Remembering Gail: Artistic legacy of Nags Head jewelry store owner will remain strong

Published 7:20 am Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Longtime Outer Banks business owner Gail Kowalski died unexpectedly in Pittsburgh on January 6, 2024. Her artistic legacy will remain strong at her Nags Head shop.

Gail Kowalski knew when she was a freshman in high school that she wanted to move to the Outer Banks and open a jewelry store.

As a Pittsburgh native, she vacationed in Nags Head with her family as a child. The movement of surf and the sway of the sea oats on the dunes inspired her. All her life she was trying to capture the rhythm of the ocean and express it through art. She attended college at Siena Heights in Adrian, Michigan with her goal in mind.

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“I enmeshed myself in the fine arts program,” she said in a 2021 interview with The Coastland Times. “I loved it.” Though she was successful at various forms of artwork, Gail knew jewelry making was her path. “I cannot fathom anything more exciting,” she said.

In 1977, she realized her dream and moved to the Outer Banks. She rented a space at the R&R Junction as an independent artist and sold her jewelry. Five years later, she opened her “Jewelry By Gail” shop in her current Nags Head location on E. Driftwood Street, known locally as part of Gallery Row.

For over four decades Gail created jewelry art that was as unpredictable as the wind. Her work was one-of-a-kind or custom; no two pieces were exactly alike. Even earrings were not identical, though when paired together proved a seamless match.

Asymmetrically balanced is a term Gail used often. People would come to Gail when they were looking for an original piece. She had an intuitive sense of what clients were seeking. If designing a ring, she would examine the shape of the hands and fingers and joints. Those who knew her heard her say many times that a piece wasn’t completed until the right person was wearing it.

Many people throughout the Outer Banks are wearing engagement and wedding bands designed and made by Gail, said Jewelry By Gail marketing director Mark Womack. “It was not unusual for her to be involved in romance – designing for loving couples,” he said.

“She loved to tell stories and she had a million of them because she’d been here so long.”

One of her favorites was of a woman being turned away at a Tiffany’s, and saying, “It’s okay, I’ve got my Jewelry By Gail.”

“She was very proud of that story,” Mark said.

She loved food – religiously visiting her nephew’s restaurant Two Roads Tavern every Friday night for her favorite tuna dish. She supported many local restaurants and businesses and was well known throughout the community.

“If it’s not fun I’m not doing it,” Gail would say. Her joy and love for life was contagious, and her heart was warm for those around her.

“People in need somehow always found their way to Gail,” said Joan, a longtime work associate. “She was always trying to help. Whether it was a shoulder to cry on or a shoulder to bounce ideas off of, she was always that person to lend a helping hand.”

Gail had a soft spot for animals, too, frequently supporting the SPCA. Mark said there are seven stray cats that call Jewelry By Gail home, knowing they can find a daily meal on her doorstep. Gail had names for all of them.

In lieu of flowers, Gail’s husband David has asked that donations to made to one’s local SPCA in Gail’s honor. Thoughts and memories of Gail can be shared at the online guest book at Schellhaas Funeral Home in Pittsburgh. A tentative celebration of life service will be held locally; details to be determined.

Though Jewelry By Gail will change, Mark said the shop will remain open regular hours, and will continue to honor Gail’s legacy. As they have done for many years, other artists partners will continue to create handcrafted elegant pieces for Outer Banks residents and visitors.

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