek mythology’s Penelope, wife and queen to Odysseus. As readers of The Odyssey will recall, with Odysseus lost at sea for 20 years, Penelope kept would-be suitors at bay with the excuse of finishing her weaving.

“So she would weave all day and they would just wait for her to finish, and meanwhile, she would stay up all night unpicking it,” recounts Joli, with a smile. “That’s craftsmanship. That’s what I love about Penelope. You have to be willing to undo it. You can’t be precious about it. You have to have the confidence in yourself that you can do it again and again and again.”

Opened in February 2014, Penelope’s Den features handcrafted fine jewelry, gilded tableware, textiles and hand-wrought iron and copper sculptures. “It’s stuff that I love, it’s stuff that I’m drawn to,” says Joli. “What they all have in common is they’re either made by me or by someone who I feel a close connection to — it’s important when you’re in your house or in your office or wherever you are to have a sense of connection to the objects that are around you.”

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It’s obvious Joli has a strong connection to weaving, tied to her earliest memories of her Hungarian grandmother working a loom. Penelope’s Den reflects those textile roots: the smallest of Joli’s four looms holds court in the corner, yarn from Uruguay is strewn about, and her undergrad thesis project, a hand-woven and hand-dyed burnt orange tapestry set, adorns a side wall.

“It’s a combination of math and manual dexterity. You have to be able to count your threads. You have to be able to put them in a pattern, and you have to be able to do that with your mind and with your fingers. Coming from textiles, I love doing this,” Joli says, making quick, nimble finger gestures. “I love the tension, I love the feeling of materials in my hand, and I love transforming them.”

A few years back, Joli made the transition from textiles to jewelry, after admiring the intricacy of a wire-wrapped gem setting. “My fingers just automatically knew what to do because of all the threads I’d been used to working with. Gold thread, silver thread or wool cotton thread, it’s all thread. It’s just that one’s more stiff than the other, one’s more breakable,” says Joli. “I feel like there’s some kind of ancient force driving me to make amazingly intricate jewelry with gemstones.”

Joli also felt drawn to the Allied Arts Guild, trading a much bigger space on Skyline Blvd. for 160 square feet in Menlo Park.“It’s unbelievable. This place is magical. This is like my fantasy place for where the shop should be, for where it belongs,” she says.

Tucked to the side, to the right of Rose Allee, Joli spends her days mingling with customers, teaching and sharing her knowledge and plying her craft. She’s frequently found at a workbench outside Penelope’s Den, her fingers happily at play with small precious stones and gold wire. “I love that there’s very little barrier between the inside and the outside, and I love that it’s like a little jewel box,” says Joli. “It’s just perfect that it looks like a little sparkling gem.”

The Allied Arts Guild is located at 75 Arbor Road in Menlo Park and is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Photos by Irene Searles

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