The Renaissance Woman on Grove Street

 

The description was compelling: come meet a woman who was hidden as a child in France during the Holocaust, worked as an archeologist in Israel and now designs jewelry in her studio in Evanston. Offered by Beth Emet The Free Synagogue as part of its Fall 2014 Adult Education program, I signed up immediately.

The talk and gallery tour met at the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio in downtown Evanston. The gallery is deceiving at first glance. The soft peach tones of the walls immediately disarm the viewer and relax the eye. What was probably one big room 30 years ago is now a warren of cozy spaces created for consulting with clients. Designed by renowned artist and designer Celeste Sotola, visitors wander among the Pearl Room, the Gem Room/Library, the Diamond Room and the Wedding Band Alcove. I walked around the gallery and studied the showcases. Interesting and unusual items such as vases, garden objects, and found objects creatively displayed the jewelry pieces, which included necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants and pins. I saw a rainbow’s array of rare pearls, gems and stones in unusual settings and daring combinations.  The staff is friendly, solicitous and discreet without being pushy. They are eager to tell you about each piece.

Twice a year, Spring and Fall, Eve presents a new collection; the Fall 2014 collection is Garden of Eden. The collections range from twenty to one hundred unique pieces, incorporate a theme and include a narrative that shares the sources of Eve’s inspiration, such as poetry, literature, nature and personal memories. The names of the collections are diverse and represent Eve’s wide range of interests.  Everything in the collection comes from Eve’s imagination, which she conveys to others through sketches. Based on theses sketches, artisans make models to test the piece as it looks as a dimensional object. This collaboration continues between Eve and her goldsmiths until the piece is perfect.

Eve talked about her childhood and life’s experiences and how those experiences are expressed in her work. For several years, she and her parents hid among several different secret locations, and at times Eve was hidden in a separate location from her parents. Yet in spite of the inevitable stresses, her parents protected her body as well as her psyche; Eve’s memories of this time in her life are not anguished, and she still finds inspiration in how her parents coped with and survived such a horrendous time in their lives.

After the war, the three of them–their extended family on both sides having been murdered by the Nazis–immigrated to Canada. Eve attended the prestigious McGill University and graduated with a degree in business and accounting, starting her career as a CPA. But she was too creative and ambitious to remain solely in accounting. She volunteered and worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, learning how to reassemble pottery from ceramic shards recovered at archeological digs. Perhaps most significantly, Eve began to make her own jewelry and to teach herself about the materials and tools.

A few years later Eve married, and soon she and her husband Maurice were parents to two young children. Her husband’s business took the family to the Midwest and they settled in Evanston, IL. Eve went back to graduate school at the University of Illinois and received degrees in linguistics (she is conversant in ten languages!) and medieval poetry. She found work as a high school language teacher, and traveled to Israel during the summers to work at archeological digs, helping to reassemble ceramic pieces. When romance languages fell out of favor and her teaching services were no longer needed, she took some metalsmith classes and learned how to weld. She incorporated these new skills into her jewelry-making business, now based in her home studio in the family’s basement. She moved her business into the current location in 1987 and expanded the space to its current size and look in 1991.

Today the business is truly a family enterprise with Eve at its hub: Eve’s daughter Diane is an established glass artisan, and together they collaborate on various pieces in each of the collections. Diane’s husband, Matthew, a professional photographer and art director, designs and maintains the Eve J. Alfillé online presence; Eve’s husband is involved in the back-end operations of the gallery, and years ago designed a specialized computer program to track inventory and sales.

So often word ‘unique’ is bandied about carelessly without any thought of its true meaning, but unique is what you will find here. No two pieces are exactly the same and everything is made by hand in the studio in the back. For the woman who has everything, for a couple looking to select personalized rings that symbolize an upcoming engagement or marriage, for any occasion or no occasion at all, an ideal gift may certainly be found within the walls of the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio.

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