Joseph Janvier Jewelers doesn’t go out of its way to call attention to itself — from the outside.
The Elsmere business is housed in a nondescript brick building on Kirkwood Highway. Customers walk from a modest parking lot to the front door and press a bell to be admitted.
They step in, and their mouths drop open.
“Wow” is usually the next thing they say, or maybe, “No way.”
They’re not reacting to the store’s fine jewelry, glittering before them from brown and black wooden cases.
They are talking about a dramatic 110-foot black, white, gray and red mural that wraps around the walls of the store.
It’s the work of landscape designer turned muralist Kent Krech of Wilmington.
“I wasn’t trying to do an exact recreation by any means,” Krech said. “I just kind of make it up as I go along.”
The mural starts by depicting a swank jewelry row in a teeming metropolis (a fictional Philly?), shifting into a shopping and dining area in a smaller city (a fictional Wilmington?). It continues along a river waterfront (the Delaware? the Christina?) leading to a marshy bird sanctuary ( DuPont Environmental Education Center?) with a biplane flying over the water in the direction of twin bridges (the Delaware Memorial?) that end with a scene featuring a sign pointing toward the beach.
Joseph Janvier had long told friends he didn’t want big photos of jewelry on his wall. He wanted a mural of some kind.
Then he met Krech at a networking event. Krech was subbing for a friend who couldn’t make it and asked Krech to talk about his own business.
“So what that means,” Janvier translates, “is he had the opportunity to give a 30-minute commercial about himself.”
Janvier invited Krech to his shop.
“I want to show you something,” he told Krech.
When Krech walked in and saw the blank gray walls, the artist said, “Man, here we go. I like this idea.”
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The original piece that Krech and store owner Joseph Janvier agreed on was the swank jewelry row, which takes up about 20 feet behind one counter.
Krech showed him a crude sketch, complete with stick figures, and said he’d be back with a more detailed one.
“Yeahhhhhhh. That’s the idea,” Janvier said, when he saw it.
“You might as well make this your gallery,” Janvier told Krech, reasoning “that way, he’d have time to do more than just my ideas. His ideas, too.”
They chose the color scheme from a piece of Riley Rae art already hanging on the wall, partly to be set off by the store’s red carpet.
Krech started in late February 2020, intending to work mostly on weekends because of his landscaping jobs. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Krech was suddenly able to devote more time to the project.
As the mural’s jewelry row took shape, it was getting a lot of attention from customers, and both Krech and Janvier liked it so much that Janvier told him to do the next wall. Then the next. Then the next.
Finally, “he was like, nah, let’s do the whole store,” Krech said.
The artist has been working on the mural for almost four years.
As COVID-19 restrictions relaxed, Krech’s landscape jobs picked up and he’s more limited to work on weekends.
Janvier has encouraged him to meet potential landscape and other clients in the jewelry store.
“This is his gallery, really,” Janvier says.
Krech had been trying to expand more into mural work, which he’d like to do full-time. He recently took a break from Janvier’s to paint a mural inside Roja & Verde Taqueria, a new restaurant in Newark from Drip Cafe’s Greg Vogeley.
Janvier cackles when he’s asked whether he pays Krech in diamonds or money.
But, he admits quickly, Krech’s slow progress because of other jobs has turned out to be quite handy in spreading those payments out.
The mural includes a lot of inside jokes.
The jewelry row shop is named Joseph Janvier.
Near it, a group of big city businessmen are walking across a crosswalk in a scene that likely will be familiar to Fab Four fans.
Krech turned an old two-way mirror into a mirror carried by Janvier and his wife, Denise, out of the small city shopping area toward the swank store.
Janvier jokes that he doesn’t look like the painted version of himself. Yet.
The Janviers’ dog, Blade, is included, as is a biplane that belongs to one of Janvier’s longtime customers.
Small rhinestones glitter from rings in the windows of jewelry row and from the finger from one woman who’s clearly just accepted a proposal in a restaurant.
Krech even added an old-fashioned iron streetlamp, making it appear that the post is supporting a television that already was hanging on the wall.
He painted over doors, and installed wood trim extending into the room to give the mural a 3D effect.
Jewelry is a Janvier family business. Joseph worked for years in his brothers’ Christiana Mall store, but struck out on his own 16 years ago.
A graduate of Conrad High School, he counts many Conrad grads among his clientele.
“It’s really, truly humbling,” he said.
Janvier enjoys gigging gem salesmen who come through. He asks them if they’ve seen the mural.
When they say they have, he tells them, “Go back to one of your $20 million stores and say, ‘Look, I’m in Delaware and he’s blowing you away.'”
Janvier explodes in laughter again.
Turning Janvier’s into artist gallery
Krech, 47, has liked art all his life.
When he was 5 or 6, he started holding up the pages of a reptile book against a window so he could trace the animals and try to get their scales right.
A library book taught him how to draw dinosaurs, which he enjoyed because of their many patterns.
As Krech grew, he got interested in comic book and graphic novel art.
One of his first murals was for a comic book and sports memorabilia store. He painted sports figures on one side, having a tug of war with comic book figures on the other side.
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Ultimately, he went to Penn State to study landscape architecture, where he thought he could put his artistic leanings to work. But he never gave up art, drawing his wife, Nicole, and other images in a portfolio he often has at the jewelry store.
When the economy collapsed in 2008, Krech painted a few murals and focused on art, until landscape work picked up. When it did, it was demanding.
As he moved into middle age, he was thinking that maybe it was time to start doing what he really, really loved.
The job at Janvier’s has not only taught him a lot, including how to paint textures and animals — “YouTube is great just see how other people might do it” — but the mural also has really invigorated him, Krech said.
“Now I have a really nice place, a public place, that I can bring people to show them and not have to worry about asking if I could go into somebody’s home and show them,” Krech said.
One of the things that Janvier likes about the mural, which he considers folk art, is that it emphasizes the link between art and jewelry. Both art and jewelry require design and people like unique pieces, he said.
The mural also is practical. As he and the staff wait on customers, he can suggest they take a look at the mural, proudly pointing out that it’s hand painted, which most are shocked to discover. Many assume it’s wallpaper.
When customers leave, they often say something like, “I’m so glad I came in here today,” or “This makes me feel so good.”
Some bring friends back to see the mural. A few have told Krech and Janvier that the mural inspired them to start painting again.
Krech has 82 feet to go, basically the wall across from jewelry row.
The muralist plans to end the piece (or start it, depending on how you look at it) at the front door with a scene meant to depict Historic New Castle.
He won’t speculate on how long that will take.
If you go
Joseph Janvier welcomes people to come in and see Kent Krech’s mural whenever the store is open. Krech himself is there most Saturdays and welcomes visitor. The store is at 1310 Kirkwood Highway, Elsmere. It’s open Mondays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesdays through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m; and is closed Sundays. The store’s phone number is (302) 994-4367.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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