Juli Juneau

And her jewelry treasures from her exotic adventures
Jeff Strout
Juli Juneau, a blown glass artist, adorns herself with handmade jewelry she has collected from her travels to exotic places. She intricately recalls the story of where she acquired each piece, always interested in the person who made the treasure she now owns. Living in a penthouse atop the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a property Stewart, her husband, developed, she has the idea that each piece of handmade jewelry she owns was loved, treasured, used, and worn before it came to live with her.

Juli Juneau wraps a huge Masai collar of goatskin and cowrie shells around her neck, and then she begins adding layers of other necklaces made by the women she met when she visited a Masai village in Kenya last month. “I love jewelry with a story, a history,” says the popular blown glass artist. “It makes me happy to remember from which part of the world and how I acquired each special piece. I am always interested in the person who made it and the life story the item had before it came to me.”

Also adorning Juli are treasures from Sekou Ra and Timbucktu, annual New Orleans Jazz and Hertitage Festival Congo Square vendors, and rhinestone bracelets from her Larry Vrba collection. “Vrba trained with Miriam Haskell (1899-1981), one of the most famous American jewelry designers from 1920 through the 1960s. “Larry is a master of combining vintage rhinestone costume bits with vintage organic treasures, such as the bone centerpiece elaborately etched in Asia,” she says.

A world traveler with Stewart, her husband, she displays the memory of an elephant as she relates the history of some her favorite jewelry. “I know the artist’s energy is infused into each piece, and the idea that things were loved, treasured, used, and worn before they came to live with me and are now loved by me, makes me feel that other people’s lives and dreams live on. I feel my cherished handmade jewelry is infused with the spirit of the artist who made it.”

A native of Austin, Texas, who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and first moved to New Orleans during “Jazz Fest” in 1989, Juli was born with an adventuresome spirit that led to her love of traveling to exotic and mysterious places. “I graduated from the University of South Carolina with an undergraduate degree in French, with a minor in business management. I spent my sophomore year attending the University of Lomoges in France, where I began my love of international travel. Finding treasures on my journeys conjures up the sights, smells and sounds of where each piece was discovered,” she says. “When I travel, I research what indigenous things are traditionally worn by locals. For example, when I was in West Africa, I was thrilled to be able to meet members of the Fulani and Tuareg tribes and acquire some of their special silver jewelry and crosses that represent different cities in Niger.”

In India, Juli recalls meeting a man in an empty room, with a suitcase of rough, rose-cut diamonds set in pink enamel jewelry historically only made in Varanasi by the Ganges. “We sat on carpet and bargained with hand signals and paper and pens,” she says. “Needless to say most of my stories involve no English and lots of body language.”

She goes on to tell about finding great vintage turquoise and silver jewelry in Santa Fe, seal tooth and lapis pendants in Chile, and handmade ostrich shell jewelry chipped into small flat circles as beads in Botswana, “In Uganda, I traded with local Karamajong women for necklaces. Trading jewelry you are wearing with another person is a special ritual,” she adds.

What are her usual purchases when traveling? “I buy what I like and what calls to me. Often my finds have design flaws that I get to work out once I get back home,” she answers.

“My favorite local designers include Doctor Foots – he makes wonderful unique jewelry using silver, semi-precious stones and a variety of things like amber, wart hog tusks and alligator; Dominique Giordano – she uses modern designs then adds loads of shades of sensual pearls to her ‘caviar’ pearl line; and Danna Lea – she made me the perfect wide buckskin cuff to compliment a ’70s huge enamel crocodile cuff bracelet I found in the south of France last summer.”

Juli and Stewart live in the penthouse high atop the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Canal Street. It is a perfect setting to display her blown glass art, as she calls her imaginative creations she sells in galleries across the country. “I am excited that I will now be working at the brand new YAYA Art Center and public access Glass Studio of New Orleans at 3322 LaSalle St. in Central City,” she says. Then she continues to tell about their unique home: “Stewart developed the old Maison Blanche building to create the Ritz-Carlton and the moment he saw the rooftop, he envisioned it as a perfect place for a penthouse.”

Today the penthouse is like a gallery to showcase Juli’s unique talent. “Our home is airy and filled with light, making it a perfect place to display my glass art,” she says. “I hang colorful glass globes from our chandeliers and display peacock feathers from our peacocks that live in our safari camp in central Louisiana near Simmesport. My glass vases are on the mantels. I keep my South African weaver bird nests in a glass bowl in our bedroom. My glass creations are filled with seashells that we picked up on the beach in Seychelles, still fragrant with the salt of the Indian Ocean.”

The penthouse is truly a palace of treasures, with Juli’s interesting collection of handmade jewelry from exotic places just adding a perfect footnote to her life well lived.



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