Profile: Barbara Nymark
by Jane Ledwell
At Barbara Nymark’s home in Victoria-by-the-Sea, I’m not sure which door to knock on. Her front door opens into her jewellery shop, which is also her living room, and which is closed until afternoon. Her garden door, beside a passionately tended garden, opens into the rest of her home. Despite tentative knocking, she ushers me in, apologizing that her dog “doesn’t know he’s a terrier — he thinks he’s a golden retriever.” He’s been over-influenced by retrievers across the street, just as she herself has allowed her previous identity as a CBC Radio journalist, and her home, to be overtaken by artisanal life in the arts community of Victoria-by-the-Sea.
“I was on my way to art school when I got sideswiped by journalism,” Barbara says with a wry smile. “I have the quality, quite valuable in a journalist I think, of being easily distracted by bright, shiny objects.”
In Barbara’s living room, books have reluctantly given over their shelves to displays of earrings, necklaces, and ankle bracelets adorned with silver, pearls, or semi-precious stones. Even the coffee table is a display box. Friends now think renovations she did to her house when she moved in must have been prescient, since they have adapted so well to a living-room shop. But, in fact, at that time Barbara Nymark hadn’t yet even begun to make jewellery.
“When I retired from the CBC, there was a time I wondered, well, who will I be if I’m not ‘Barbara Nymark from the CBC.’ A lot of people ask me if I miss working at the CBC. But I have to say I don’t. That’s not to say I didn’t love the work, because I did … it was a great privilege to work at the CBC.”
Barbara now tells and gathers stories, through jewellery. In her new shop, she says, “I’m able to talk directly to customers. I tend to interview, or some might say interrogate, everyone who comes to the door. There are a lot of people whose story I’ve gotten.” Also, “Stones have a story, a history. I am completely addicted to the possession of all the semi-precious stones”
When people call at the shop, “I tell them the stories of the pieces. If I see them looking at the blister pearls, I tell them that they’re a wonderful mistake of nature, created when the pearl set in the shell and not the meat of the mollusk. I tell them that most semi-precious stones are banged out in sweatshops … and I tell people that there is a sweatshop involved here, but it’s upstairs.” More seriously, Barbara says she does her best to source materials from ethical sources. “I don’t want to profit on the back of people who are not earning a living wage. I’m not 100% Fair Trade yet, but it is a goal.”
Barbara says, “I think people appreciate the stories behind this work. They appreciate that it is made here — and especially that it is made in this village. People come here and are immediately captivated. They want to take a piece of it home with them.”
Though the population of Victoria has dwindled to just 66 year-round residents, many are artists. “A lot of people in this village have steered this boat for me or helped me to steer it,” Barbara says, crediting them with taking jewellery on consignment, helping her do trade shows, sending people to her shop, and helping her learn business. “All these women” (and a few men) “who have involvement in the arts business have really been supportive and really pushed me hard to move beyond a hobby.”
Discovering her love and talent for creating jewellery sideswiped Barbara Nymark’s potential retirement identity crisis.“The identity thing, as far as CBC goes – I wondered if it was going to be important, and it wasn’t,” Barbara says. “I’m here to stay, and life is good. Kids are fine. Shop’s in the black. Dogs are obedient.” She laughs and sips her tea, surrounded by beautiful, shiny things and stones full of stories.