Words: Ashlyn Stallings | Photos: Olivia Rae James | Illustrations: Maggie Mathews
Mini Hay, the next generation of storied King Street jeweler Croghan's Jewel Box, carries on her century-old family tradition by boldly gilding one of the South's most ubiquitous pests in the heart of gentile Charleston.
Charleston near-about paints a good mood on us all,
with the peninsula’s treasure trove of shops and restaurants, and enough architecture that you think the elegant city deserves to brag a smidge louder about that (but she’s just so dadgum polite). Not to mention, there’s that romantic Confederate jasmine scent lilting down every street offering well-appointed forgiveness for the havoc pollen season wrought.
Next time you’re in town, take note of a single-house on King Street reigning along the famed thoroughfare: Croghan’s Jewel Box. The century-old jewelry store is an institution, and family-owned for four generations. Jewelry maker Mini Hay’s great grandfather beget his family a grand inheritance to carry on, and Mini’s grandmother, mom, aunt, and sister have all done their part to deliver. After studying art at Clemson and an internship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mini now saddles-up to her workbench in the store, where she crafts the company’s line of Goldbug jewelry.
1. How on earth did the cockroach become elevated to this level? Any jitters or nerves with putting a line of bug jewelry out?
Well, I don’t usually have ideas before I start – I’d just want earrings or a cuff to wear to whatever I was going to that night, and get working. After Clemson, I was interning at the Met’s jewelry manufacturing department. But I tend to get a little homesick, so that lasted a summer! Back home in Charleston at Croghan’s, Mom expressed she wanted something representative of Charleston. ‘There are already sweetgrass baskets, palm trees on everything … And not a crab, either,’ she said. So, I’m in the house mom grew up in, this old home downtown, and ha, it’s the South, so there are some cockroaches around … so, I decided to just make one: Just make one and see if people like it. It sold instantly that day. And that Christmas, I’d wear the Goldbugs to deb parties – and then get 6 calls the next day from whomever saw it on me! I didn’t study jewelry making – I was a sculpture major at Clemson. I thought ‘You know, I like it, I’ll try it. And if no one else likes them, I’ll have a cool pair of earrings.’
2. What’s next on your docket?
The Goldbugs have been out about 14 months. Of course, I want to move on and dream up what’s next, but everyone is telling me to slow down, ha. Things pick up speed, word is getting out about the bugs, and I need to keep working on them for now! I would like to see them engraved – like an old pressed ring. I’m doing some fine jewelry too, and working with a 3D printer to make these cluster earrings with materials like turquoise, coral, and topaz.”
3. Young women in the Charleston art community are on everyone's lips right now, like CofC alumni magazine cover girl Lulie Wallace, Raven Roxanne, and Teil Duncan. Tell us about that from your vantage point.
I think it’s so cool what they’ve done. You know it just all of sudden happened where people were paying attention to Charleston. The bloggers here have really helped, too: they promote Charleston and the arts so well. My mom and I wanted to get on board, and the local Visitors Bureau had this weekend for bloggers, and we hosted an event here at Croghan’s on the portico and stuff. We gave them each a pair of Goldbugs, which ended up being great for us because they’d post pictures of them. The Goldbugs seem to be such a conversation starter.
4. What’s the best part of the creative process for you?
So, I have the Goldbugs casted, and when I get the bugs back – it’s so fun – I get to just arrange them on myself, like my wrist or neck is this blank canvas. I’ll play with it, and curve all the wings around, or even bend some … I just try things, and if it doesn’t work, I can hide it in my workbench and never see it again!”
5. You’ve got so much family history in the single-house story. What’s one of your favorite memories?
Ha, I wish we had more photos – I guess we’re too busy enjoying life for pictures! One of the best is when I was, I don’t know, maybe two years old, and I’m looking out the door. I’d wrap Christmas gifts in the back when I was really little, and we’d get so busy. Mom would be like, ‘Come out here! We need some help!’ I so disliked it, that I chose to work for my dad’s tire company before the jewelry store! It just seemed nerve-wrecking to answer questions on the floor about jewelry with people all day. Finally, she roped me in working one weekend. I loved it. You know, you’re part of people’s lives on the happiest occasions – marriages, new babies, christenings ... I don’t want miss a day of that.
Mini Hay's Goldbug by Mini line is available on Taigan.com