The Story of Jeep Collins Jewelrymaker

A Brief Biography

In the beginning

Soon after World War II, my mom and dad came to Texas from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. They bought a ranch in the Texas Hill Country near the town of Medina, with the intention of ranching. My father also intended to be a part time sculptor.

After a couple of years struggling in the ranching business they began making leather handbags. My mother designed the bags and my father used his sculpting ability to make ornaments that were cast in brass to use as fasteners and decorations.

As they developed several styles of bags they began to seek ways to market them. They named their new company Collins of Texas. Their first customer, other than individuals, was Neiman Marcus. This account gave them excellent exposure which led to other stores wanting the line. As the demand for their bags grew, they hired local rancher's wives who drove the fourteen miles of the dirt road to the ranch to "help-out".

Fred and Enid

My sister, Cynthia and I came along somewhere during this time. We grew up in the business and there was fine line between business and family, but we did not feel neglected because we were always together. We were put to work as soon as we were able and we both loved it.

The employees sometimes took care of our needs when we were very small if our mother was busy with something. Later when my parents had to go out of town on business we stayed with the employees families.

During the summers the whole family would go on sales trips, mostly to New Mexico and Arizona. These were not all work and Cynthia and I loved to stay at hotels with swimming pools.

About the mid 1950's, Cynthia and I started making enamel jewelry. We sold it at art shows that we attended with the family, and at the outlet in Medina. We had our own bank account and considered ourselves successful.

When the shop moved from the ranch to Medina, Cynthia worked in the showroom and I worked in every part of the production area at one time or another. Later, Cynthia was a model for a series of ads that were run in The New Yorker magazine.

Collins of Texas grew and expanded for several years. Cynthia went to work in the newly established plant in Puerto Rico where she ended up marrying Hector Pedregon who was the plant manager. They later moved to Fredericksburg and together started The Peach Tree Gift Gallery and Tea Room. Cynthia was a wonderful cook and was urged by the family for years to capitalize on her talent.

I, meanwhile, went to college for a year and then, with no clear direction for my life, joined the Marine Corps. After four years of adventure with them, I settled in Fredericksburg where my mother and Cynthia were living.

During this time Collins of Texas was sold and my parents divorced. My father sold the ranch and moved to Santa Fe to pursue his lifelong love of sculpting. He lived there a number of years and created several bronze horse sculptures fulfilling his dream before he died in 1985.

To Fredericksburg from Africa

After I moved to Fredericksburg, I was at loose ends trying to decide what to do with my life when my sister suggested I make some things to sell in her shop. She gave me some African trade beads and I strung them on brass wire. They sold well in her store and it encouraged me to create more pieces and seek other shops in which to sell them. I took pieces to other shops in and around the San Antonio area.

I kept busy at this for a couple of years selling all the bead jewelry I could make. I even was able to buy beads from some Africans that would bring them directly from Africa. It was fun and profitable doing this, but I began to see the bead crave dying a little so I enrolled in jewelry classes at the Southwest Craft Center in San Antonio. I wanted to learn how to cast using the lost wax casting method and also how to fabricate pieces to incorporate with the beads.

During the time that I started making bead jewelry I married my high school sweetheart. We ran into each other on one of my trips to San Antonio, where she was working. The first years of our marriage, Dana worked in Fredericksburg at The Peach Tree and later at Something Different, a ladies clothing store. She loved selling, a love that would prove very useful to our jewelry business in future years.

I began making jewelry using the new techniques that I learned at the craft center. These skills allowed me to be much more creative because I knew how to produce what I could sketch. Sometime later however, I became very frustrated at the progress I was making trying to run a business with no business training.

Dana and I spent our weekends traveling around to art shows to sell what I made during the week. Although we never had the hippie mentality, we looked the part. We had a Volkswagen bus and ate sprout sandwiches on the homemade bread that Dana made daily.

I felt the need for more education so I started attending classes in San Marcos at SWTSU. I attended classes two days a week with the help of the GI Bill and made jewelry the rest of the time. I enjoyed school, but the demands of the growing jewelry business began to take more time. Consequently I was unable to get my degree.

Redeemed

Life was good for Dana and me. I was enjoying my work and it was progressing well. At the time, I was active in my church and was happy to go along when our priest asked me to go to Camp Capers, an Episcopal children's camp in Waring, Texas. He was going to be in charge of a Jr. High girls camp and since I was young, maybe I could be of help.

Growing up in church, I somehow missed the message of the gospel, but one evening, by myself in the Camp Capers outdoor chapel, the gospel became real. Several factors I am sure brought me to this point, but the sincere faith of some of the counselors and kids made me desire a meaningful relationship with the Savior. That night I turned my life over to Jesus, but it took many years and much pain to realize what that meant.

When I returned home from the week at camp, which was Dana's and my first time away from each other, she greeted me with the news that she was pregnant. It was quite a summer, I was now a Christian and would soon be a father.

As a result of the combination of my faith and an old saying of my father's, "give a horse a good name and he will be a good horse," we named our son Christian. He was born on March 15, 1975, and has turned out to be a good man. Over the years he has gone to art shows, made jewelry, and now works in the administration. Like my family growing up, our business, family, and recreation mix together quite a bit.

A little bit of trouble - quickly polishes out

Sometime around the early 1980's Dana and I had troubles which ended in divorce. This was the low point in my life, but a time when I put a great deal of energy into the business. My sister's husband, Hector and I formed a partnership and he helped me a great deal in the business aspects.

While working hard to build my business I began to search for the truth to questions that were bothering me. I was a Christian, that much was true, but I never bothered to find out what that meant. My mother had studied the Bible in "Bible Study Fellowship" and recommended it to me.

I traveled to San Antonio for classes each Monday to meet with the men's class. I began to realize that the words of the Bible spoke to me. I realized that if I could change many of the ways that I operated, life would make sense. I made some changes and I got Dana to go to the women's class going on at the same time. Three years after our divorce, we re-married. God has blessed us with two little girls, Rachel, born February 14, 1984, and Lara, July 13, 1986.

Not long after Dana and I re-married, Hector and I dissolved our partnership and I was on my own. Dana was busy being a homemaker and mother, and the business continued to grow at a steady pace.

I am thankful to God for giving me a talent that He has enabled me to build a life around. I am thankful also for parents who gave me opportunities to see life from a broad perspective. My mother was my art teacher who critiqued my work in the early years and gave me a place to work. She is now with the Lord and I hope she likes what she sees as she looks down from above.

Jeep Collins