(Main image: Lynda Churilla Studio)
Mary Jo Pane Celebrates 19 Years of Miracle Icons
This November, Miracle Icons — the brand worn from celebrities from Matthew McConaughey to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Bruce Springsteen — will celebrate 19 years.
But most don’t know the brand began with the sick diagnosis of a friend.
This is the story of Miracle Icons, in the words of founder Mary Jo Pane.
The Story of Miracle Icons
On the evening of November 12, 2001 I went to visit a sick friend, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 inoperable lung cancer shortly before September 11. It was a really cold night and we visited for a short hour.
I walked home; it was colder. When I reached my apartment I went to open the front door and realized I had picked up her keys. I called her and said I was on my way back.
Now it was colder and I was stomping back partially mad, partially reflecting on her illness and everything we had been through the last 2 months in New York. I was on 23rd Street between 2nd and 3rd, just east of SVA by the Golden Crispy Jamaican Patty place, when I had a vision clear as a bell: I wanted to take the medals I wore as a kid in Catholic School and turn them into cool jewelry people would want to wear.
I had a vision clear as a bell
This had never happened to me before and it has not happened since, but on that cold night in
November on a dark stretch of 23rd street some things were aligned properly. It honestly scared the shit (sorry) out of me.
I retrieved my keys and walked back home not feeling the cold; by the time I arrived back to my place I knew I wanted to call the jewelry Miracle Icons.
I knew I wanted to call the jewelry Miracle Icons
The next day I started to trademark that name and for the next year through trial and error taught myself to make jewelry.
A lot of errors and many trials but in early December of 2002 I shipped my first order to Deniz, my home girl, who was a huge support, in Omaha, my hometown.
We did a trunk show for Christmas; people showed up and bought lots of jewelry. I was ecstatic.
In the months that followed as I was working my day job, and I had several chance encounters that changed Miracle Icons and me forever.
I had several chance encounters that changed me forever
One day I got on an elevator with Gregory Wein, fashion editor of Out Magazine, who noticed a necklace I was wearing. He asked me about it and said, “I am shooting this weekend and I would really like to have some pieces.”
I was thrilled! My first editorial followed, as well as several more in Out.
On another day while showing the amazing Jay Bell from Barneys a collection in the showroom I was working in, he asked me whose necklace I had on, I said “mine.”
he asked me whose necklace I had on, I said “mine.”
He said, “Yeah, but who made it,” and I said I did. Jay said “we need those in the store” and said he was going to tell the Co-Op buyers because that meant “reorders baby.”
I will be grateful to Jay Bell forever.
I met with the Co-Op buyer several weeks later. Ms. Lea Kim committed to buying and I remember floating down 5th Avenue, calling my then-beau and my sisters to share the good and great news that I was going to sell Barneys New York.
Truly the coolest store going. Not bad for a girl from Omaha.
Not bad for a girl from Omaha
But I still had this day job and now other stores were buying: Fred Segal Finery, Traffic, Wendy Foster, Gorsuch.
So I would get up at 4:30 in the morning, make jewelry until 7:30, take a shower, and then go to work.
There are so many things that have happened that are really extraordinary: among them Bruce Springsteen buying and wearing my jewelry on the cover of The Magic album and every hippie’s dream, “the cover of The Rolling Stone,” meeting him and having him act like I was the big deal.
Bruce Springsteen wearing it on the cover of Rolling Stone
Having Matthew McConaughey wear a necklace in Failure to Launch that ended up in People Magazine. Making jewelry for Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and needing to go to his hotel room to make an adjustment his stylist had not told him I had come into his suite and he came into the room wearing a bath towel; may I say WOW what a specimen.
needing to go to “the Rock”‘s hotel room
We discussed Miami/Nebraska football when he played for the Hurricanes after he put his shirt and pants on.
The Rock plays into one of the most rewarding things my jewelry has helped me to do.
In July of 2006 my dear nephew Alex was diagnosed with leukemia. My sis is a single mom and has another son, my godson Adam.
With my friend Deniz in line I decided to do a trunk show for Alex where all my profits went to Alex’s care. My dear friend Mary Williams had me come on the noon news to talk about Alex and his fight I then rushed back to Deniz’s store to find a line out the door my hometown came out to support my family.
Mira Sorvino wears Miracle Icons
It was a family affair, that show, my nieces and nephews delivering posters all over town that my sister-in-law Mickie made. My sisters and brothers calling friends to come buy some jewelry to help Alex and his family.
Oh and back to The Rock, he had told me if I ever needed anything to let him know; well Alex had grown up LOVING the Rock and that wrestling stuff, so when Alex was in the hospital for 6 months, I reached out to him through his stylist and asked him to call Alex.
I was told it would happen and not given a date, as luck would have it I happened to be sitting in Alex’s room when the call came through. I will never forget the look on his face when he realized he who he was talking to.
The Rock spoke to Alex for about 15 minutes
Mr. Johnson graciously spoke to Alex for about 15 minutes. One of his questions was what Alex’s favorite pie and instructing him to have me buy him a piece of his and my favorite coconut cream. I am elated to report Alex is now considered cancer free and in law school.
Alex is now considered cancer free and in law school
Several years ago Borsheims Fine Jewelry in Omaha (a Berkshire Hathaway company) came calling.
What an honor to sell to such a major company. My dear friend Deniz understood that this was an opportunity that I had to take. I go to Omaha every year Thanksgiving weekend and do a trunk show of made-to-order pieces while the customers wait.
I have met some of the most incredible people at these shows, and shed many tears hearing their stories and belief in the healing power of my jewelry; there was Avery’s grandmother he had been born deaf and she needed something to make her feel better, so we made a necklace with St. Cornelius on it, the patron of hearing.
Then there was Lauren all of maybe 10 years old, who walked up to my table with a list of saints she needed for her mom who had cancer.
she had a list of saints she needed for her mom who had cancer
The top of her list was Saint Philomena; that would be my sweet mom’s name. Well through tears we got Lauren’s necklace made for her mom. And the next year her mom came back to buy Lauren and her sister Morgan a bracelet.
I have had such support these 19 years.
My family every one of you helped by supporting me most especially my sister Angie and her husband Tom. Todd and Sandy Lemke with your cover girl story about me in Her Magazine, part of Omaha publications.
Jay Bell you are the man, you made it happen for Miracle Icons big time with the help of Joo Woo and Samantha Carter. Jon Jabenis my friend, confidant and lawyer. My great friend Alex Forthomme, you are best resource ever. My fabulous friend and therapist Nancy Arann who during the dark days of a really painful break up instructed me to go home and talk to all those saints and tell them about how sad I was and helped to see my work is art. I still talk to them, but am happy to report I am not sad about that break up anymore. Adam Glassman for putting Miracle Icons in O magazine, Jasmine Chang for putting Miracle Icons in Good Housekeeping, Kyle Anderson for Marie Claire and Elle. Michael Toback, where would I be without you? Kevin Fennell for your beautiful design of my website, John Simoudis for that gorgeous logo. Please note, there are so many people who helped and before I continue and forget someone I think you all know who you are. And from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU for your ideas, your support and friendship. I couldn’t have done it without family and friends.
What a journey these past years have been.
I gave up the day job several years ago. I still work out of my 470 square ft. apartment: there is such great energy in this place with all those saints and angels around.
I am sorry my mom and dad, and special Aunt Carmie didn’t get to see this part of my journey as I know they would be proud. I wear a bracelet I call the mom and dad bracelet St. Philomena on one medal St. Joseph on the other for my mom and dad. It was their faith in me that brought me here, I know it.
And as I always said about the jewelry: it’s not about Catholic; it’s about being spiritually evolved.