Bearpaw Jewellery - 705-645-4167

Peter Jessen's work as a Jeweller is a journey of inspiration and growth. The subjects of his art are found right outside of his workshop window, overlooking a beaver pond amidst the Canadian bush and all its wild inhabitants. Many of these naturally drift up to the house presenting themselves as new inspirations to be transformed into wearable archetypal art .

In his free time Peter loves to read, hike into the bush, canoe, observe wildlife and meet with friends. His main interests are Anthropology, Pre-history and most of all Rupestrian Art = Petroglyphs and Pictographs from around the world. All of these interests are sources of inspiration for Peter's art.

Mi-Shell Jessen is probably best known as one half of Bearpaw Jewellery, but primarily, she works as a shaman / healer in Muskoka and Southern Ontario. She is a Registered Nurse and a Jungian Therapist by training, but, first and foremost, she is following in the footsteps of her grandmother, the healer-shaman of her tribe, the Urianshai, in Siberia.

Mi-Shell has practiced, taught and used shamanism and shamanic healing pathways with her patients, clients, in schools, Pow Wows and the health care system. She leads circles and gatherings that focus on teaching, healing, ritual, drums and drumming, human growth and well-being.

Bearpaw Jewellery is a means for her to translate the mysteries experienced in trance and visions into tangible reality and to share it all with her community. Her shamanic Medicine pouches, ritual tools and other mixed media art are unique and sought after by collectors.

One of the most important tools of a Medicine Woman is the drum, the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the heartbeat and voice of our soul. Mi- Shell creates drums and leads the weekly local community drum circle as well as several frame drum circles.



The Importance of Place, Living Gently in Nature

“We live out here in nature, In as perfect a biosphere as is possible."

Peter and Mi-Shell Jessen are explaining to me the importance of place in the philosophy of their art and their life.

I look out the studio window towards Echo Creek and the 100 acres of swamp, trees and blueberry bushes beyond. Hordes of mosquitoes buzz outside the window. A hummingbird darts away from a feeder .

" When we came here we changed the environment as little as possible," Mi-Shell continues. "We understood that nature is food for the soul. It feeds our creative energies. If we didn't have this (she gestures through the studio window), we couldn't make jewellery as we do. What is out there is inside us."

It is what the Jessens refer to as a "pattern of balance in life", their work expressive of the continuum, "the circle" of existence of which humanity is but a part.

" Nature is beauty, a place of transformations - animal, spirit, human. To destroy nature is to destroy the circle. We must not destroy nature but honour it," Mi-Shell says.

The Jessens live in a log home in the woods beyond Fraserburg. They came here more then 15 years ago, cleared a space, built the home themselves. It is still a work in progress. It is also a home among many homes here.

" Over there lives Windwalker ," Mi-Shell says by way of explanation. She is talking of a black bear that is their neighbour. Windwalker is one of the animal images that are intrinsic in the design of their jewellery .

They call their business Bearpaw Jewellery. They specialize in original designs based on the wildlife around them, reinterpreted and activated through their study of native and pre-Christian mythologies.

In the wood pile under the deck a raccoon named Hairdresser, because of her propensity for hair grooming, has made her den and is raising her young. In a box in the living-room, a baby raccoon they are nursing lies asleep, a victim of a motorist that killed his mother and four siblings.

He was found in a ditch and brought to them for care. If he survives I am told they will call him Lucky. (Two days later I did receive an e-mail confirming his naming, signed "Lucky".)

" Each face, each animal has to be named," Mi-Shell says. “This builds a personal bond. When we sell a piece of jewellery we insist the buyer give it a name,because that builds a personal connection with the piece."

This process gives the jewellery piece a story, which gives it life.
And Mi-Shell is a born story-teller. Part of her approach is to tell to potential clients those stories, from lore or legend, that inspired the creation of a piece of jewellery.
Trained as a psychiatric nurse, she first made bead jewellery as a hobby and used it in therapy for clients coming to her clinic in Germany. It was at this time she discovered she "saw things doctors didn't", premonitions which a shaman later told her gave her a special power as a medicine woman.

In some ways this did not, of course, surprise Mi-Shell. "I come from a gypsy heritage," she says simply. She grew up in a Bavarian castle. Her father survived in the underground that fought Hitler. Her mother, interned in a camp, survived the Holocaust.

"Early I realized," she says, "I could communicate with nature." She found all things in nature had a story to tell, had a spirit that when listened to enhanced her being and understanding.

"The wolf, for example, expresses the spirit of endurance and survival; the bear is a spiritkeeper that suggests goodness, strength and knowledge of self."

The Jessens came here from Germany. They settled in Muskoka in the late 1980s after several years of travelling across North America in the old yellow Volkswagen van that sits just outside their door. They made jewellery along the way to support themselves.

"We went to the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Alaska. We spent our winters in Florida. Once we went to Labrador City, driving there before the road was built," Peter says. "We travelled along the railway line.

"When we arrived we were greeted with astonishment and they held a flea market just so we could sell them our jewellery for Christmas gifts."

For Peter and Mi-Shell, life is a journey and their work expresses the gifts of that journey's experiences: They seek in their work those patterns of balance in life that tell us those stories essential to an understanding of our existence and our place in nature.
In their work they use the "materials of nature": bone, antler, metals, wood, stone. Even the resins and colours used for inlay enamel come from natural sources.

While the "instinct" for a design comes through Mi-Shell's contemplation of nature and study of myth and folklore, it is Peter who is the technician, whose ability to manipulate objects from nature into intricate pieces,
Mi-Shell says, "comes from deep inside."
While many of their designs derive from Native imaging, especially from petroglyphs, the work does not directly appropriate Native culture. Rather, the work expresses visually the "collective unconscious", that part of the "original memory inside us all that we can apprehend if we clear out modern, especially religious, beliefs and prejudices." We are all the children of Lucy," Mi-Shell says in conclusion, a reference,to the name given to the earliest humanoid creature known. "We all share our genes with Lucy. We all come from the same source."




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