Working at her jeweler’s bench, Jill Sertsoz is pouring her anguish and hurt over the struggles of the Ukrainian people into a piece of hand-forged sterling silver. As she grinds at the distressed stripes of blue and yellow enamel, she’s unsure if it should look less blemished.
After discussing it with her colleague, artist Randy Groden, she realizes it is just what the piece needs.
“They still have their pride; they still have their unity; they’re standing up in the face of tremendous odds, but they’re not pristine,” she explains. “That inspired me to try and create a piece that I would not forget.”
Now a necklace, the flag pendant is part of the Phoenix Collection and also a manifestation of how far Sertsoz has come in the last year, after she opened the R. Groden Gallery in the Dallas Design District alongside Groden.
Through their outreach with artists and other galleries, their “little corner” has grown, and Sertsoz is dreaming up art walks and street festivals; she sees the area becoming “the SoHo of Dallas.” Two assistants also work in the gallery, all the while absorbing all it has to offer to a young artist. For National Bourbon Day, the gallery opened its doors for a light-hearted soiree that brought in new friends.
“It’s really been very dramatic, from feeling like lone wolves out here in our little corner to a pretty active group of galleries,” she says. “Now we’re combining forces and trying to develop a sense of community.”
A former teacher, Sertsoz made her way to Texas more than 20 years ago and struck up a friendship with artist Randy Groden when she relocated to Dallas from the suburbs of Collin County in 2019—she knew now what she wanted to do. Dovetailing nicely with her love of travel and art, and the strong desire to uplift emerging artists, Sertsoz opened the doors to the R. Groden Gallery.
“I like to think that R. Groden Gallery has been a leader in the development of the Dallas Design District outside of its conventional parameters,” she says. “That makes me happy because I wanted it to be not just a business that sells art but also an incubator, a vehicle for change, a vehicle for doing good through art.”
The gallery has also been involved in social justice initiatives, particularly the war in Ukraine. This summer, the gallery hosted a fundraiser for World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit run by Chef José Andrés that serves food to communities in crisis. A representative from the Ukrainian American Society of Texas was in attendance, and Sertsoz raffled off three of her flag necklaces. Art lovers have asked for commissions, and she’s donating a portion of proceeds to World Central Kitchen’s relief efforts in Ukraine.
Not only has the gallery grown, but the creativity it exudes has rubbed off on Sertsoz. With her own jeweler’s bench at the gallery, she’s been exploring her love of art through jewelry making. Besides the Phoenix Collection, she makes pieces from fine silver and 18- and 22-karat gold adorned with precious and semiprecious stones.
Looking ahead to the next year, Sertsoz and Groden want to bring in collectors, emerging and underrepresented artists, and grow the educational aspect of the gallery.
“We’re scrappy, and we are excited, and we have the art to back it up,” Sertsoz says about the gallery’s future. “The future looks very exciting, and there are a lot of things that are in the pipeline. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.