by Lee Gutowski
Jo Yanish is a wife, mother (to sons Edward and Sam), artist, jewelry designer/maker and businesswoman whose company, Flattery Works, sells unique, fun, and elegant jewelry made from “alternative and classic” materials. For our interview, Jo invited me to join her at her home on Weil Street in Riverwest. We had a great chat, a couple of drinks, and a tour of the house that she and her husband, Bill Hogan, have shared since 1985. Well, that’s not quite right — they got married in 1985, but they lived for a while in a rented apartment about a mile north while they were rehabbing their 1885-built Weil Street house, “from the sewer pipe to the roof ridge.” The finished product is filled with light, comfort, and Jo’s artwork (as well as that of friends and family).
“We’ve been married for 37 years, but we’ve only spent about 20 years actually together,” Jo informed me with a wry grin. That’s because the couple worked for about 10 years truck driving. “Bill and I traded off on that. We had a child at home (Edward, now 33), so this way, he always got a full-time parent at home with him. Bill and I each got to be a parent, and then got some time away from being a parent. It was the most even, in my opinion, that our marriage has ever been. Because if you think you’re doing the hard job this week, next week you can do my job. And I’ll do your job. That way, we truly knew what the other was going through in life.”
Jo spent her early childhood summers in Hayward, WI, at the circa-1903 cottage that her parents bought when their family was young. “Dad was a high school teacher and had the summers off. My parents bought the cottage, which was on a double lot, and started in on their dream of building their retirement home there. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t make it. He died at 47.”
At the time of her father’s death, Jo was living with her mother and brother in Downer’s Grove, IL. By about a year later, her mom was able to get the Hayward house finished and move the family up to Hayward.
Jo was 9 years old when they moved Up North. Until then, “we had only been up there for the summers, and we just thought it was the best place in the world. But were we shocked at what winter was like!” Her mom did not like to drive “in any snow at all,” and Jo really got to know what cabin fever is. Never one to sit around and wait for something to do, she started joining groups like forensics and drama all through middle and high school.
A Liberal Arts degree got her a job … driving truck
When she was graduating from high school, she had diverse interests ranging from engineering school to becoming a marine biologist. But a friend of hers suggested “we should get into art! So, we went to school together at Cardinal Stritch. I ended up with a bachelor’s degree … which allowed me to become a truck driver, a construction worker, a delivery person,” Jo laughed good-naturedly. She also worked in a leather shop, a costume shop, a framing shop … “but the arts have always been in there somewhere.”
“In my mid-40s I was thinking, just how long to I want to keep up this pace, plus if I get injured … I’m out of luck. I thought, let’s try and find something gentler. And I wanted to be on the same schedule as Sam (her now 24-year-old son). That’s when I applied to Tamarack Waldorf School right near here at Brady and Humboldt and ended up becoming a kindergarten assistant.”
Art was always there
All along the way, Jo created art. In college she got really into stone sculpting; she also has been a visual artist for decades. She started designing and creating jewelry as well, and started her jewelry business, Flattery Works, in 2008. In the beginning it wasn’t much of a money maker, and she needed to continue working at Tamarack and doing other things.
Jo was selling her goods at the many craft shows throughout Wisconsin during the summer months, when she wasn’t working her job at the school. Having grown up in Hayward, she sold her jewelry and trinkets every June at Hayward’s annual (for 70-plus years) Musky Fest. “Hayward is a renowned place for fishing, and the fishing tackle jewelry I started making, well, I really started doing it as a joke. But the fishing tackle items really took off and became my best-selling stuff. And that’s what allowed me to quit my day job! You just never know …”
By 2014, when she went full-time, her jewelry business was bringing in three times as much as her day gigs. But that first winter after she went “jewelry only,” she “sat around biting my fingernails and watching the bills pile up,” because there’s nothing to do, craftshow-wise, in this area over the winter.
A great idea: skip winter and
have 2 summers
“When I started the jewelry business, I quickly realized that what I needed was to have two summers and skip winter. And I was joking about it back then, but then I finally figured out how to do it,” Jo explains. It started with an artist friend of hers taking some of Jo’s jewelry to sell at a show in Florida. After discussing it with her friend, in 2014 the two of them went together to hit Florida shows for the winter season.
Jo eventually was able to buy a travel trailer, and now she goes down to Florida every year and camps her way down the peninsula, selling her goods along the way. She starts in mid-January at the Manatee Festival in Crystal River, in the northern part of the state. “Then I work my way down to Tampa Bay, where I have friends who do something called Frivolous Fruit Products … now I’m like a part of their family. I stay at their place and can come and go as I please – I even have the key code!”
In 2020, Jo started heading all the way down to Key West. She discovered the Big Pine Flea Market, which is at about Mile Marker 30 on Overseas Highway, on (you guessed it) Big Pine Key. “It’s great, you can park as long as you like, as long as you’re working the flea market … I’m basically dry camping down there, where I have to get my own water, have to do RV dumps. Bill put solar panels on the trailer and now I can go for about a week at a time, dry camping.
“So now I spend winters in Florida, spring and fall here in Riverwest, and summers up in Hayward at the cottage.”
In closing, Jo told me, “You know, my dad died so young. So my philosophy in life – what I learned from that – is that life is short, and you never know how short it’s going to be. So get out there and live it.”
Postscript: Jo texted me a quick message the day after we did the interview. She wanted to mention that Riverwest resident Charles “CC” Carmichael “also sells for Flattery Works with me. He’s a great salesperson because he doesn’t try to sell anything. He tells everyone how wonderful they are, does his rhythm and rhyme about the jewelry, and throws in a few jokes. In the end, they buy something special and go away delighted.”
I can vouch for that. Jo and CC make a great team.