Chloe’s Interview with Jill Nicholson

Jill Nicholson is a black woman who grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Now located in California, she is a fine artist and owns her own textile and jewelry design company called JENworksart. Jill is in her mid-fifties and currently lives in Altadena, CA with her husband, who is an architect. She has one daughter who currently lives in Detroit, as she is following in Jill’s footsteps by working with textiles. Jill has an interest in all aspects of design, but especially fine art textiles and architecture, as she was a former executive director at AIA Pasadena & Foothill chapter. Her main job now is creating textiles for garments as well as designing textiles. 

Audio clip #1:

Jill explains that her small hometown in Chicago, Illinois called Rock Island was quite conservative many years ago when she lived there, but in the past 20 years has diversified and become a more inclusive place.

“It’s changed a lot in the last 20 years, it’s more diverse now. Coming from Chicago to this small city that was very close-minded was hard, but it has absolutely changed a lot. I think there was one Chinese restaurant in the whole city, and maybe a few people of color… no diversity. But today it’s different, people have found the midwest and have flocked there for a good quality of life. You always hear about midwest ethics… people are very honest there…”

Audio clip #2:

Jill talks about her favorite childhood memories as she recounts her family’s road trips in the summer every year for her father’s birthday. She first tells me how her “job” before the trips were to weed her house, as she tried everything (such as soap and hot water on the plants!) to complete her task and get rid of the weeds before the trip. The most memorable trip she mentioned was her family’s car drive trip to Costa Rica for her father’s entomology interest and butterfly collection:

“So one summer he picked us up in the car, my mother in the front seat and the kids in the back, we drove from Illinois to Costa Rica, this was back in the late 60s. You could go from the United States border from Texas and cross into Mexico. We went through Mexico and ended up in Costa Rica, which was phenomenal. The butterflies and different insects that we would encounter was incredible. The wingspans (were so wide) it felt like a bird was flying past your head…”

“I think that early experience traveling south of the border gave me an opportunity to see how other people live, their lifestyle, their culture, and how much poverty there is in the world. Also seeing the big cities like Mexico City was phenomenal with the architecture.”

Audio clip #3:

When I asked Jill how these early experiences of travel affected her outlook on life, she explains how her father used to talk to her and remind her of how lucky she was to be an American citizen and have the rights she does in this country. She explains how it made her more thankful for where she lives and her upbringing as she traveled to different countries and got to see different ways of life.

“He (her father) always used to point out to me and say ‘Jill, do you see those kids playing out there in that water? Do you know the difference between you and them, is that you’re American.’ And it just kind of struck me, you know, that we have so much to be thankful that we are born here and are American citizens.”

Audio clip #4:

Jill describes how she chose her occupation and became interested in textiles, as her mother showed her at a very early age. She recounts not having very many people in her early life acting as mentors for college and her career (as now that is very common), but Jill did it all by herself.

“Growing up in the midwest in a small little city people were usually farmers, and in fact, my college was in the middle of a cornfield.”

Audio Clip #5:

In this audio, she explains how she uses her loom to make designs and translate them onto fabric, which is a long and beautiful process. She currently makes textiles, fabrics, garments, as well as jewelry.

“When I took my first weaving class I studied with a lady from Pakistan, and it was really an interesting experience to be able to make fabric of your own design, and create something with it, as a result of making a piece of fabric.”

Audio Clip #6:

I asked Jill about how she feels about the state of America today. She responded:

“Well it’s crazy between COVID, and the elections, I don’t know which is worse. I think they’re both right up there as being an awful experience for a lot of people who are quarantined. Having to watch the elections with our current occupant in the white house… I don’t know which is worse.”

In preparation for this interview, I had intended to ask questions about her personal experience with racism, in which she said she had not encountered much of it in her lifetime.

Audio clip #7:

Eventually towards the end of the interview, Jill actually did recount a time where she experienced racism while driving through the midwest with her family. The experience can be listened to in the clip.

Although nothing was overtly discriminating the family from being able to eat at the restaurant, Jill remembers this moment due to microaggressions , as well as the act of being put near the back of the restaurant.