Earthy arrowhead charms. State-shaped pendants. Icy blue gemstones the color of the Mississippi’s frozen headwaters. Much of Ginger Neilon’s inspiration for her handcrafted jewelry clearly flows from her love of Minnesota, its history, and its seasons. Despite her antler-themed necklaces, The Baubles and Bobbies owner said that she wasn’t always the North Star State’s biggest fan.

“I used to be the biggest winter hater,” said Neilon, who moved to San Diego after college but found herself back in Minnesota in just one year. “Now I’ve really grown to appreciate it. It’s beautiful to have the different changes of season, to know that this isn’t going to last forever and to appreciate how beautiful it is right now – other than when there’s a polar vortex going on!”

Submitted Photo - Ginger Neilon, owner of Baubles & Bobbies in Mankato, MN
Submitted Photo – Ginger Neilon, owner of Baubles & Bobbies in Mankato, MN

A health care worker prior to her Baubles business, Neilon is a lifelong jewelry maker who never thought she would have a full-time artistic career.

Growing a Passion

“My first show-and-tell was trying to restring these beads my grandma had got me from a garage sale,” laughed Neilon. “I always knew how to make stuff.” As a kid she loved re-purposing old jewelry to make brand-new pieces and toyed with the idea of changing her college nursing major to design and business. When she ultimately decided against the switch, the jewelry-making trade sought her out.

In 2013, Neilon found an internship in Mankato’s Salvage Sisters, a lifestyle gift and furniture boutique. The company needed a contemporary, on-trend jewelry artist, and Neilon stepped up.

If you do good to other people, good things will come back to you

“It all grew from there – very organically and very unexpectedly!” Neilon remembered. Her first pieces promptly sold out, as did the unique designs she continued to make for Salvage Sisters. While she worked to meet the demand, women’s boutique Gallery 512 of New Ulm, and which has since added a location in Mankato, reached out to ask if she would consider creating some pieces for their store as well.

After Gallery 512’s offer, Neilon quickly found herself selling to multiple stores across the state. She was also running out of space in her dining room to store her materials and finished creations. Just three years after her start at Salvage Sisters, she had left the healthcare sector to run a full-time custom jewelry business.

Making Good

Neilon’s pieces are clearly labors of love. Each item is unique, from its design, to its one-of-a-kind gemstones, to its inspiration.

“Whatever I felt drawn to, that’s what I would make,” said Neilon of her creative process. Her love of nature is a recurring theme in her work, motivating her recent Back to Earth collection.

“In pretty much everything I do there’s some kind of nature component or a memory of exploring the woods — going to the North Shore — something like that,” Neilon explained. Her goal for the Back to Earth collection was to evoke the feeling of being one with the outdoors and the deep meaning it had for her personally. Just like in her popular North collection, Neilon wove in elements from Minnesota’s natural beauty.

Submitted Photo - Amazonite earrings from Baubles & Bobbies Back to Earth collection.
Submitted Photo – Amazonite earrings from Baubles & Bobbies Back to Earth collection.

“I pulled everything from Minnesota,” she said. “I really looked deep into every little aspect that was designed for this one.” Winter ice appeared in her work as quartz pieces, the forests were represented with wood and rattan accents, and summer lake water in the north was represented by light blue amazonite gemstone beads.

While Neilon enjoys working with all gemstones, amazonite may be one of her favorites for the lakes it evokes. “My heart is just so at home on the North Shore,” she said, recalling past vacations. “That’s my favorite part of the world that I’ve ever been.”

When creating a piece, Neilon carefully examines her materials to determine what embellishments play well together. She especially enjoys the process of choosing which rough-cut gemstones to string next to each other. Neilon calls it the “flow” of a piece. On a good day, a necklace might take her 15 minutes to complete, but often if she doesn’t like the way it flows, she’ll pick it apart until she’s satisfied. “If I change my mind and don’t love the layout of the stones, I’ll start all over,” said Neilon.

Doing Good

Neilon’s goal for each piece is not only to create a beautiful finished product but to produce something that makes its owner feel good about wearing. This year Neilon partnered with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota for their anti sex-trafficking program MN Girls are Not for Sale. After the initiative ended in October, Neilon began looking for another anti-trafficking program to support for 2020.

A lot of at-risk teenage girls from rural communities are the target of sex trafficking. This is kind of my way to give back and if I can help prevent it in any way or assist those who have gone through it, then that’s my intention.

That’s really where I want my focus to be,” said Neilon regarding anti-trafficking movements. “It’s important to me; it affects a lot more people in the state than people realize. A lot of at-risk teenage girls from rural communities are the target of sex trafficking. This is kind of my way to give back and if I can help prevent it in any way or assist those who have gone through it, then that’s my intention.”

Helping women’s initiatives fits right in with Neilon’s primary values: Create good, do good.

“If you do good to other people, good things will come back to you,” Neilon said. “I just think that if you have the means to help people, then you do that.”

Katie Roiger
is a freelance writer who works out of the Greater Mankato Area. She enjoys exploring every town she visits and knowing where to find the best Mexican restaurant in any 40-mile radius.