Songbird Artistry: A Family Affair

Families that craft together, stay together — at least for this Pittsburgh family.

by Cassidy Swanson
February 25, 2022

Cover painted by Larry Jacknin / Provided by Jenny Orefice

For Songbird Artistry, it’s a family thing. 

From the owners (mother, Debbie Jacknin, and her daughters, Jenny Orefice and Jacklyn Juliar), right down to the name. 

When Debbie’s husband, the sisters’ stepfather Larry Jacknin, passed away from complications of ALS in 2016, they wanted to rename their shop in his honor. Jenn’s Jems became Songbird Artistry. 

Larry was a crafter, just like Debbie, Jenny and Jacklyn. He worked on mosaics with Debbie — nudging pieces into place for her to grout when he began struggling to use his hands — but he was a gifted painter, too. 

There’s a painting he made that hangs in the shop called “Larry Bird.” It’s a quirky little bird, silly and lovable just like Larry. 

When Larry got really sick, Jenny and Jacklyn moved back home to Pittsburgh from New York City to be with him. 

Both women are singers; they can hear a song once and sing it, just like a songbird. With Larry’s love of birds, the name just made sense for the shop; it represents all of them.

In 2017, not long after Larry passed, Songbird Artistry opened in its current Lawrenceville location. 

A Flock of Artists 

“I’ve been doing this since I was 13. I call it my playground enterprise,” Jenny said when talking about her early start with crafting. 

She comes from a family of crafters — generations honing their craft. 

From woodworking to painting, to jewelry-making and mosaics, the family has it all covered. Debbie makes mosaics and works with clay, Jenny is a jewelry maker, and Jacklyn makes terrariums. She’s also known around the shop as the “vintage thriftstress” because no one can find treasures thrifting like she can. 

So why not add more to the mix by starting a collective of artists? 

In high school, Jenny was selling her work at craft shows and local churches. When she went off to college, she decided to teach her mother the craft so she could keep it going. 

Debbie’s confidence is what has helped keep the business venture alive through the years. When Jenny was focused on college, Debbie was still focused on making sure the art thing worked out. 

Soon Debbie and Jenny were selling their work in a booth at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District. 

People had already been asking them if they would ever consider selling the work of other artists, so when the market closed and they found a new location in Lawrenceville, it became the perfect opportunity to feature the work of other artisans. 

The more artists, the merrier. That’s their philosophy. 

Did they ever think they’d be selling tiny crafted pets in jars at their shop? No. But are they happy they do? Yeah.

Building Community 

Their collective of more than 40 artisans isn’t the only way they’re building community at the shop. 

Not only does their large space allow them the chance to host scavenger hunts, bachelorette parties, and Harry Potter-themed birthday parties, they offer classes. 

Take their art classes for queer tweens and teens, for instance. Facilitated by their only employee on staff (the shop is otherwise run by Debbie, Jenny and Jacklyn), Kai Ayase, the class is the perfect creative outlet.

They saw a need in the community and they decided to do something about it. The tweens and teens come together in a safe space and learn a new skill, like drawing comics, painting, or making terrariums. In the backroom, the parents have a chance to hang out and foster important relationships too. 

Perhaps their focus on community-building is part of why Songbird Artistry was just recognized as one of the best women-owned shops in Pittsburgh by Pittsburgh City Paper for 2021. 

“I love my job,” Jenny said. “I’m constantly smiling.”

A part-time freelance writer and full-time copywriter, Cassidy is a lover of all things Pittsburgh. She fell in love with the bridges, the rivers, the culture, and the food from the first moment she stepped foot in the city in 2015. She has a passion for storytelling, whether it’s working on her creepy thriller novel at night or writing about incredible food and must-see locations. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her practicing yoga, tending to her plants, crafting a new recipe in the kitchen, buying more books than she’ll ever be able to read, or daydreaming about the next...

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