Linnie Aikens Arts and Letters • HeART Haven Studios


I finally found the photo!  ...or rather, Mom did!    This is her holding her first metal sculpture and prototype and her longest selling item for Artisan House--nearly 30 years to date!  Although nearly all of her sculptures are abstract / non-objective FINE ART pieces now, it was this can opener that gave her her start in the field!


Here she stands in front of the Art Building at Cal State University Los Angeles, where she did her Masters work in Fine Art.  It was here that the University Department professors decided against conferring her with a BFA because they said her art was just too good...that someone must have done the work for her.  She was young and didn’t know how to fight it then.  Now her overwhelming success of her work in her field proves in the end the truth.  Shame on Cal State LA and professors whose ego was too great to allow a student to aspire to greatness.  I asked Mom about it once.  She just smiled and said, “You don’t need revenge when you’ve achieved success.”


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.


Event #3


The eBay seller, "groovyartlover" got me started on sleuthing. I was amazed by how many people knew C. Jeré work. Finally, I stumbled upon a blog by Sean Yashar regarding the sculptor(s) C. Jeré. His post was very good background to this post, and closer to the facts that I knew through my mother, so I am sure both he and I would welcome you to read it via his link to the right. 


I've discovered that the "sculptor," C. Jeré, has quite a following, who most collectors assume is a single prolific artist working in metal. As Sean Yashar points out, "...there was never an artist named C. Jeré at all; the name C. Jeré is a pseudonym front for a large manufacturer of metal based decorative accessories!" The name, C. Jeré, comes from the combining of the names of the Artisan House co-founders, Jerry Fels and Kurt (Curtis) Freiler. This may be legend to some, but my mother, a protogé and good friend of Jerry Fels, says this is in fact true. Much in the way that Simon and Garfunkel wrote "Feeling Groovy" for laughs, never intending it to be so successful, the french accent was added to Jerry's name as a result of two artsy friends laughing and brainstorming. They formed Artisan House and used the name C. Jeré to represent all of the artists working there, Jerry Fels being the key artist during the 60's and 70's.


Sean Yashar, in his blog made the comment: "While many of the items produced by Artisan House are indeed "art", the goal of artisan house was never really about fine art, but more about commerce. Some of the items produced by "C. Jeré" are really quite unique and stunning and do rise to the level of fine art and high design, but lots of the items produced were more in the line of 'dogs playing poker'." It is here that my mother, BJ Keith steps forward, for although she had her start with the Gourmet Kitchen Utensils, it is her non-objective fine art for which she is most known (or unknown, as the case may be--and the point of this blog site).


Jerry Fels was an inspiration and my mother's mentor and good friend. His passing last year brought her great sadness. As his protoge, beginning in the late 1970's BJ Keith grew from designer to top designer when Fels moved to Colorado. For the past two decades, her work dominated Artisan House's line up, and brought in more than 50% of the revenue of the entire company.


If you look at the company's artwork today, 99% of the contemporary, abstract, indoor/outdoor, table art and free standing sculpture are her designs. Ironically, although she is mostly known for her non-objective artwork, she received her start with the oversized gourmet kitchen utensil line, which Artisan House still carries after 30 years! Her greatest challenge in working for such a company was/is how to retain her integrity as a fine artist while being forced to the constraints of the corporate commercial bottom line. I think this is an issue with which most, if not all, artists have struggled: How do you be true to your art without starving and without being irresponsible in supporting your family? I believe my mother and sculptor, BJ Keith, was able to accomplish this more than many.


She served as Art Director for the company for at least a decade, teaching and helping other artists to perfect their skills, being their spokesperson and advocate to the execs, and recently retired from full-time after 30 years with the company.  She still designs in her garage and contributes to the above mentioned lines.

C. Jeré & BJ Keith -- Pt. III   (Original Quiet Panache Blogspot Moved to this Page)

April 22, 2008




All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

Event #2: 


I was browsing through eBay when I noticed that one of mom's metal sculpture Gourmet Kitchen Utensils was for sale there by "groovyartlover." Not only that, but this now out of production piece, was mom's very first sculpture for Artisan House, under the pseudonym of C. Jeré. When her father passed on, he left her a great deal of machinery, table saws, welding tanks and supplies, anvil, etc. Dad taught her how to weld in the garage, and she, having been a stay-at-home mom and an amazing cook, drew her first ideas from her kitchen. My mother, Mrs. Aikens, went from the traditional 50's mom to Bunnie, the hip and groovy mom of the 60's and 70's, and then to BJ Keith the artsy entrepreneurial mom of the 80's and 90's. When I picture my mom now, I usually picture her in her welder's mask, jeans and boots out in the garage designing. We had about 5 decades of feminine history exemplified through watching and experiencing the growth and changes in my mother. She was and is truly an inspiration to us girls (her four daughters and five granddaughters). 



All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

As I use the computer more and more for research, I find little gems posted on blogs and find myself drawn in to this contemporary form/forum of sharing ideas and information.  It was yesterday that I was finally prompted to launch my own blog, with the purpose of honoring, first and foremost, the inspirational and creative women in my family, and secondly, to share with the world other everyday unsung heroes in my life, people of quiet panache, big hearts and vision--creatives either through their art, science, teaching, or sense of responsibility to create change in the world. Heaven knows, we all could use a little more beauty, kindness and personal responsibility in the world. I am starting this blog because so often in our corporate, big business world, the creative faces and names behind the big bucks are lost as companies, districts, organizations take credit for their products. That's their corporate right, I suppose, to put their name on these creations to the public, but I want to personally praise and honor those who made these organizations and companies shine. I qualify here that these are all my personal opinions, and none of these unsung heroes have solicited my voice.


I begin with a series of blog posts about my mother: artist, painter, sculptor and one-time musician--BJ Keith.   I was prompted to start this blog after a series of events that happened recently:


Event #1:

While taking my daughter to Cornell University to do her college visits, we explored The Commons (downtown Ithaca). I turned to say something to her when I noticed the store window directly behind her. There, displayed were all of the very first pieces my mother ever created for Artisan House, under the pseudonym of C.Jeré, the name used to represent a group of artists at the Los Angeles based metal design company. I myself was stunned to see that the pieces that mom had designed 30 years ago were still highly sought after items. My daughter, who had never seen these pieces, was glowing with pride for her grandmother, who she considers to be her role model and inspiration for pursuing her dreams. Here is a picture of her in front of the store window of "Now You're Cooking". In the following picture are these items still being sold today by the Artisan House, only not in the original 4 foot size. The only piece not made any more is her first piece, which is the can opener. The owner had that piece mounted up behind his counter and informed me that it wasn't for sale because he couldn't get it any more, and it was his own collector's item. I explained how I wasn't looking to buy it but that my mother had designed it. He looked at me in askance as if to say, "Yeah, right." I must dig up the photo of my mother holding her first prototype of the piece back in the 70's, for all of you C. Jeré fans!

C. Jeré & BJ Keith -- Part 1  (Original Quiet Panache Blogspot Moved to this Page)

April 20, 2008



All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

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