Making It: Handmade Home Furnishings From Akron’s JBurgess Designs

Maker: Jessica Skinner    
Business:
JBurgess Designs, Akron, OH

What’s the story behind JBurgess Designs?

I started the business three and a half years ago. I used to say that I reimagine furniture, but now I say I reimagine your home through furniture. The background is, I got married young, and we just inherited furniture from family, but it was like a hodgepodge of things. And I was like, ‘This ain’t gonna work! I need some cohesiveness.’ And so, I learned how to reupholster from there, and then later on I got into woodworking. I literally say it’s just in my bones. It's in my bloodline. My grandpa, [James Burgess] was a carpenter, and we would watch him, and he would make stuff for his farms. And so, the memories came all came back to me and I was like, I want to try it.

Skinner taught herself woodworking, and reimagines furniture through her own designs. [Jessica Skinner]

There’s something about you that seems very fearless. But did you have any fears about starting your own business?

Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. I don't think I'm fearless. I think I'm pretty good at feeling the fear and just kind of pushing through. A lot of my fear was surrounding the things I make. They’re unique, one-of-a-kind. And so, would that vibe with people, would people get it?

And then also fears around being a wife, a homeschool mom of three. Like, what does it even look like to try to do all of these things as one single human being? So, my fears were more that, would my art connect with people, would they enjoy it the same way I do?

The Akron-based designer and mom of three works hard every day to balance time with her family and time to be creative. [Jessica Skinner]

Take me through some of your favorite projects. How do you decide what to make next?

I decide a lot based off of where I am in the moment, what I'm feeling in the moment. And I would say that has brought me some of my favorite projects. I need visuals to remember concepts. So, as I was learning about honoring my space and my boundaries, that's when I came up with the baskets. It was almost perfect timing because this all happened at the onset of COVID. And so really having a visual for honoring my capacity, the things I could do, the things I couldn't do, it was like my representation of me. Here's my little basket. These are the intentional things I can fill myself with: family, creativity, things that bring me joy. So then the fabric bowls are by far one of my favorite projects.

Skinner handcrafts the bowls with discarded fabric from reupholstering projects. [Jessica Skinner]

You also later discovered an additional layer of meaning in your baskets. What was that?

When there was an uprising of things happening racially, the initial onset was like a reminder to all the peoples about what Blackness is for me, as a Black woman. The beautiful parts… the there was one basket I made that looked like summertime, which reminded me of family reunions and barbecue and my family line dancing outside and all of that. So that was a part of the segue into them. But then all the textures were like, being a Black woman is so layered and there's so many beautiful layers; there's just so many incredible parts that have been passed down. It was like, I need to share those parts, and each basket I created made me think of something different.

The multiple layers of baskets mirror the multiple layers she feels as a Black woman, Skinner says. [Jessica Skinner]

Would you share some of the challenges you’ve faced, simply by being a minority business owner?

When I first started, I remember I had a lot of trouble with people. People would come into my studio and they'd be like, ‘Who makes the stuff?’ And I'd be like, ‘It's me.’ And they're like, ‘No, you don't.’ So that was part of it. One of my really good friends, who has a studio here at Summit Art Space also, if I would have her watch my studio, people would engage more with her than they would engage with me. This is not in my mind, this is what really happened. And then also I had a very well-meaning, older Black couple also tell me to have someone white be the forefront of my business so that I could sell more. But given their life experience, that is actually historically accurate.

So it was just a lot of thinking through and processing, really. The first couple of years were hard for me just getting my bearings as a wife, mom, business owner, but then also taking in the feedback of those things, it was just really interesting to process through it all. And then after a while I was like, when I think about all of those things, they're important. But when I, as a Black woman, when I'm consumed with those things, I don't have mental space to create. So it's like, I have to make space for processing those things, and then time to put that aside and show and release all the wonderful things that are inside of this body. And so, I really think a lot about the connections and the layers of the things that have been passed down to me, of the beautiful things that have been made, created, of the joyous moments. All of those things, they tie right back into it.

Skinner describes limiting her time to process negativies that arise around being a Black business owner. [Jessica Skinner]

Find JBurgess Designs online or inside Summit Art Space, 140 E. Market St. in Akron. 

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