Good Life

‘The Hair Lady’ melds wig business with jewelry creations

Janise Crow styles a wig in her State College studio on March 15.
Janise Crow styles a wig in her State College studio on March 15.

Janise Crow tried to make her own clothes once.

It was a short-lived effort, hardly worth a mention except in pondering the kind of person it takes to embark on an activity that sits just below “cutting your own hair” on the sliding scale of risk versus reward.

And Crow knows a thing or two about follicular fatalism.

For the past 15 years, she has been State College’s very own “The Hair Lady,” a wig designer who works with a variety of clientele, from the hereditarily disenfranchised victims of male pattern baldness to cancer patients suffering the side effects of treatment.

Crow is part personal stylist and part counselor , always acutely aware that in many cases, she is catching people at their most vulnerable.

“It’s amazing how much impact hair has on people and their self-esteem,” Crow said.

Who is the person that’s going to make you feel whole again? That’s my job.

Janise Crow

Her job, if done well, goes entirely unnoticed. “Boy, that wig really covers your bald spot” will never reach the cover of a brochure.

That’s OK, though.

A wig isn’t about fooling the guy behind the deli counter. It’s a confidence booster — artificial, yes — but a real source of hope to people whose self-image has been one of the casualties in their battle against cancer.

“Who is the person that’s going to make you feel whole again? That’s my job,” Crow said.

And like any job, it occasionally takes a toll. The cancer patients who Crow works with tend to run an emotional gauntlet that ranges from depressed to outright angry.

While she enjoys the opportunity to connect with people on a deeper level, it helps to come up for air every now and again.

“My line of work is emotionally draining, and I need a creative outlet,” Crow said.

Crow, as it turns out, has something of a crafty streak, a compulsion toward self-expression and aesthetic value that was diagnosed a couple of years back as “artistry.”

She started dabbling in jewelry making, mastering increasingly elaborate techniques — welding is not something you try on a whim — and eventually succumbed to a friend’s suggestion to put the finished products out on the open market.

A hobby blossomed into a truly lucrative endeavor, financially and otherwise.

“This, to me, is therapy. It’s how I can express myself in a positive way,” Crow said.

Her business, Sentimental Jewelry Designs, is catered specifically toward wholly original pieces that are crafted with the input of each individual client.

It isn’t about signing off on a color palette or a design scheme. Crow is keen on jewelry that incorporates as many elements of a person’s identity as possible, the mementos from the past that build, brick by brick, the foundation of the present.

“We are a product of our experiences and our pasts. No matter how you try and get away from it, it’s always there,” Crow said.

Before getting started, she interviews each client to determine what sentiment they are trying to convey with their yet-to-be-made necklace, bracelet or earring.

This, to me, is therapy. It’s how I can express myself in a positive way.

Janise Crow

Any personal artifacts that they can contribute to the project are always greatly appreciated. In her years as a jeweler, Crow has drafted key rings, bullet casings — even a grandmother’s china — into the service of her work.

“Each piece is challenging because you never know how you’re going to connect them,” Crow said.

The end result has been some truly eclectic pieces, big and boisterous additions to the jewelry box that unlike Crow’s wigs, want to capture your attention.

Still, the two remain more similar than different. Like the wigs, Crow’s jewelry isn’t about impressing the other folks walking down the street, the people who wouldn’t recognize Grandma’s china from a Dixie paper plate.

It’s about putting something forward.

“People notice a difference about my jewelry. I don’t know what it is,” Crow said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready