Now located in her Jewelry by Gail gallery on Driftwood Street in Nags Head, when Gail Kowalski opened her jewelry stand at R&R junction in 1977, she was only a few years away from Siena Heights College in Michigan. The building is now Booty Treats in Nags Head.
She had some great advice from one of her teachers, but still struggled to put that advice into her art.
“You have to start finding…your own style. Your own design concept,” he told her.
The problem was to find the style that would be his.
“I knew what it wasn’t. I am not a surveyor. I don’t like the edges. And squares and triangles. Certainly not symmetrical. So I knew what I was not,” she said.
It didn’t take her long to learn what she was, though. Gail has been creating her signature asymmetrical jewelry on the Outer Banks for 45 years. What she shapes is truly unique – each piece is a one-of-a-kind creation that even she may not be able to duplicate.
“Whatever is going on in my brain and whatever metals or stones I’m working with creates a confluence and I’m creating directly with the materials and tools while I’m sitting there doing it,” said she declared.
She works with metal and stone, their possibilities appealing to her, especially stones.
“The stones really have a lot to say. They tell you what’s on their mind and I can’t explain it, except that’s what happens to me,” she said.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of her jewelry is that no two pieces are ever the same. It’s not something she does consciously – she just can’t make two identical pieces of jewelry.
“It drives me crazy to even make two earrings the same way,” Gail said.
His love affair with the stones began long before his 45-year adventure on the Outer Banks. She’s 67 now and her first experience with stone happened before first grade, probably kindergarten.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, a neighbor, Mrs. Andrews, had a load of rocks delivered to her driveway, and the sun captured the sparkle of the rocks perfectly.
“My eyes went boinggg,” she recalls. “I remember that moment because the sun was shining in the west. His driveway was facing that direction and to this day I’ve never seen a pile of rocks like that.
Gail started picking up rocks and putting them under her bed, which worked until her mother tried to clean her room.
“She is trying to vacuum under the bed. And she bumps into something. She comes down and looks and I had all these bags of stones,” she said.
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She was to return the stones and tell Mrs. Andrews what she had done. Mrs. Andrews allowed him to keep some stones.
In high school, she discovered jewelry. A ninth-grade art teacher introduced the class to jewelry, and Gail was hooked.
“I completely fell in love…I can’t even tell you why,” she said.
This love affair with jewelry has led to a remarkable career with her designs worn by celebrities like actresses Vanessa Williams and Minnie Driver and bluegrass legend Rhonda Vincent.
“The projects of getting (jewelry) off celebrities have been really fun,” she said, though this phase of her business may have fallen victim to COVID. The contact to get her jewelry in front of celebrities has moved on to other projects during the pandemic.
It’s a part of her business that can come back, but if it doesn’t, she’s learned that there are always more opportunities.
“It’s as if God opened that door. you walk through that door that you’re supposed to walk through,” she said. “So whenever there was a door I would kick it and yell at it. And if it opened, I would cross it, but if it didn’t open, I took another path.