St. Pete Jewelry Maker, Portrait Artist: Collaboration Is Key

Outside the Kahwa Coffee Cafe in Downtown St. Petersburg, Nicole Shannon enjoys a brisk morning with a hot cup of coffee. Florida may not be as intimidating or bustling as New York, Shannon's home state, but St. Pete inspires her. It's the perfect location to "put down roots'' and continue expanding her custom jewelry design business, Nicole Shannon Design, LLC.

Shannon, 32, was introduced to jewelry making when she was 9 years old. Although she says her mother knew her as a Plain Jane, Shannon was drawn to the Avant-Garde at a young age and transitioned her interest in unique jewelry into the creation of her later works.

Her love for the art of jewelry making eventually led her to the State University of New York at New Paltz, Fine Arts where she studied metalsmithing. Her education continued at the Savannah College of Art & Design, Metals & Jewelry in Georgia.

The decision to move to the Tampa Bay region proved akin to a breath of fresh air.

The appeal of St. Pete's suburban neighborhoods and the mix of new and old architecture became a perfect fit for Shannon and her husband. Their 1920's Craftsman bungalow home in Old Northeast has been the hub for some of her work as well.

"It's a city that's really growing and encouraging artists. There's a lot of respect for the arts. I just feel like I've been more inspired here in the last year than I expected to be,'' says Shannon.

After Shannon started her business independently, her work began with custom pieces for private clients. Eventually, Shannon decided to start on a more practical production line under her casual wear brand, Nicki Shannon Jewelry.

Her first production venture was inspired by women. After reaching out to fellow jeweler friends, asking to list qualities that great women possess, Shannon created her line and the pieces from those words.

"Because this was my first production line, it was a challenge and I wanted it to have meaning,'' says Shannon. "The goal was to find a theme that would be inspiring for women when they wear the pieces.''

Shannon's production line not only inspires women, but it includes the fostering of fellow female entrepreneurs as well.

Through family ties and mutual artistic interests, Shannon collaborated with the women of MAC Portraits in Clearwater to complete her look book and promote her new endeavor. In return, MAC Portraits gained experience and exposure as a fresh and talented trio.

A Family Affair

The women behind MAC Portraits are no strangers to Tampa Bay. Born and raised in Clearwater, Ariel Penu, 21, Chairty LeBlanc, 24, and Miriam Peck, 25, are the sisters behind the scenes on set.

The trio decided to put their individual talents to work last summer by specializing in portrait photo shoots. Their goal is to help capture the inner beauty that all women have with a little help from Penu, the photographer, LeBlanc, the makeup artist, and Peck, the hairstylist.

"We complement each other,'' says Peck, "With all three of us on set, we can catch things that one photographer couldn't.''

Penu, LeBlanc, and Peck were homeschooled with Allendale Academy until college. At a young age, the MAC sisters were surrounded by successfully independent business minded parents. Their mother was an artist and their father did custom carpentry work.

"We watched our mom paint, take orders online, and ship all of her artwork by herself. It was just the way things were,'' says LeBlanc.

"The idea of starting something on our own just came naturally,'' says Penu.

The Art Of Collaboration

While Shannon and the MAC sisters knew one another through a friend of a friend for some time, their working relationship started only last year.

Penu worked with Shannon on her first production line. LeBlanc and Peck modeled for the shoot as well. After the success of their first collective shoot, Shannon requested the newly formed MAC Portraits to team up for her first fashion line look book.

"Ariel and her sisters do exquisite work,'' says Shannon, "I've been really impressed with them.''

And who wouldn't be impressed by any of these women?

MAC Portraits and Nicole Shannon Design lead by example in Tampa Bay, a region that is widely known for fostering young business hopefuls. While young entrepreneurs may see their independent projects as solely their own, these four young women already know that collaboration among artists brings a positive outcome to fledgling businesses. 

Christina Barron is studying journalism and mass communications at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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