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Remembering Maija Neimanis

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A colorful contemporary jewelry designer, if ever there was one—that was Maija Neimanis. On Friday, after more than a half-year of battling complications from a fall, the artist, especially known for her high-karat gold work in granulation and colored gems, passed away.  

At JCK Las Vegas Show in the Design Center in 2003 (left to right): Maija Neimanis, jewelry designer Catherine Iskiw, Susan Iskiw (Catherine’s sister), and Tove Nielson of Stuart Moore

Lorraine DePasque


Contributing writer for INSTORE and INDESIGN.
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colorful contemporary jewelry designer, if ever there was one—that was Maija Neimanis. On Friday, after more than a half-year of battling complications from a fall, the artist, especially known for her high-karat gold work in granulation and colored gems, passed away.  

I met Maija in 1992, when she premiered in the New Designer Gallery of the JA Jewelry Show in New York. Through the years, I took notes not only on her designs, but also on how she conducted her business. Mostly, I think, because Maija was a strong woman. Obviously, that strength had nothing to do with her height and sturdy frame—although, according to her fellow jewelry designer, Catherine Iskiw, “I felt like Maija towered over me, and I’m five nine-and-a-half!”

Maija Neimanis

Catherine and I spoke yesterday on the friendship they forged over the years. “Well, Maija was, actually, a little cranky when I first phoned her,” Catherine remembered, laughing. Why, I asked? “Because I didn’t pronounce her first name correctly! Well, also because one of her dogs had just died.” As often is the case, a first meeting (or, as in this instance, a call) doesn’t define a relationship—the two jewelers wound up becoming friends for about two decades. “I always liked when Maija exhibited at a show that I was at. We’d talk a lot, and sometimes we’d go out to dinner afterward.” Primarily a gallery artist, Maija did the winter and summer JA shows, craft fairs, the Design Center of JCK Las Vegas, and other exhibitions.

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With Catherine’s recollection of Maija as a regular, too, in New York’s Armory show, it was telling of the loving relationship between Maija and Andris, her husband of 32 years. “I remember that Andris would come early in the morning to set up for her–then Maija would breeze in!”

Obviously, Andris was a positive influence on Maija’s success. Nonetheless, I can’t help but believe that her fearlessness and determination began long before that. As a young child in Latvia (where Maija was born), she was captured by the Nazis. She and her family were among the fortunate who, eventually, were freed and came to the United States.

Educated in the states, Maija had quite a thriving career in costume design (specializing in men’s wear), even winning an Academy Award. Still, like more than a few goldsmiths I’ve known, after taking a jewelry design course (at New York’s  Jewelry Arts Institute), the idea of making precious metal-and-gem art to wear wound up becoming the creative passion she’d pursue for the remainder of her professional life.

It’s not surprising that, as an artist, she often admired the work of others. “When we did the craft shows,” Catherine told me, “Maija said she’d always buy a piece from another designer because she loved the work. Also, she thought it would bring good luck for her at the show—as in ‘what goes around, comes around.’”

Maija’s friend and colleague, Jill Anish, who worked with her since 2004, reminded me yesterday of an unwritten “rule” the talented designer had: “If she didn’t like you, she wouldn’t sell to you. So, as it turned out, Maija really liked most of her customers a lot.” Surely, they will miss her. Already, as Marie Helene Reinhold of San Juan’s Reinhold Jewelers posted on Maija’s Facebook timeline: “Her absence is felt.”

 

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