By Heather Evans
You can’t be in the same room as The Divine Jewels and not hear at least 20 people thank her for how amazing she is. In fact, sometimes you have to wait in line just to talk to her. The Divine Jewels is an artist, performer, dancer and musician, but even more so, she’s a take-charge woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone. She can command the room with her brash sense of humor, bring people to tears with her art, and most importantly, she’s got the kind of power to inspire change in all of us. We had to have her as our first cover model because when it comes down to it, there’s no one more brave, fearless and lovely than Jewels.
Born on Long Island, New York, Jewels began her life as Julieann, a young woman who was recognized for being kind, compassionate and extremely talented. “One of my teachers wrote a very long explanation about how I was a ‘jewel’ and should spell my name that way,” Jewels says. “So I started to. In later years, I added ‘The Divine’ part of my name because I absolutely love (actor) John Waters and (drag performer) Divine. Divine invokes an over-the-top edgy way of living, and I love what drag has done for my life so I chose her name to add to mine.”
Being an artist and performer, Jewels has found a very suitable home for her passions in the northwest: Spokane, Washington, where she runs Pasties and Paddles, an accepting, exciting burlesque show that encourages men and women to express themselves in meaningful ways. The show features performers of all ages and shapes, and celebrates the beauty of everyone. Any woman who sees her show immediately realizes that this is not your average, one-size-fits-all performance. It’s inspiring. It’s clear that Jewels understands and celebrates what is unique, and when we said people line up to meet her, we weren’t joking. We had to know how Jewels felt about the fact she not only helped to change burlesque, but how she inspired mindful change in people’s lives.
“It’s a wonderful feeling. I have fans who take the time to open up to me and share that they have been changed by my performances and me. It takes everything inside of me to not cry when I hear stories of women who now dress differently and show body parts that they never could have before. I hear stories of women who have stopped self-destructive behaviors, or now have hope that they can be happy and love themselves too, because of me. That is an incredible gift. These women are giving me the gift of sharing and letting me help them to see how truly beautiful they are. I am humbled, honored, and welcome that exchange every time,” she says. “My burlesque history has varied between classic, comedic acts, dance, avant garde, and performance art. The common theme though, is always not just acceptance but celebration of my body. I think that’s what creates such a powerful impact. My dreams have always been elaborate and I have always had a vivid imagination. I want to experience and inspire as many things and people as I can.”
Perhaps even more influential than her performances are her works of art, many of which she, herself- is the actual piece. “I am an artist first and foremost,” Jewels says. “I create simply because I have to. I do it for myself and to inspire or invoke feelings of any kind in others. My fine art has been performance art, sculpture printmaking and painting. My past pieces dealt with violence against women and body empowerment. As of late I feel connection and a sense of belonging has become a focus of mine, in exploring the exchange of giving and receiving confession to show how we are all connected. It teaches everyone who would feel typically alone that they are not alone, but that we are all in this together. Last year at a show called Terrain I did a piece titled “ScapeSkin.” I asked strangers to tell me what they did not like about themselves and to pick a piece of flesh to write it on and when my body was covered I invited the same people together to wash the words away. It was an emotional experience.
This year I did a piece titled “HOLD.” I has in a wooden structure and asked strangers to tell me what holds them back from being happy. The participants would write it down on a tag and receive a string and tie it from one pole and attach it to me. It became a web of people’s fears and negative feelings and restricted my movement. I was there for hours. By the end standing up was painful. All of the confessions and strings were holding me in and I began to cut myself free. I thought about what I needed to let go of what I needed to move on from. It was therapeutic for me and for others.”
Her husband, Matt, has seen the affects of Jewels’s art first-hand, and had this to say about ‘HOLD.’ “There were a few moments at Terrain when I looked over to Jewels and I knew she was in some pretty terrible pain. We were hours in with hours yet to go. Guests asked how long Jewels would be doing the piece. “All night,” I said. “Till the end.” They were well meaning in concern. Several times during the night people asked if Jewels would take a break or call it quits. I knew she wouldn’t. They didn’t have my inside information. They don’t know how long I’ve lived with her and I’ve seen her in action for a long time now. I’m kind of an expert on Jewels. She doesn’t do anything by half and she will push herself to the breaking point and then on. It doesn’t matter if it’s her work, her friendships, her performance art, burlesque, her DJ-ing, her modeling, or her relationships. She is the full measure. It may sound as if I’m tooting her horn for her and I don’t care, because I am. Because I believe in her that much.”