Bonnie Powers and Jeffrey Levin are the husband and wife duo behind Poet and/the Bench, a Mill Valley storefront that is the working studio of Jeffrey – a designer of custom and fine jewelry – and a shop with a curated selection of jewelry, home goods, art, and unique finds from near and far. They produce a house collection of branded Poet and/the Bench Atmosphere products including luxury candles, soaps and tea. Deeply committed to engaging with and supporting artists, craftsmen and craftswomen, they carry beautiful objects from many local makers, including fellow Bay Area Made member, jewelry designer Marja Germans Gard. Here they chat with Marja about her inspirations, influences, development, and advice to her younger self.
Marja Germans Gard is the creator of the MGG Studio jewelry collection. She is a dynamic female founder, small business builder and a maker who has a passion for working with her hands. We love her streamlined silhouettes and constantly evolving and inspired collections. While Marja loves logic and problem solving, her process isn’t linear. She follows the physical pull to create and has the bravery to take risks. We have a selection of jewelry from her Celestial, Hellenic and Auric collections, a mix of 14k gold, brass and silver, all made in her Bay Area studio.
Poet and/the Bench: Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
Marja: I’m not sure I could pinpoint an exact moment—I’ve always felt that art was an essential part of me. For the majority of my life, I’ve almost always been creating something—at various points I’ve thrown myself into any medium I could get my hands on, from stained glass to weaving to enameling, block carving, pottery, painting and drawing. I focused most seriously on dance, though, and I think that was my primary means of artistic expression until I found jewelry. I stepped away from art to pursue academia in a Ph.D. program and even though I was intellectually challenged in the program, it felt like something essential was missing from my life. Now that I get to create every day, it feels like I am settling back into my natural state.
Poet and/the Bench: What themes do you pursue in your jewelry collections?
Marja: I’ve always been drawn to clean lines and modern design. Right now I’m also really interested in how jewelry works with the body. I want my pieces to feel good when you’re wearing them—satisfying, like they fit with your body’s curves and angles. I like the idea of the wearer’s body completing the jewelry and I’m working towards engaging this idea more in my upcoming collections.
Poet and/the Bench: Tell us about what influenced your direction for the jewelry you’re creating now.
Marja: My current collection, Hellenic, was inspired by the goddesses of Greek Mythology. I streamlined bold winged and curvilinear shapes and incorporated them into pieces that are wearable by the strong women of today. In developing my newest collection I’ve been inspired by mid-century sculpture, especially abstract forms. I’ve been diving deep into the work of Dame Barbara Hepworth. I’m obsessed with the fluidity of the work that she managed to coax out of her materials.
Poet and/the Bench: How has your work developed over time?
Marja: When I first began making jewelry as a hobby, I didn’t think of it as a means of expressing myself. Rather, after years of pursuing very long-form academic projects, it was gratifying to be able to work with my hands to have a tangible product at the end of a day. Since then, I’ve begun to realize that I have a specific design aesthetic and a point of view that’s revealing itself to me with each new collection. I’ve also continued to challenge myself to develop new technical skills, like wax carving, to realize these new design ideas.
“So if I had the chance to give that younger self some advice I’d let her know that it’s possible to be both smart and creative, and that I could choose any path that I wanted to pursue.”
Poet and/the Bench: What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Marja: I would have to say my sketchbook. While I rely heavily on a wide range of tools to realize my designs, it’s my small, well-loved sketchbook (and a really sharp Mirado Black Warrior pencil) that I couldn’t live without. It’s always with me and it’s where I capture forms, themes, motifs and concepts — all the things that end up becoming jewelry.
Poet and/the Bench: Do you collect anything?
If you asked my family, they would say plants. It’s true, I can’t seem to resist them — pretty much anywhere I go, if we pass a nursery there is a plant coming home with me. I can’t say I have an amazing green thumb, but I persevere. That said, I’m becoming more interested in functional design objects. There is something magical about a really well designed tool.
Poet and/the Bench: What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
Marja: The Netflix shows Abstract and Chef’s Table. Both series plumb the minds of creatives (whether designers, artists or chefs) and illuminate their process. After watching either of these programs, I’m always motivated to be bold and push myself to create something new.
Poet and/the Bench: What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Marja: I think I’d like to give myself a heads-up that I would get to where I am now. Often we’re given labels or identities as young people that are hard to break out of — I was the “smart one,” not the “artistic one.” It’s true that I’ve always had passionate academic interests and pursuits, but I think I also minimized the arts as viable path because of this internalized label. So if I had the chance to give that younger self some advice I’d let her know that it’s possible to be both smart and creative, and that I could choose any path that I wanted to pursue.
We’ve spoken at length to Marja about her parents’ emigration to the states from Holland and how this informed some of her early independence and grit, finding her POV through the very act of putting her pieces out in the world, being a mom, being a female founder and how essential creating is to her. Much admiration!
We love the MGG collection and have a selection of jewelry from Marja’s Celestial, Hellenic and Auric designs, a mix of 14k gold, brass and silver, all made in her Bay Area studio.
Bonnie & Jeffrey, Poet and/the Bench