Jeffrey Levin and Bonnie Powers opened Poet and/the Bench at 10E Locust Ave. in late 2015, building on Levin’s 30 years as a jewelry maker and goldsmith, a career spent in nearly every aspect of the jewelry business, from model making to distribution and retail.
The couple describe Poet and/the Bench as “their lifestyle store and jewelry atelier inspired by and celebrating beautifully crafted objects and the narrative behind each one.” The space has two primary components.
First and foremost is Levin’s retail shop and workspace, including the vintage bench he found in the late 1980s in New York City that serves as one half of the shop’s moniker, as Levin for years has referred to going to work on his jewelry craft as “getting on the bench.”
The other half of that name reflects the second and overarching focus of Poet and/the Bench. The couple wanted to expand “the philosophy of the store to include all makers who all work on a bench of some sort and the poetry of what is created,” Levin says. “We arrived at the name at the end of a brainstorming session and when it was floating in the air, we just stopped. It was the right name.”
Poet and/the Bench celebrates makers by exhibiting the work of artists they love. As a result, the shop’s relatively small space is bursting with creative energy. Levin’s jewelry is intermingled with art installations from the likes of Adele Crawford, Lisa Joss and Bob Dinetz, as well as Gallery for Good, an ongoing initiative of donation-based tiny art with 100 percent of proceeds to the organization FORCE, which provides support to women and men with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. This first installation comes from Hatch, the San Francisco creative design agency for which Powers is the managing director.
“Both of us have been collecting art and things for our entire lives,” Levin says. “When we thought of the shop, we knew that we wanted it to be a lot like our home, where you invite people into your personal tastes with design and decor.”
The myriad works of art add a unique flavor to Poet and/the Bench, complementing Levin’s jewelry, a mix of precious metals, gems and natural materials, including the hearts and crosses pieces that are among his signatures.
Levin began his career in jewelry in his native South Africa in his early 20s, apprenticing with Franz Huppertz in Cape Town and other outfits in Johannesburg lecturing on his craft to other jewelry apprentices. Levin moved to New York City in 1986, as “things were drying up in South Africa” and his brother already lived in Manhattan.
Four years later, he fled the harsh winters of the Northeast and moved to Los Angeles, where he became immersed in the community in and around Santa Monica. He quickly made a name for himself, making masters for designers to make a mold of and then manufacture.
“That’s what I’ve done for the bulk of my career,” he says. “There’s nothing to sell without the master.”
Levin combined his master-making and design expertise into the wholesale side of the business in the mid-1990s at his own firm called u+i. He then served as partner and chief operating officer of Julez Bryant, overseeing daily operations and national branding and sales strategy performing all modelmaking.
Each of those steps in the journey gave Levin a handle on all aspects of the business. In the years since he and Powers met in 2006, they’ve known they’d eventually like to open a shop like Poet and/the Bench. They moved to Marin in 2014 and Levin continued working out of a space in Sausalito. When they found the space on Locust Ave., they were drawn to the emergence of the Mill Valley Design District, as a confluence of design-oriented businesses have opened on and around Miller and Locust avenues in recent years.
“There’s a great energy around here right now,” Levin says.
Appropriately enough, Poet and/the Bench’s January 30th opening party (1–5pm) is a celebration of “the upcoming month of love” as well as the latest designers to be incorporated into the space, including jewelry designer Danielle Welmond, known for “weaving gems with fine threads and precious metals. Her signature lace making is delicate and feminine and we’re in love.” The event also features the work of photographer and designer Nico van Dongen, whose “Tulipa Erotica” exhibit “celebrates common objects’ personification through magnification. Removed from their environment, his subjects become transformed. In this series, he reveals the seductive and whimsical.”
The 411: Poet and/the Bench is at 10E Locust Ave. More info.