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Artist Turns Passion, Hobby into a Business

When Nora Nieves was a 13-year-old girl in Puerto Rico, she started making handmade jewelry with seeds. As she grew older, even though she continued to make necklaces, she considered her passion for jewelry to be just a hobby and not a profession.

Electric NEON bracelets getting dry. (Photo by Sylvia Obén) Click here for slideshow)
Electric NEON bracelets getting dry. (Photo by Sylvia Obén) Click here for slideshow

Nieves went to the Escuela de Artes Plásticas en Puerto Rico to study painting and graphic design. After graduating in 2004, she continued her painting, participating in shows and artist residencies.

There María Mater O’Neill, a mentor and professor at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico, taught Nieves to follow her intuition even if it might seem crazy to others.

Eventually Nieves’ intuition led her to combine her passions through jewelry making.

“In my jewelry line project, I’m able to apply all the skills I have from my art and design background,” Nieves said.

In 2008 Nieves moved to Chicago to get a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago,36 S. Wabash Ave., in the department of Fiber and Material Studies. After graduating in 2010, she decided to stay in the city and develop her jewelry business.

Nieves started her own line of jewelry called, “My n0ma.” The name is a combination of her first name and her middle name, Maité.

Adding the “my” to n0ma was important, she said. Customers would then say: “this is my n0ma,” said Nieves, now 32. “So [it] is their piece, it’s a way that the customer can own the jewelry line and feel part of it.”

Her friends and colleagues were surprised. They knew her as a painter, not a jewelry designer.

Nieves “was more involved in painting and showing her art pieces in art shows in Puerto Rico and Chicago” said Michelle Miner, a costumer and friend for three years. “Nieves is a very talented person, with strong knowledge and skills in art, fashion, graphic and web design.”

Nieves said her art and jewelry background were a perfect combination.

“I decided to put some time on it and do it for real,” she said. “I built a community at school, a lot of my friends who graduated with me, decided to stay in Chicago to try the city for a while and I thought I had the support, so I decided to stay.”

Nieves’ training in fiber and material studies informs her eclectic and free spirited designs, she enjoys “creating new and original concepts,” she said.

Nieves sells her jewelry in her my nOma online boutique and also in stores in Chicago, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Outside of her jewelry line, Nieves exercises her other skills and interests in a number of ways. She teaches in a jewelry program with After School Matters, an organization that promotes and supports after school educational programs for high school students in Chicago, Illinois. And in 2010, she joined her mentor, O’Neill, at the design studio Rubberband, LLP in Puerto Rico.

“Rubberband has always been a collective effort,” said Arthur Asseo, who co-founded the design studio with O’Neill.

Asseo said he was surprised to learn Nieves has her own business.

“Building a business by yourself is facing an uphill battle,” Asseo said. “I admire her a lot for working alone.”

Nieves gets her inspiration from the bright colors of the Caribbean, her experience growing up in Puerto Rico, and her painting.

Asseo said he wants Nieves to come back to Puerto Rico.

“The good artists leave the country,” said Asseo. “Nieves is talented and ready, with the ambition to carry out her dreams.”

Nieves for one never thought she would live in Chicago, but she is glad she came to the city.

“When you start a business there is a lot of work, time, and investment that you have to put in,” Nieves said. “Chicago has provided me with all the tools to get started.”


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