Tanya Kulhanek can sometimes be seen sprawled on the floor of her store, the Jewelry Box in Southtown, painting colorful skulls that don smiles, dresses and lamp shades as hats. While happy skeletons seem like an oxymoron, the art is inspired by Mexican folk art and Dia De Los Muertos, the Mexican Catholic holiday that celebrates the Day of the Dead. Kulhanek spent most of her life in San Antonio and opened the Jewelry Box eleven years ago.
Art initially sparked Kulhanek’s interest when she was in high school, but she followed a different path and worked as a dentist for 25 years. “One day I came home to my husband and I said, ‘I’m retired. I quit.” The decision to open up the Jewelry Box came shortly after, as did Kulhanek’s nerves on taking the risk. “When I pursued this passion, I was really nervous,” she explained. “As I was painting this shop, I wondered who in the world is going to like what I like. Am I crazy? I freaked out; I got hives. I told myself, ‘Ok Tanya, make it last a few years,’ but I’ve been blessed because I’ve been going on eleven [years].”
Aside from jewelry, the shop is sprinkled with skull-embroidered scarves, a few clothes, purses and knick-knacks from the '40s, '50s and '60s. “I like picking unusual little pieces, like vintage locks because of the artform...the shape. I like vintage jewelry because they don't make it like that anymore. I sell little vintage compacts, [and even] jewelry boxes with ballerinas from the '60s.
Kulhanek’s affinity for Dia De Los Muertos art started on a trip to purchase art in San Miguel, Mexico. “I walked the [annual Dia De Los Muertos] procession...I was hooked. Being Catholic, Dia De Los Muertos is such a part of the religion. I cried like a baby [during the procession], so it means a lot to me.” Aside from paintings, Kulhanek also makes clay pieces, mosaics and she is working on learning metals and welding.
Her search for unique items and jewelry has taken her on journeys from Nepal to California. “Everywhere I buy from, they [the owners] tell the story of the pieces. I relay the story to my customers. When someone says, ‘I was in here two years ago and I purchased an owl pendant,’ bam - I remember it.” Most of the items in her store range from $25 to $60.
“I vowed when I opened the store that I was going to have a shop that when you walk in, it’s going to be a happy place,” Kulhanek added. “Mi casa, su casa... I don't care if you’re going to come in with dirt under your nails or trying to steal; that’s between you and God. I am going to treat you like everybody else. There’s a sofa in the back. Sit down and relax.”
The Jewelry Box is located on 734 South Alamo Street in Southtown. (210) 270-0333.
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