As Henri Matisse once wrote, “Creativity takes courage.”
Never has that been truer than in the modern commercial jewelry market, where companies mass produce focus-tested designs, trading more on off-brand cachet than artistic panache. For artisanal jewelers, finding a way to make individually handcrafted works stand out is a constant challenge to both creativity and the courage that fuels it. For Lema J Design and its signature cuff line, a powerful cause serves as inspiration for both.
The beauty of each piece of artisanal jewelry has a deeper meaning for Jenny Benscher and Jill Becker, the sisters behind Lema J Design. The pair founded the enterprise in the fall of 2013 in the wake of personal tragedy: Jill’s daughter, Cara, had succumbed to leukemia at 21 years old. The heartbreaking loss devastated both sisters, but also provided them with the courage to launch a charitable venture in her honor.
Cara had always been an active volunteer and fundraiser for deserving causes, ranging from the American Red Cross to her local fire department. During Cara’s treatment, she and her family started “Karma for Cara,” holding blood drives to help patients in need. Months after Cara died, the family established the Karma for Cara Foundation (K4C), a non-profit that promotes and supports youth engagement and community service throughout the United States and also helps leukemia patients and their families.
Nine months after Cara passed away, Jenny — an artist trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and MICA — handcrafted a cuff in Cara’s favorite color (orange), adorned with a stylized eye insignia and gave it to Jill as a gift. Jenny told her sister, “This cuff will hug your wrist as if I am there to hug you, and the protective eye will always watch over you.” So many friends loved the orange cuff and the other colorful pieces that Jenny designed that the sisters decided to use them to help fuel the Karma for Cara project.
After pouring their passion and creative energy into the new enterprise, the sisters launched a business that could leverage lovingly crafted jewelry pieces to carry on Cara’s legacy. Lema J Design — named for the founders’ core values of love, empowerment, motion and adventure — was born. Over the last five years, Jenny and Jill have grown the business, with cuffs in hundreds of unique colorful designs now sold online and at boutiques from coast to coast. One hundred percent of the profits go directly to the Karma for Cara (K4C) Foundation.
To ensure that Cara’s passion for helping others remains active and that her foundation continues to empower young leaders around the country, Lema J continuously creates new cuffs. For each unique design, Jenny draws upon the strength and courage that comes from a righteous cause and loving memory to fuel her creativity. “Cara’s spirit remains an eternal source of inspiration, but so too do the hundreds of kids whose projects Lema has funded and the thousands of kids those projects have helped,” Jenny beams.
Lema J’s colorful cuffs are entirely handcrafted out of exotic hides, lined with soft lambskin and set in a variety of finishes. The pieces are bold in color, daring in design, and so versatile in style that the collections appeal to the hip and sophisticated women (and men!) of all ages.
This year, a collaboration with local contemporary artist Liza Hathaway Matthews has resulted in the ‘Chinoiserie Chic’ Collection, a stunning array of one-of-a-kind, hand-painted floral cuffs. Liza’s designs were an overwhelming success at the Palm Beach Fine Craft Show and the American Craft Show in Baltimore. More shows are being scheduled around the country, and the cuffs are available for purchase on the Lema J Website.
Read the Baltimore Fishbowl 2015 feature on Liza Hathaway Matthews, here.