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Life in the Spotlight

A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Phyllis Kalajian

For Phyllis Kalajian, Viking culture isn’t all broad axes and battle. She taps into the more intricate, artistic side of the ancient civilization, in crafting handmade jewelry fit for a “shieldmaiden” of the highest order. To prove it, her pieces have been featured on History Channel’s “Vikings,” where princesses and warriors alike sport her designs while ruling and fighting on screen. However, one doesn’t have to play ancient royalty to own one of Phyllis’s creations; they only need to visit her store in Crown Point: Nordikreations.

Located in the lower level of the old courthouse in the downtown square, Nordikreations is a gateway to another place and time: earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, tapestries, art, Norwegian souvenirs, books, Viking merchandise, ornaments, crafts and more tell stories of the ancient and modern culture of Nordic countries. Phyllis also sells her handy work on her Etsy page to customers around the world.

“I try to squeeze as much as I can in my little shop,” Phyllis said.

Phyllis began crafting jewelry in 2006 as a means to raise money for her Swedish club at the time.

“Needless to say, no one wanted to make them, they just wanted to buy them from me, after seeing my examples,” Phyllis said. “Then, I got requests, and I delved more and more into the Scandinavian culture. I thought my earrings could have a little history on each earring card, so it would be an easy way to learn about our culture.”

After someone requested an authentic Viking necklace, Phyllis delved deeper into Viking craftsmanship. Using ancient techniques and beads authentic to what Viking women would have used in their work, Phyllis became even more fascinated with the Nordic culture. In 2007, she began her then-small business with her own booth at the annual Scandinavian Days Festival in South Elgin, Illinois, held every September. Since her jewelry was a big hit at her first event, she has had a booth at the Scandinavian Days Festival every year since. During this time, Phyllis was working a full-time job, and as her small business grew, she had a crucial decision to make.

“I had an office job for almost 30 years, and I would make my jewelry on my breaks and during my lunch break, and again at night when I got home from work. I got so busy, I had to choose which job had to go, so I opted to let the office job go,” Phyllis said, adding that she wasn’t too sad about the decision.

In July 2016, she opened her current store, Nordikreations, at 1 Courthouse Square in Crown Point, featuring handcrafted and imported items. The store is currently open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I really love that my pieces make people happy, and they enjoy wearing my jewelry,” Phyllis said. “I also love designing a new piece. I either find pieces that look Scandinavian or Viking style and make it in to an earring. Or, I find something from the culture that I like, and I look for jewelry pieces that I can use to make it look something like the real thing. I also love creating anything, but since I started making jewelry, I got hooked.”

What does a day in the life of an authentic Viking craftswoman look like? Beginning the day with monitoring orders and emails, she loads up her “bag on wheels” with supplies for that day’s work. After opening her shop, she gets to work on her jewelry, stopping here and there to chat with customers. She also puts aside time to make Swedish love knots and tiny Scandinavian outfits for her Troll dolls.

Phyllis currently lives in Dyer and enjoys the quieter life in Northwest Indiana. Spending time with her children and their young families is something she enjoys the most, along with participating in her Swedish club.

“Our yearly trip to the Scandinavian Days Festival has become a family event,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Along with the beautiful craftsmanship of their cultures, Phyllis is equally inspired by their traditions, whether it’s candy, holiday gift-giving or keeping trolls from eating one’s children.

“I am inspired by the Nordic customs, their folk art and traditions,” Phyllis said. “It’s a funny thing with Scandinavians. Once they start something or a tradition, it is set in stone. In Sweden, every Saturday is candy day. Everyone goes to the candy store and buys and eats candy. In Iceland, everyone gives a book for Christmas and they sit and read a book on Christmas Eve. In Norway, an old custom was that women had to wear these big, shiny brooches with shiny discs hanging from it. They would reflect the light and ward off trolls. They used to think the trolls were hiding in the forest and they would come and steal their children. So, if they saw their shiny jewelry, that would keep them away.”

Part of Phyllis’s craft requires her to also be an archeologist of sorts. She gains knowledge from ancient Viking artifacts, some of which were unearthed from their grave sites.

“They tell a story,” Phyllis said. “If a woman had a key dangling from her chain from her brooch, she was respected because it meant she was responsible for her farm while her husband was away. Viking women were treated almost as equals to their male partners. Viking warriors, who were mostly farmers, usually had an axe as a weapon. Most Viking warriors could not afford a sword so they used their axe that they had been using on their farm.”

Across the world, her work has also been sold alongside traveling exhibits, such as the Vikings Exhibit that visited the Field Museum in Chicago and traveled from Australia to Great Britain. Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa also sells her jewelry.

And of course, her pieces can also be seen on the History Channel screen. “Vikings,” a TV show about the conquests and life of ancient Viking historical figure Ragnar Lothbrok, began in 2013 and enthralled Phyllis from the start. She noticed that the jewelry on the show looked very similar to hers, and she packaged 4 pairs of earrings and sent them to the costume designer at the studio in Ireland, along with her business card and photos of her work. After they received her “surprise package,” the assistant designer placed an order for seven more earring pairs and two necklaces.

“I didn’t know which earrings, if any, were going to be used,” she said. “I started watching season three in 2015 and saw that Princess Kwenthrith, who was an English Princess in the Kingdom of Mercia, wore a pair of my earrings, in a few of the episodes in seasons three and four. Since 2014, as soon as I would find out the next season was renewed, I designed more earrings and just shipped to the costume department. I did not wait for the assistant costume designer to contact me.”

Phyllis said one time the designer told her that she was looking for earrings for Lagertha, a main female character who’s a beautiful warrior and ruler, and she quickly got to work on a set of leather green earrings. Since then, the character has been costumed many times with Phyllis’s pieces.

“I still feel very humbled and honored that my earrings were worn by respected actresses on a popular TV show,” Phyllis said. “But I don’t think I could take any more attention than I have already received. I’m too shy. People really love the Viking Series and are really into anything Viking. Selling my Vikings Series earrings has helped my business tremendously, and I have told a lot of people about the show that did not know there was a Vikings show on TV.”

The new Vikings season beginning on November 29, will also feature some of Phyllis’s jewelry, which she will post about on her Facebook page, “Nordikreations.”

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