By Brecken Branstrator
New York--The Women’s Jewelry Association has awarded $40,000 in grants and scholarships this year, and honored a number of those winners at Monday night’s Awards for Excellence gala.

The WJA Female Veteran Grant went to Kim Kowalski, who was a part of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.

Kowalski left the Army after a bad landing caused lower-body injuries and then became an occupational therapy assistant with help from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

She started making jewelry when she created a jewelry kit to help patients, but soon found that it also helped her manage her own obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Kowalski is now developing her own jewelry business as well, designing with found objects and non-traditional materials, and she hopes to be able to combine that with continued help for patients who need occupational therapy.

She will complete an independent study in studio arts at her local community college this fall.

When she took the stage at the WJA gala on Monday to accept her grant, Kowalski said the money was going to help her pay for classes and supplies she wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford, as well as a few pieces of equipment she’s “been daydreaming about for a few years.”

She also said the money is really helping two veterans: Her husband is also a vet who’s getting into jewelry, so any knowledge she gains can be passed on to him.  

“But beyond that--just the things that I can afford now--is the validation for me that, yeah, I really am doing something worthwhile, and people outside my family and friends believe in me and my ability to succeed,” she said.

Kowalski also talked about how proud and passionate she was about the work that she’s doing, a feeling she hopes to pass on to women who might defer to being humble and demur.

“I’m hoping with this grant that I can help change that,” she said from the podium Monday night. “I want my voice to be heard, I want my art to be seen, and I want to help other women learn to find themselves in art, no matter what kind, the way I’ve been able to.”

Meanwhile, the $5,000 merit-based 2017 Carelle-WJA Grant was awarded to Brooklyn-based jewelry designer Rachel Weld Newton, who creates wearable, sculptural pieces for her brand, Rachel Weld.

She was an architect, interior designer and ballet dancer before she became a jewelry designer. She describes her aesthetic as a “juxtaposition of opposing forces,” pairing the hard edge against the feminine.

Carelle created the grant in honor of employee Brooke Tivol McGrath, who died in 2011 at age 28 from a rare blood infection.

Adrienne Sanogo also was named as the first 2017 Cindy Edelstein Jewelry Design Scholarship winner, and Sarah Silvey from WJA’s Twin Cities chapter won the Charlotte Preston “Gets It Done” Grant, a special grant given every year with funds from WJA and WJA's Twin Cities chapter in memory of the late Charlotte Preston.

Meanwhile, member grants are as followed, listed by the WJA chapter that submitted their names.
--Boston: Susan Warren
--Chicago: Nancy Hudson, Gayle Inbinder, Kelly Jacobson, Susanne Siegel
--Colorado: Katherine Whipple
--Dallas: Debra Navarro
--Florida: Maryann Scandiffio
--Los Angeles: Carol Koch, Kathleen Liu, Pheap Lorn-Canossi
--NY Metro: Marcia Budet, Denise Chislett, Asia Nail, Kristen Romans, Catherine Rudacille
--Northern California: Lilly Hoang, Olivia Shih
--Ohio/Kentucky: Meghan Carroll
--Providence: Marilyn Salvatore, Jaclyn St. Laurent, Suzanne Wernevi
--San Diego: Marreena Appleton, Rebecca Buys, Jennifer DeMoro, Janet Williams
--Seattle: Catherine Stam
--Twin Cities: Sara Commers, Diane Munsinger, Sarah Silvey, Kelly Williams       

WJA also granted scholarships to 11 women across three categories.

Designer/Creator Category
--$4,000 June Herman Award: Haiyin Liang of Virginia Commonwealth University
--$3,000 Peggy Kirby Award: Valerie James of Rhode Island School of Design
--$2000 Award: Sarah Spomer of Texas Tech
--$1,000 Award: Christina Fandino of Pasadena City College
--$1,000 Award: Alejandra Carrillo-Estrada of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Designer Category
--$2,500 Award: Chen Lu Cao of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University
--$1,000 Award: Carmen Liu of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA)

Non-Designer Category
--$2,500 Award: Sicily Blakely of GIA
--$1,000 Award: Marei Dose of North Bennet St. School
--$1,000 Award: Angela Noble of GIA
--$1,000 Award: Molly Robinson of Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology at Paris Junior College

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