Stories Behind the Booze: Ombré Gallery

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Cincinnati has been a city known for its art scene since 1869 when the Cincinnati Art Academy was founded. Between then and now, we’ve seen Rookwood Pottery gain international recognition, murals pop up across neighborhoods, and the Contemporary Arts Center open downtown. In 2016, Jenna Shaifer opened Ombré Gallery in Oakley, adding her love for contemporary art jewelry to our one-of-a-kind arts scene. Women of Cincy spent a morning with Jenna in her gallery and experienced the passion she has for this business and for every artist she features. Her eyes light up as she describes each jewelry maker’s inspiration, materials, and background. Jenna’s warmth and positivity make it easy to see why Ombré Gallery attracts customers from all over the world. But the success didn’t happen overnight. She told us about her journey from being an intern for Donna Karan to relocating to Cincinnati to opening her own small business.

Interview by Liz Rosevear. Photography by Stacy Wegley.

Can you share the story of how Ombré Gallery came to be?

My background is in the fashion industry, and I worked in product development for over 12 years. I eventually started to really think about what it was I was really interested in. I started taking jewelry design classes and I loved, loved, loved it. But I wasn’t very good at it. It took me forever to make a piece of jewelry. But I loved to going to all of the different craft shows and art shows that were out there and I appreciated all of the history of the artists. Eventually, my husband and I made our way down to Washington D.C. That's when I found out about this program with the Smithsonian and ended up getting my master's in the history of the decorative arts. I focused on contemporary art jewelry once I found out that there was such a field. At first, I was going to go for costume, which is my background; then I found out that I could actually focus on jewelry and I thought this was amazing. After working at the Smithsonian and working at another contemporary art jewelry gallery, I knew that I wanted to open up my own space in my own gallery. I bided my time a little bit with that and we went back to New York.


So when we came to Cincinnati, I told my husband that I was going to open up that jewelry gallery I’ve always wanted to open up. I'm prepared for it. I've worked at galleries; I’ve worked at museums; I have the degree; I have the connections. I felt like Cincinnati had so many wonderful things happening for it; I just felt the energy when I moved here. You can see it everywhere, that something good and wonderful is happening. But, I also didn't know anybody here. I was overcoming a lot of hurdles. I'm like, “Okay, is this really a crazy idea? I'm bringing contemporary art jewelry that most people haven't seen, and nobody knows me, and I don't really know Cincinnati. But yeah, let’s just go for it.”

Just being in the fashion industry, you see a lot of women sacrificing a lot for a career.

I wanted my son to know that he should never let fear hold him back. Even if my business were to fail, which it's not, but even if it were, that he would know that Mommy went for her dream. That's what I wanted him to know, because for many years I did let fear hold me back. When I moved here, I just said, this is going to be the year of Jenna. We are going to do it; we are going to open the gallery. I called up all the artists that knew me already and said, “I'm opening in two months, can you send me work?” and just went for it.

Do you have any advice you want to share with women who are reading this and thinking about starting their own business?

I was thinking about starting some kind of talk for women who are interested in being an entrepreneur, because this past year has been the biggest learning and growth experience of my life. Everything I thought I knew… I didn't, and I had to learn so much on the fly. I knew how to get the business going, like the nitty gritty startup things. But then there's the other aspects of it that you just you don't know. Every city has its own feel and energy and vibe, and you have to really understand that pulse. I had to spend the past year learning that. Artists always ask me what kind of clientele I have, and I’m still trying to figure that out. I would say even now, 90% of the people that come into my gallery are new. And also, you really want to know what the vision is you're trying to put out there and stick to it. With that aspect alone, I think the biggest thing I want entrepreneurs to know is to have a vision, have a focus, and know that you can do this. Don’t let fear hold you back.

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I think it's also important to find your tribe, find people who are also business owners who understand. I've found many women in Cincinnati who I became friends with over the past year who are business owners and moms and who know what I'm going through. So that day that I'm crying and I'm like, “Why am I doing this? This is so hard.” They get it. Your first years are tough because you're really building something from scratch. Of course, I have my husband and my family in my corner, but it's always nice to have people who are outside of that, who are also in it. When I reached out to find Women of Cincy, I was so excited to see that there was this women's group. Honestly, every day I'm finding new supports that I didn't know before. People here are really connectors. They want to help you and they want to connect to you. For new entrepreneurs, take advantage of that. If someone says they know someone who you should get in touch with, follow up with that. I had two women that I didn't know were friends who belonged to the same organization. They wanted to hold an event in here for the rest of their organization because they wanted everyone to know that I was here. That’s amazing to me. I don't know if that would have happened in New York, honestly. A lot of my girlfriends knew I was having a hard time when I first moved to Cincinnati because it was so different. They said, “Jen, you seem so happy; it seems like everything that you've wanted, you've been able to accomplish.” Cincinnati has really provided that for myself and my family.

When you're not working in the store, what do you like to do in your free time?

I love traveling. I think the biggest thing for me is that growing up, I remember my grandfather giving me a National Geographic magazine, and we didn't do much traveling. I had brothers, and my parents were both nurses, so the most that we did was go to the beach or see Grandma and Grandpa in New Jersey. The first trip I ever took out of the country was to Venezuela right after I finished college. I went to live with a friend of mine. I love meeting people from all over. If you don't see me in the gallery, chances are I’m gallivanting and making my husband go on these hour and a half trips to someplace… Columbus, Bloomington, Lexington, Chicago.

Cincinnati was never on my long list, short list, any list.

I love to travel; I'm always thinking of the next place I can go. Part of the reason why I also got into this field is because I love being able to meet people from around the world. I want my son to be able to travel and see. When we have a chance – I don't have a huge budget, but sometimes it’s just showing him different local things, going to museums and doing different things. Or I'm at home cooking. I have two brothers who are chefs, and one of them I got to relocate here to Cincinnati. Cooking is a big thing for us. We love community supported agriculture. We just came back from from Mexico for vacation in January. My husband’s always like, “Where are we going now?”


Who has been an influential woman in your life?

There are so many influential women but my my mother was definitely… She's not a business person by any means, but both my mother and father worked as nurses and my mom went into administration. She was always a working mom and I always saw that. She worked at a high level in the administrative healthcare field. I never really thought about it growing up. I just knew that I always had to get myself home from school, take care of my brothers. Now, being a business person and having a kid, I see what all she had to overcome and go through. She had her master's degree. At one point she was working on her Ph.D., but she didn't finish it. But I look back and I realize that's pretty amazing, because I think it was her generation that really pushed women to work. My mom, I think, was a big influence.

I wanted my son to know that he should never let fear hold him back. Even if my business were to fail, which it's not, but even if it were, that he would know that Mommy went for her dream.

I also worked at one point as an intern for Donna Karan New York and I remember seeing her going through what her business was and getting that off the ground. Just being in the fashion industry, you see a lot of women sacrificing a lot for a career. I think the reason why I became a mom later in life is because there's not really a lot of balance. When I worked in the fashion industry and didn't have a kid, I worked so many hours. I don't know how anybody can can do it. I feel I've learned a lot from all of my bosses along the way.

If you could have dinner with any famous woman or group of women, who would you pick and why?

So if we had a talk about the political world, I would love to have – this is going to be revealing – Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, sitting at the table with me and talking to me. I know that's crazy, because they’re not artists, right? But I feel like they just have this world of experience. I’d also like to talk to some women who were activists and leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. Oprah Winfrey – I would love to talk with her. She’s an entrepreneur and she lived in Columbia, Maryland, my hometown. She was a news anchor in Baltimore, and to see her go from that to where she is, I know that she can be like a lightning rod for some women. Also gosh, who are some of the women…Gloria Steinem… I can go on and on. Also, if someone was still alive, I would go back in the arts to where I was doing my thesis research on Margaret De Patta. She was a really fierce, independent woman who was so talented and had such a history. I would just love to sit down with her and talk to her about her experience. When I wrote my thesis, there were still a lot of people that were alive that were the founders of the Metal Arts Guild, and she was the one person that was central to my thesis that wasn’t still alive. I have stories about her and I have some papers that she wrote, but I would love to be able to talk to her and show her where our field used to be and where it is now.

Jenna features over 60 women artists in her gallery! Join us at Ombré Gallery on Tuesday, March 27 from 6-8 p.m. Grab a glass of wine from Oakley Wines, check out the jewelry, and meet the fabulous Jenna Shaifer all while mingling with members of the community. Space is limited, so reserve your (free!) ticket now. Ombré Gallery is located at 4011a Allston Street.