In Memorandum: Jennifer Cross Gans

Jennifer Cross Gans was a good friend and a good Christian.  She was an example of optimism, perseverance and love.  She had strong opinions and could be impatient—in a wonderfully persistent way.  She was creative and artistic—a writer, a jeweler, a singer.  I am honored and grateful to say that I’ve had a long road with Jenny.  One of my longest lasting friendships.

We met in 1993.  I was 20 years old and a sophomore at SFSU.  I took a metals class at night for one unit.  Jenny was also taking this class, we were strangers, but we serendipitously sat next to each other.  This was my very first metal arts class and unbeknownst to me the beginning of an artistic and relationship journey that would span 3 decades.  I learned all the basics in that class—like cutting, filing, silver soldering.  Jenny was learning too.  She was enthusiastic outgoing, kind and interested in me and all that was going on in class.

One day, at the end of class, she offered to drive me home.  It was dark, and I lived all the way across town.  I accepted.  She started taking me home more frequently.  One day, she asked me if I’d like to go out to a “lady’s lunch”.  I said sure—and that began a lunch ritual that would last the next 29 years.  Once or twice per month she would pick me up after swimming, and I would be treated to lunch at one of our favorite places—usually Burmese, Thai or Japanese food.  It was a welcome break that brought a kind-of love and support that truly cherished.

In metal arts class, I would discover Judaica and became inspired to make Jewish ritual objects with my skills in metal.  She was captivated by this.  She always wanted to know more about the ritual objects, Judaism and our family’s experience as Holocaust survivors.  She was probably the first person I regularly shared Judaism with.  These topics continued to be a part of our lunch conversations throughout our relationship.  We talked about metalwork, art in general, religion, spirituality, humanism, travel, family, current events and more.  We never ran out of things to talk about.  Jewish holiday time was always the most fascinating to her.  I would share with her our rituals, and invite her to participate.  She loved it, came with me to temple, ate ritual foods, received Hebrew blessings and more.

These were the first mezuzot I ever made.  I made them in the class we took together.

We were appointed to the board of the Metal Arts Guild as student representatives.  We worked together on projects concerning the metal arts community in San Francisco for more than a decade—each of us doing different things on the board throughout the years.  Our time on the board only solidified our relationship, as we often attended meetings and events together.

She was a member of the San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society, and attended many Society of North American Goldsmiths’ conferences and the YUMA Art Symposium, always loving to participate in the pin swap. I remember her working feverishly to have as many pins ready for the conference as she could.  I would look forward to seeing all the pins she collected at the conferences.  She had many friends in the metals and enameling communities—and lent her writing skills to the Art Jewelry Forum and the Metal Arts Guild.  Every year when she would visit her son Jason, his wife Norma and their son Henry in New Mexico, she wouldn’t miss a chance to go to the Indian Jewelry market.  She would always bring home amazing works in silver, and bring them to our lunches so I could marvel at the craftpersonship.  We always tried to figure out how the jewelry was made.

She was a supporter of the arts and my work too.  She always made and effort to come to my shows, and she usually purchased something.  She was a sponsor of my art exhibit Art for Prayer and Peace: A Bridge to Oneness—not just with her generous donations, but with all the hours long conversations we had about the relational similarities between people, when it comes to the divine.  I cherished our talks.

This picture was taken at the exhibition Art for Prayer and Peace: A Bridge to Oneness

She listened as I lived through a destructive relationship, found new and lasting love, got married, had a family, and described the ups and downs of my life as a working artist.  She gave thoughtful, down-to-earth and caring advice.  She always brought us little gifts from her travels, and made sure we had an ongoing subscription to Metalsmith Magazine.  She gave steadfast support to my husband David, commissioning him to set some of her most precious works in gold and silver. She babysat for our son Kaleb, when he was a baby—always reading a book or two with him.  She gave to his college fund every year.

Her joy with our son Kaleb

(Left) Her best cloisonné enamel depicting Jesus as an angel.  She commissioned David to set it in gold.  (Right) She cast the ancient coin and had David set it in gold and silver, according to one of her designs.

Indeed, our relationship became more than a friendship, she became a sort-of God-Mother to me and an adopted Grandma to our son Kaleb.  She had a great sense of humor—sometimes raunchy.  She was a straight shooter—always telling it like it is.  She loved me a lot.  I knew it, and I gratefully received her love.

I reciprocated my love for her, especially these last 10 years or so as her and Ellis’s health began to decline.  I began taking her to lunch, or bringing her food, visiting her in the hospital, rehab, the assisted living facility,  and at home.  Her body weak and slow—but her appetite and opinions still strong.  She still remained active, taking classes when she could, always reading interesting books.

After her knee replacement when her hip dislocated, she spent a long time in rehab and then in an assisted living facility.  I saved her life when I came to visit her there—she had such a bad pneumonia it took weeks for them to drain her lungs.  She persevered through many health ups and downs, and excruciating pain.  She wanted more than anything to keep on living, and to hear updates from us and her son Jason.

Even in her last weeks, she still understood what was going on and would try to articulate her advice to me.  She holds a place in my life and heart that will never be replaced.  Now that she has passed, when I meditate at night, I sometimes visualize her loving presence, or the little angel drawings she always drew on cards to us.  I will forever be grateful for our friendship, her love and anytime I have success or failure, I will miss her.

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