Birthplace: Christchurch, NZ
Family: Partner Oskar, daughter Bella (10)
Star Sign: Sagittarius
Favourite Food: everything
Jen Banks has had several careers in her life, including preschool teacher, computer trainer, and neuromuscular therapist.
Yet none of these has ever given her quite as much satisfaction as the one she stumbled across when she’d moved to a new town and was looking for a way to meet people.
‘I moved to Auckland in 2002 and studied neuromuscular therapy and I knew no-one, so I decided to do a night class. I looked online and found one called ‘Make A Ring’. So I thought, I’ll do that, and after that first experience I just couldn’t stop,’ she says.
From then on Jen did every jewellery workshop and course she could find, and became obsessed with making jewellery, right up until this day when she works at it virtually full time, supplying her own hand-made designs to 9 galleries.
But let’s back track a minute. It was in Auckland, when she was studying neuromuscular therapy and doing jewellery on the weekends, that she first met partner Oskar.
He was an Aussie, originally from Perth, and they hit it off. But after a couple of years they decided that Auckland wasn’t for them, and would make the break to sunny Brisbane where Jen’s sister had already relocated.
There Jen established a neuromuscular therapy business, while Oskar continued working in computing, and only a year later they were pregnant, expecting twins.
But it wasn’t to be. For Jen and Oskar this was one of those moments in life where the world was turned upside down.
They lost their son during childbirth, while their little girl Bella was born healthy and very much alive.
So, Jen faced the unthinkable—becoming a mother to a tiny vulnerable baby, at the very same moment that she grieved the loss of another child.
‘It was just the worst time for us. I struggled with grief, while trying hard to also be a new mother,’ she says.
The pair battled on, but Brisbane became a place of sadness for them. So they decided to head south.
‘We had heard about Byron Bay, so we came down here and checked the area out, and we found Lennox Head,’ says Jen.
‘But I was still suffering severe post-natal depression, and one day when Bella was about 3 I had an experience, and I knew that I had to get help. I went to see a professional and I see now that she saved my life.’
Like so many who suffer from depression, it’s not Jen’s favourite subject, but it’s a part of her life.
‘I think it’s important for others who might be there now, to be able to read this and know that they are not alone.’
And while Jen’s life is different because of her experience, there’s still plenty of joy.
‘Not long after we had arrived here I heard about Hammer and Hand Jewellery Collective, but I put it to the back of my mind. Then one day I passed someone on the street who I had done a goldsmithing course with in Brisbane, and they told me Hammer and Hand was looking for a new member. So I went to see if I could join, and I did.
‘It provided me with a place to go—a little bubble of community and creativity, away from motherhood. It was just what I needed.’
And the Lennox Arts Collective has been a similar Godsend. Sparked by a random meeting with Collective members, Jen’s involvement with the LAC has become another social and creative hub of her life.
‘We love living in Lennox so much – a 10 minute trip to the shops takes an hour, because we bump into so many people we know – you just don’t get that sense of community in a city.’
What’s the best thing about your work? I do what I love and I get to spend my days making pretty shiny things. The fact that people love what I make – that’s a buzz that never goes away.
Working in both collectives, I meet so many people, and I find people fascinating – everyone has a story and they are all inspiring.
Worst thing? Back pain.
Hobbies? I love making things. Eating, cooking, walking along the beach and picking up rubbish.
Work/Life philosophy? Do what you love. I might have been good at things, but they didn’t energise me like making jewellery does. Oh, and remember that at any given moment we are all just doing our best.