An article by Neighbourhood Living Magazine on July 21, 2012.
At the heart of my practice is the pleasure of working with a client to design something that speaks to his or her style and aesthetic.
On a sunny morning walk through the neighborhood, there is nothing more satisfying than finding an intriguing little shop that has somehow slipped your notice on earlier travels. Take Grace and Angeline Jewelry Studio, for example.
Set back from Bloor West, on Durie Street, the studio is easy to miss, but once inside the door, you’re guaranteed to come back. Filled with light and color – and infused with the charm of Grace Toleque – this tiny feminine delight entices with delicate original pieces of jewelry.
Grace’s necklaces, bracelets and earrings come with a story that weaves together images of her African heritage and memories of her childhood with her mother, Angeline. This commanding woman, a Minister of Social Affairs and Women’s Rights in the Central African Republic, shared her artistic sensibility with her daughter. It was Angeline’s joy to visit the mines in her country, where she knew how to choose the very best stones and have them made into creations of her own design by master jewelers.
“Everything I know about design and jewelry I absorbed from my mother,” Grace explains. “From a very early age, I learned to appreciate the beauty of gemstones through her eyes. She taught me that custom-made work has a strong emotional value and needn’t cost a fortune.”
Those experiences were formative for Grace, which was why it was important for her to have Angeline’s beside hers in the name of the studio. “She shared her love of jewelry with me. So at the heart of my practice, is the pleasure of working with a client to design something that speaks to his or her aesthetic, just as the jewelers used to do for my mother.”
This explains Grace’s unusual interest in modifying the ready-made pieces on display. Stones can be changed to match a favorite dress, and necklaces are happily shortened or lengthened. The idea of co-creation – and the fun behind it – is a family legacy and one that is embraced full-heartedly. So imagine carefully selected high-quality, semi-precious and precious stones, in warm and soft hues mixed with a glint of crystal; silver strands that link polished stone; ropes of knotted golden wire that snare hidden jewels around the neck … and don’t be afraid to ask for a few extra links, or a few less. Or perhaps earrings to match that rope of pearls?
"The relationship between a designer and wearer is very intimate,” says Grace. “I try to create as many wonderful color combinations as possible, but I also think of the meaning of the stones.”
The quality of the stones is very important as well. “Each stone has a different characteristic, but the quality should be superb. The beauty, the color and the energy of the stones inspire me, but the design should be aesthetically pleasing to the wearer.”
Like many artists, there were quite a few steps between the early days of sharing a love of gems with her mother and the opening of her own studio. Sadly, Angeline died when Grace was still young. Beading with Italian glass became a form of therapy and, later, fine jewelry became Grace’s passion. Taking courses in design, but still unconvinced of her talent, she gave her treasures away as gifts until a friend finally talked her into having her first sale. That success buoyed her spirits and she began to imagine it might be possible to turn her passion into a business.Some women, says Grace, like a memento of the birth of their child – something simple, perhaps engraved. “Every piece has a story and I find I have become a storyteller through my jewelry. One of my greatest rewards has been to have people come in as customers, share their stories as we work together, and leave as friends.”
One day, in 2009, while walking past her current location on Durie Street with her young son, she saw the tiny store and it called to her. “I said to him that if I had a space like this, I would turn it into a jewel box.”
A couple of months later, the place came up for lease. “I had no jewelry on hand and had to make it all during the month we renovated. I had no experience with business either, so whoever bought during those first couple of weeks got a real deal,” Grace recalls. “I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that this was going to be something special for me.” She had no idea how special.
“It is such an honor to see my mother’s name associated with mine. She will always be my muse. My sister, Lola, has been an amazing source of inspiration and encouragement, and my son has become my hero. He’s my biggest supporter,” says Grace, and her greatest source of strength. “It certainly has been challenging, but he always tells me not to give up my dream.”
Copyright © 2012 Neighbourhood Living Magazine