I first saw Anna Balkan’s jewelry at a large art show in Philadelphia. Her work stood apart from others with the unrestrained use of color and form. Each display was a riot of color packed with joyful, inventive combinations of shape and texture. It was unlike anything I had seen—or frankly, have seen since. I knew I would be buying her work to bring to our guests at Helen Winnemore’s, the harder question was how to narrow it down. I WANTED IT ALL!
The originality and changing nature of Anna’s work is given context by her personal history-one that has required her to rise and reimagine herself through significant adversity. Born to a Jewish family in Russian Ukraine, Anna was bullied and isolated for her ancestry. Wishing to shield her parents from the pain of her experience, Anna bore much of that pain alone and without solace.
At 20 years old, Anna immigrated to the United States as a political refugee. With only $100, this beginning would require relentless perseverance developed by the oppression she endured in Russian Ukraine. In her early American years, she experienced homelessness and isolation as she struggled to learn and speak English. She found comfort and generosity from other immigrants who understood her journey, helping ease her lifelong isolation and reorient herself in her new country.
Anna would eventually save money to attend The City College of New York and then graduate from Michigan State. This led to a corporate job and the first security she would know in the United States. After many years in the corporate world, Anna would meet challenge again when her corporate job was eliminated. Rather than despair, Anna took the opportunity to devote herself to establishing her jewelry business. With a background in engineering, rather than trying to create symmetrical pieces, Anna was more interested in making pieces that felt balanced by the combination of color, shape and weight.
Anna’s immigrant experience has informed the way she runs her business. Having struggled in her early days with “poverty, homelessness, and loneliness”, she feels a moral obligation to help other immigrants, as she was helped by immigrants who preceded her. So right from the start she employed immigrant women who were in need of steady, safe and honorable jobs, empowering them to find their own new path. She hopes these visual reminders also empower the women who wear them-helping them feel courageous, visible and loved.
Over the years, Anna Balkan’s work has made appearances at The Oscars, on various television shows and on the necks and ears and wrists of more happy customers than we could possibly count!