Creativity, Woven Together

It was 1997 when Jody Steensland met the man who would later become her husband. She didn't know it at the time. She also didn't know thatin the very same momentshe was meeting the art form that would change her story.

"He was wearing this bracelet," she remembers. "Stainless steel byzantine chain maille in a very unique weave. I had grown up in a small town, and I'd never seen anything like it." 

She was smitten. She kept seeing the guy, and she began experimenting with making chain maille jewelrystarting simple, of course. Nearly twenty years later, her relationships with both are still thriving. That one moment had given her the gift of her life's central relationship and her lifelong creative endeavor. 

Chain maille has a couple thousand years of history, and is best known for its use in sheets that can protect your body from a sword or a shark bite. But fine jewelry is a unique and striking use that is a bit more relevant to everyday life.

Along the way, Steensland began to wonder if she could begin selling her creations to the public, rather than just keeping them and giving them to friends. Her skills and craft had grown, and her intricate, made-from-scratch work was beginning to earn a reputation in the inland northwest. Maille and More Chainworks was born.

In 2011, she joined Pottery Place Plus in Spokane's Liberty Building. If you've been to Auntie's Bookstore, you may have found yourself wandering into this haven where local artists and craftspeople showcase and sell their passionately made goods. You may not have realized that it's one of longest-running art co-ops in the nation (open since the 1970s). For Steensland, being part of this community has taken things to the next level. She began in the guest artist program: each month, a different guest artist shows and sells at PPP, also visiting for demonstrations and/or a First Friday evening reception.

"I sold more than I had imagined I would," she says. "Not a ton, but enough to definitely signal to me that this is possible."

Since then, she has focused vocationally on her work and become a permanent member at Pottery Place Plus. She also sells her items at Echo Boutique, an upscale consignment shop in south downtown, and shows at renaissance fairs and art shows around the region. Her customers cherish the fully handmade pieces because the unique weaves are the fruit of Steensland's time-intensive creative process, not the mass-produced work of a factory.

"I don't buy any pre-made materials. It starts with the wire: lots and lots of wire," she says. 

But a visit to the Liberty Building to talk with Steensland reveals something obvious: wire isn't the only raw material at work here. Creativity, passion, hard work, and a community of supportive artists/family/friends/partners/patrons/customers are all woven together to make her life as a working artist possible.