Alumni Find Entrepreneurial Opportunities at Squirrel City Jewelers

If you take a stroll down Acorn Alley, you will find a charming shop called Squirrel City Jewelers owned by Kent State alumnus Michael Faehnel. Michael earned his B.F.A. in Jewelry/Metals/Enameling and Glass from the School of Art and decided to stay local after he graduated in 2004. He said he loves the “balance of playful curiosity, civic and ethical responsibility, and passion for creating an atmosphere that is both joyful and meaningful” which is abundantly present in the city of Kent. 

Michael Faehnel, owner of Squirrel City Jewelrs, outside the store with a green squirrel painted on the window.
Michael’s family is deeply rooted in the Kent State University community. His wife, Amanda, works as the Interim University Archivist and both of his children, Tristan (age 3) and Silas (age 7) attend the Child Development Center’s programs. Michael enjoys the spirit of community that is found in the college town. “If you're here long enough, just thinking about Kent will fill you with a flicker of that intangible soulfulness that exists here. It's quite the place to be,” he said. 

Michael contrives a joyful ambience at Squirrel City Jewelers by selling handmade jewelry crafted by local artists as well as his own treasures. He began on a tight budget and used the skills he learned from his undergraduate degree to help him build a prosperous business. He said, “There are a lot of fundamental skills that are developed in the B.F.A. program beyond just your technical education, especially on the business side. Plus, the open exploration of ways to achieve your goals and the resources available are a key component of being prepared for entrepreneurship.” 

Opal ring and two necklaces made by Michael Faehnel, owner of Squirrel City Jewelwers.
Michael recently joined Main Street Kent’s Business Enhancement committee and says there is much collaboration between the university and downtown. His involvement with the group helps him to connect with other Kent State alumni and engage with the community. “For me personally, that participation is all the more enjoyable because I am a KSU alumnus. Engaging with students, faculty, and staff is much easier having common experiences that you only acquire through being a part of the Kent State environment,” Michael said. 

What makes Squirrel City Jewelers such a jovial endeavor is the passionate personalities of its artists. Jewelry often carries a special meaning to the owner which makes the relationship between the artist and the wearer extremely profound. “Heirloom engagement rings, lockets that make the owner cry, a fantastic pair of fun earrings that brings you joy just to know you're wearing them...I could list items all night that embody the adventurous spirit of jewelry.” Speaking of adventure, the creation process of jewelry is pretty spectacular— from sawing to sandblasting to soldering. Michael loves experimenting with different techniques and tools in order to keep pushing his boundaries. He said, “Sometimes you're making some weird and interesting thing just to make the weird and interesting thing. It's not the stuff I end up creating that stokes the fires of the playful adventurous spirit I admire in life...it's the people you make them with. That's what I want you to find here. And sometimes the weird cool thing you can't live without.” The importance of community surely remains at the heart of Squirrel City Jewelers. 

Photo of a model wearing earrings and a necklace made by Michelle Pajak-Reynolds
Local artisans and Kent State School of Art alumni Michelle Pajak-Reynolds, Jak Figler, Danny Likar, and Sarah Kovacs sell their jewelry in the shop, which has helped them to expand their careers as professional artists.

Selling her handmade work at Squirrel City Jewelers has helped Michelle Pajak-Reynolds, B.F.A. 2001, to connect with local clients. These clients have become her friends and show interest in how she creates her collections. “They also appreciate the stories about my gemstone mining adventures and features on the red carpet at the Primetime Emmy Awards and the runways of New York Fashion Week,” she said. Michelle still applies the skills she learned from Kent’s B.F.A. program today: “Telling a visual story across several designs and discussing it with customers are skills I use every day when creating and exhibiting my jewelry collections.” In addition to selling jewelry at Squirrel City Jewelers, Michelle’s work can also be found at Heights Arts Gallery and online at Artful Home and her website. 

Silver ring with a fingerprint etched on the outside. Made by Jak Figler.
Jak Figler, B.F.A. 2003, said that working with Michael at Squirrel City Jewelers has helped him to learn and grow as a jeweler. “We openly share information with each other which has greatly impacted the success of both of our businesses. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other,” he said. Jak and Michael are longtime friends, although they have different approaches when it comes to aesthetics. “Although we have a very different approach, we respect and help each other fine-tune our independent styles. We force each other out of our comfort zones. It is an amazing partnership. We find a balance and truly respect each other's viewpoints, taking constructive criticism as it is meant to be.” Jak also said that Kent State is where he learned to accept constructive criticism as an artist, a valuable skill when working in the field. “The most valuable thing I learned at KSU was how to accept creative criticism for what it meant to be.  Too many times I have seen artists take criticism as personal attacks rather than a means to help develop and refine a concept or idea.” Jak’s company sells custom-made keepsakes through over 300 jewelry stores in the United States. They capture anything from a pet's paw print to a loved one's fingerprint on jewelry ranging from silver cuff bracelets to gold and diamond necklaces. Jak also works with a variety of clientele designing high-end items from pinky rings to 4+ Carat engagement rings. You can learn more about Jak Figler Designs by watching this video.
Round pins made by Danny Likar for Scribbles Coffee Co featuring a silhouette of a black squirrel drinking coffee.
Danny Likar, B.F.A. 2016, began selling his work at Squirrel City Jewelers last March during Main Street Kent’s Rainbow Weekend. Danny said, “Selling at Squirrel City Jewelers has helped my career as an artist by allowing me to build and perfect my skills of displaying my work. I was given an entire three shelf display and was told to do whatever I wanted to display my work. This gave me the outlet to really look at my brand and see how to practically make a functional user friendly display that customers would interact with and see on a daily basis.” Danny fell in love with powder coating during his time at Kent State and still uses the technique in his work today. His work is sold at Handcrafted Kent, Scribbles Coffee Company, and the ARTshop in the Center for the Visual Arts. You can also buy his work online. 

You can visit Squirrel City Jewelers online or in person to experience its whimsical character for yourself. “So far, I'm very proud of how we are growing. Squirrel City takes a lot of people not everyone gets to meet and know to exist that way it does. I'm extremely grateful for the energy and love that is put into this place by everyone, and we're having fun doing it,” said Michael.   

Images: (top) Ring made by Michael Faehnel and the storefront of Squirrel City Jewelers in Kent, Ohio; (within text) Michael in front of the storefront windows, jewelry in the case created by Michael Faehnel; Model wearing jewelry created by Michelle Pajak-Reynolds; Fingerprint ring created by Jak Figler; Pins created by Danny Likar for Scribbles Coffee Co.

POSTED: Monday, March 15, 2021 - 1:35pm
UPDATED: Friday, April 9, 2021 - 11:04am
WRITTEN BY:
Grace Carter