Florence has long been known for its artisan craftsmanship – art and craftsmanship blend so poetically together in this city and with good reason. Noteworthy artists and architects such as Botticelli, Ghiberti, Donatello and Luca della Robbia got their start as goldsmiths because it was a lucrative trade.
While no longer the Renaissance, what remains, as much as possible, is a strong tradition for making handmade goods here such as jewellery, book-binding, marbled paper, ceramics, perfumes and more. It’s one of the aspects that I appreciate immensely living here, the opportunity to have a personal relationship with those making items I love.
One of which is my first locals I love of 2020, the wonderful Joy.
We met through a good mutual friend and when I first saw her studio in a corridor of artisans located a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio it took my breath away. A small, unassuming room with a few workbenches and displays for her jewellery with a window facing out towards Borgo San Jacopo, but it is a place where you could truly immerse yourself in your trade and still be part of a community. The inner courtyard of the building is the only original part that remained as the rest of this building was rebuilt after being heavily bombed during WWII.
Joy has made it a warm, inviting space to work on her jewelery line, A Thousand Joys, and often has lunch and collaborates with her fellow artisans when she needs certain jewels for a custom project. Her pieces are eclectic and delicate, something that would be appropriate for a niece for a special occasion, a good friend, your mother or your grandmother.
After I met her, I felt an immediate sense of genuine kindness, honesty and empathy. Two aspects that I very much respect in people at the moment. We immediately clicked and it was just the motivation I needed to get back into the things about this blog that I love the most – sharing the stories of those people who make their home here. Let’s go ahead and get to know the latest “local I love.”
Name: Joy Franklin, IG @AThousandJoys
Favorite drink: A nice cold beer!
Tell me a little bit about yourself Joy, where are you from and what keeps you in Florence?
I’m originally from a small town in Michigan where I had endless woods to run thru and lakes to swim in. I spent my childhood camping in the Upper peninsula where I learned to love nature. I live for traveling, I’m crazy for anything old and antique, I love historic ornament and architecture and am obsessed with little details. I’m super sentimental which leads to me being a bit of a pack rack. What keeps me here of course is a certain Italian man I fell in with. But it also doesn’t hurt that the food is amazing and everywhere you look is like a postcard.
How was it adjusting to life in Florence on a personal level – was it your dream to live in Italy or did it happen by chance?
I didn’t plan on moving here, it was definitely destiny for me to come here. I decided to go back to school after college, so I went to talk to an old professor to get ideas, and while walking down the hall I noticed a poster for a program here and it was like sunbeams shone down from heaven and angels sang at that moment and I just knew thats where I needed to go. ( I know pretty cheesy) I came to study with the intentions of just being here for 6 months. But just after 1 week of being here I met a man. 17yrs years later I’m still here, and we are married and have a son now. The first years were really hard for me adjusting to living here. I’m super close to my family, my mom is my best friend so I never planned on moving so far away from them. So I struggled with homesickness a lot. And I had a hard time with the language in the beginning. I’m a bit of perfectionist so I never wanted to speak unless I was 100% sure I wasn’t going to make a mistake. Once I got over that, things got easier. And once I got married that seemed to help me feel more rooted. I still miss my family like mad though, and now that I’m a mom, I feel it even more so.
What are you up to here? Could be hobbies, work, passions or all of the above. I
I’m lucky enough to say that my passion and my work are one in the same. So, I spend my days trying to run my business in between being a mom to a crazy 2-year-old.
You work near the Ponte Vecchio which is historically known for their gold. For those who are shopping for jewelry for the first time in Italy – what should people know?
Well just like a lot of other things these days, as technology advances the techniques of crafting things by hand are dying. In the jewelry making industry so many things are 3D printed now, barely being touched by human hands. I think the beauty lies in the marks the maker leaves in a piece, all the love, sweat and tears that go into making a piece of jewelry. So, my advice would be to stick with local artisans who are making things from their hearts and are keeping those traditional techniques alive, not something mass produced in a factory.
How is it working in this kind of career in Italy, do you find being in Florence an advantage or a disadvantage professionally, and why?
I feel so blessed to be working here in the artisan’s district. My studio is part of a little group of jewelers. We each have our own studio where we do our own thing but we leave our doors open so we can joke and share and help each other out. And every day we eat lunch together like a little family. And because of the location, I literally have everything I need at my fingertips. Whether I need tools or gold and diamonds I don’t have to walk more than a few steps to get it, so I’m pretty spoiled (and a bit lazy).
What made you decide to make jewelry? And what do you foresee in the future in regards to projects/hopes/desires?
While I was doing my post baccalaureate program I decided to take a beginning jewelry making class as an elective, and as soon as I sat down at the bench I just knew this is what I wanted to do. My future dream one day is to have a little atelier at street level where I have a shop in the front and my studio in the back. But maybe in a few years when I don’t have a wild little toddler to wrangle. Right now, my short term goals are just to have more time to work and expand my audience.
What have been your hardest struggles working as a freelancer in Italy? Have you ever thought about returning to the states?
Right now, my hardest struggle doesn’t have anything to do with Italy, as it’s trying to be a mom and balance home life and still find time to run my business. (I know I’m not alone in this, I think all moms struggle with this). But as far as struggles pertaining to Italy, I feel that this country doesn’t help support us little guys with all the taxes they throw at us. I feel like it might be easier as a small business owner in the States, like maybe there’s more incentives and support, but I don’t think I would be as inspired there as I am here. I get ideas for new pieces all the time just walking to work in the morning.
What annoys you about Italy? Or some cultural clashes you have personally felt. Feel free to be as open as you want.
One of the things I struggle with the most here is I miss walking down the street and smiling and saying hello to someone as you pass. I miss that open friendliness and common curtesy. That and the whole not waiting your turn in line thing drives me nuts! First come, first served doesn’t seem to register here. I’m probably showing my midwestern roots here.
What do you think of the current economic situation in Italy? Do you feel that living here is better economically for your family or no?
In general, the wages are really low here and the cost of renting or buying a home are high. And taxes are disgusting. Economically I’m sure we could do better in the States. But I think the quality of life is better here. The quality of food, the culture and the landscape all make up for it.
Any notable differences from when you first came to Florence and now? I know it’s quite a general question but I have a feeling you are quite an observant person.
In a time where it seems Xenophobia is the norm; I feel like Florence has become more accepting since I first got here. I remember if you wanted to eat something other than Italian, you had like two Chinese restaurants and a kebab place to choose from. I think Florence is way more open to other cultures now.
I feel like there is an omnipresent need for people online to paint Italy as this perfect place where everyone should come and live. Since we are trying our best to provide a more balanced viewpoint. What is your perspective for those who think they should “sell it all” and move here?
Italy is beautiful, there’s no arguing with that, there’s something about this country that pulls you in. But just like anywhere else it has its flaws, and real life here isn’t just sitting around in your villa drinking wine all day. It’s not an easy country to navigate and it’s very unforgiving. The lack of organization and all the bureaucracy makes getting anything done here super frustrating. Everything and anything you do here takes longer than it should. You can’t be in hurry to do anything here and you have to toughen up or they’ll just run right over you (literally!).
How has your life changed now that you are also a mother? What does Italy excel at in regards to what it provides for mothers and where does it fail?
Oh, gosh my life has changed since becoming a mother, and I’m still trying to find my way thru it! I’m trying to figure out how to manage being a mom and find time for me, but what parent doesn’t struggle with this? As far as what Italy excels and fails in when it comes to motherhood. It’s hard for me to tell since I’ve been here for so long I don’t really have first-hand experience to compare it to. But I feel like Italy takes good care of women thru pregnancy. I’m so thankful for the health care system. I had a horrible problematic pregnancy and ended having my son 2 months early. And the care we were both given thru it was amazing. Italy also rocks for its openness about breastfeeding in public. No drama, just an everyday natural thing as it should be.
Weekend escapes: where do you go when you need a break from Florence and why?
Me and my husband are nature lovers and we love to eat so our weekends usually involve a hike somewhere in the hills/mountains followed by a nice lunch. We have family in the mountains above Porretta so we spend a lot of time hiking there and taking a dip in lago Suviana, followed by counteracting the exercise with crescentine or polenta.
To the person who has already seen the Uffizi, David’s nether regions and walked across the Ponte Vecchio. Can you share three special places everyone should know about in Florence/Tuscany that you personally adore?
In Florence, my favorite spot would probably be walking up to Piazzale and going to San Miniato. Outside of Florence the list is endless. One place that’s dear to my heart is the cute little hilltop town of Artimino. Another place that’s probably one of the most amazing and inspiring spots I’ve ever seen here is Castello di Sammezzano. I was lucky enough to see it on one of the rare days open to the public. But Unfortunately, because of problems with ownership it’s fallen to ruin and visitation at the moment is up in the air. Maybe if the word gets out more, than more funds would be sent to save it.
Three foodie favorites because girl you know I’m always hungry!
Oh god I can only choose three? The lemon custard gelato from Gelateria La Carraia, Stuffed zucchini flowers, and anything truffle
What can you do in Tuscany and nowhere else?
You could go to the Uffizi in the morning, take a hike in the mountains for lunch and be at the sea for dinner.
If you had to make up a tagline for Florence according to Joy, what would it be?
…She might make your blood boil one moment, but her scent will linger on your skin after you’ve left…