There is a low growing evergreen shrub that grows only on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, at elevations between 2,000 and 7,000 feet. Commonly known as “mountain misery” or “bear clover,” the Miwok people named it “kit-kit-dizze” or “kitkitdizzi.”
Because the unique native plant — found nowhere else in the world — seemed to symbolize the essence of the region, Jen Sheffield opted to use its name for her upper Broad Street store in Nevada City, which opened in 2012.
Sheffield’s vision was to feature independently designed and executed art, artifacts, adornment and finery made from all over by a new generation of artists.
The store, a renovated 1800s’ house, quickly became a hub for emerging local artists who had finally found an accessible place to exhibit their work. Sheffield, an artist herself, set up a jewelry making bench in the store. As months passed, she launched her own jewelry line, “Tinder,” and opted to fulfill her dream of taking it on the road. The torch was then passed to Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly, who officially took ownership of the store in October 2013.
The pair had previously worked at Kitkitdizzi for Sheffield and were eager to maintain the original vision. They have since added a collection of carefully selected vintage items, handmade pieces and a few items from “small batch” companies. For example, alongside an evocative art piece, a visitor may find a pair of 1970s’ moon boots, a hot water bottle, a sheep pelt, sage smudge sticks, a ceramic flask or a vintage bathtub. The business partners only have one rule: they have to agree on each item before carrying it in the store.
“You can never pinpoint what we’ll be carrying, but we’re picky,” said Westly. “It’s always changing — if we find and like it, we’ll carry it.”
Westly and Hawthorne themselves seem to embody the essence of the area. The lifelong friends grew up exploring every nook and cranny of downtown Nevada City.
“I have memories of being set free as kids, sneaking into hidden places and exploring haunted buildings with Kira,” said Hawthorne. “Some of the shop owners would let us pretend to work in their stores. We’ve always dreamed of having our own shop. I love working with my best friend.”
Both are mothers now, and Westly and Hawthorne’s children are regular fixtures in the store, which adds to the accessible, community atmosphere.
“I’ve always had extra creative friends, and this store is a wonderful way to help them show their work,” said Hawthorne. “I’ve seen so many friends sacrifice so much for their art.”
The store’s occasional art openings have attracted a creative, supportive crowd, said Westly, who added that the help of friends and family during the launch of the business has been “unyielding.”
Artist Ben Vierling says he and other accomplished artists are more than happy to lend their support.
“I will simply say that Kitkitdizzi provides an inviting arena for artists and artisans to share their wares with this eclectic community,” he said. “With an emphasis on handcraft, visual harmony and practical utility, the boutique is both an art gallery and a mercantile. The light-filled space allows for unique art pieces to be displayed alongside more conventional housewares. From an artist’s point of view, this is beneficial to cultivating a fresh perspective regarding the form and function of art; it’s not simply something that looks nice hanging on the wall, but an integral part of a total aesthetic experience.”
Nevada City artist Sarah Coleman, who has collaborated on various pieces with Tahiti Perhson, said Kitkitdizzi is a key addition to the region’s art community.
“It’s a place for young artists to show their work — we are so happy to have them here,” she said. “Kira and Carrie are passionate about what they do. They bring something unique to Nevada City that you might otherwise only find in cities like Portland or San Francisco.”
Come spring, Westly and Hawthorne hope to add a selection of plants for sale in the back of the store, where they have also launched a second business with partner Erin Lewis. Gold Dust Collective, their new event design and coordination company, is already booked — mostly for weddings — several months out. But it hasn’t affected their passion for the store.
“I love the creative environment and feeling of community of Kitkitdizzi,” said Westly. “Our friends sell their stuff here, and it contributes to the success of the store. We’ve grown up loving each other, and our kids get along. It’s true when I say we’ve wanted to own a store together since we were 5.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.