The old saw that “if you work at what you love, you never work a day in your life” seems made for Allison Cannarsa. Like a lot of folks, the 32-year-old found her way to Jersey City by way of Brooklyn and has discovered that JC is a friendly place for her art.
She lives in the Heights and makes jewelry in a studio in her apartment, which she sells under the name ARCOS. “By working from home I have the ability to work whenever I can and feel like it,” she says.
Her journey to jewelry artist started in Long Island, where she grew up. She went on to Vassar College, where she studied art history. “I did an internship with a jewelry artist there, where I got the first little seed of an idea,” she says. A couple of years later, she took a jewelry class and “fell totally in love with it.”
That took her to the legendary Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City for a two-year program in jewelry-making.
At that point she was living and working in Brooklyn. “It was impossible to survive there,” she recalls. “I wasn’t happy with the community and felt isolated.” Then a friend introduced her to Jersey City. “When I saw the quality of living in Jersey City, I was amazed,” she says. “I’ve been living here for three years now and, as an artist, I love it so much better than Brooklyn.”
What Starving Artist?
“I’m not under the stress of making my rent here,” she says. “I own my own business as an artisan, and it takes years to build up products and clientele. Meantime, I found a great place here where I can afford to live and not be struggling.”
Equally important is the Jersey City art scene. “I found a great spirit here,” she says. “There’s just so much enthusiasm. People are much more supportive of what I do, which I didn’t see in Brooklyn. In contrast, Jersey City is alive and well. Everyone is making something. They’re enthusiastic and passionate and real.”
She already feels part of the community, participating in JC Fridays and outdoor markets such as Hudson Flea and Sixth Borough. “It’s a great way to meet fellow makers,” she says. “We’re in it together. I’ve made fast friends that way.”
She’s also discovered the way Jersey City cross-pollinates when it comes to the arts. “I love music,” she says, “and when I see live music, a lot of artists are there as well.”
She also loves taking in movies at the Loew’s and takes full advantage of JC eateries, including Beechwood and Marco & Pepe for brunch. “Ozu Foods in the Heights feeds me at least once a week when I’m too busy to cook,” she says.
The ARCOS Aesthetic
“My work is very direct,” Allison says. “Just me and the piece, and I make it by hand as much as possible, so it’s really like a personal project. I’m trying to develop my own aesthetic and learn a personal language that feels my own.”
Her influences are eclectic. “I’m inspired by ancient cultures,” she says. “I love ancient symbology and carvings from all over the world.” She also loves modernist artwork and modernist jewelry.
She cites Scandinavian work. “Bold, abstract symbols feel heavy with meaning even if you can’t tell what they are trying to say,” she says. “What I’d like to keep developing is work that feels big and bold and has a presence and communicates something, even though it’s jewelry.
“When I studied art history, I wanted to create, but I was still shy and unsure about it,” she says. “I do really enjoy sculpture, and very experimental jewelry is borderline sculpture. I love the small detail work.”
Seeds Sown at Home
“My dad used to do stained glass lamps and window work as a hobby,” she relates. “I was just in love with it. He had a studio in the basement. I’d play around myself with mosaics; it always felt natural.”
Her father currently sells Mercedes. “He was so artistic and talented, but never got a chance to do it commercially,” she says.
For Allison, jewelry-making is a full-time job. In our Fall/Winter issue, Tara Ryazansky wrote about the Jane Do fitness studio. The former Rockettes who founded the studio commissioned Allison to create signet rings to reward employees. She also sells her work at Kanibal & Co.
“Jersey City has changed in the short time I’ve been here,” Allison says. “The community is already so strong, and I feel like I’m participating in it.”—Kate Rounds