Karla Refoxo of Tulku Jewels is kind and warm as her jewelry aesthetic. In her presence you immediately feel grounded and peaceful. Perhaps it’s her years of mediation or her desire to heal, but sitting with this talented soul gives one a case of the warm fuzzies. We’re delighted that this incredible jewelry designer stumbled upon our store and has decided to treat us with a trunk show this month! We wanted to know everything about Karla’s design process and caught up with her while ogling over her incredibly thoughtful hand-crafted pieces from Nepal.
You recently moved from Santa Barbara, California to Boulder, Colorado. What inspired the big move?
I lived in the mountains outside of Santa Barbara for close to seven years and loved where I lived. At the end of May 2019 I was very surprised to get the email from the property manager from where I lived saying that the landlords wanted to move into the cabin I was living in. Meanwhile, I have been seeing my Denver based boyfriend since January, and when I looked at the rental market in Santa Barbara and the surrounding area I realized what I was looking for was out of my price range. So…the combination of elements in the situation had me turning to the idea of moving to Colorado. The idea of being in the mountains outside of Boulder drew me strongly. The second place I looked at on Zillow was a beautiful place in Jamestown, so I took the leap and rented it. I couldn’t be happier to have made this choice!
Could you tell us more about when and how the company was founded? Why did you feel called to design a line of jewelry?
I had been working closely with traditional Newar metal workers on a commission for a large statue in Nepal for about 7 years before I started this jewelry line. I would spend 4 months of each year in Nepal working with them, and when in this country I did a combination of art restoration, antique Tibetan thangka reproductions, and fresco painting for my work. In 2005 when I finally finished the statue in Nepal, I got a call from the designer of the new Chopra Center Spa that was to open on 54th and Broadway in NYC, just north of Times Square. They hired me to paint a 20 foot fresco of a Buddha and a bunch of decorative painting in their space there. This was a pivotal job for me in many ways, one of them being that I came into contact with Davidji, the COO of the Chopra Center at that time. We had a great connection and so when I had the idea to combine my areas of interest and work with metal workers in Nepal to create my jewelry designs and custom make them for the Chopra Center, he helped me out by opening those doors of connection still further. I have sold my jewelry at the Chopra Center events ever since and have met many wonderful people that way. Meanwhile, I had had a Tarot reading by a beautiful woman who had told me the year before that she saw me making pendulums. I didn’t see it at the time, but I suppose there are quite a few people who use our work in that way!
What does Tulku mean? Why is this reflective of your work and your brand ethos?
Tulku is a Tibetan word for a person who is a recognized reincarnation of someone who was a spiritual master in a past life. This person has come back into this life knowingly, in service to humankind and for the benefit of others. And then he is recognized as such and relied on by the people for guidance and support. I came up with the name because it represents how I relate to the jewelry—not as inert (albeit decorative) pieces of metal, but as living energies that come from the spirit realm to help others in this form. Though the form they take are my designs, they are timeless symbols created by an ancient tradition of artists and priests in Nepal and come through their hands. The amulets in particular have healing energy and they are meant to benefit people, to be a doorway into these other realms. So seeing them as Tulkus felt fitting. Also, I’ve never mentioned this in public before, but the word ULU is in the word Tulku. This means Owl in Nepali, and those that know me know that Owl is significant for me, too!
Who is Mata? Could you tell us more about how you met and her influence on the jewelry? Why are her blessings so important?
Mata is a Newari medicine woman who is considered holy by her people. Mata had a very hard life and then when she was about 50 she almost died from a mysterious illness no one could figure out. In the story of countless medicine people, she was having convulsions, going into comas, and speaking strange ancient languages while her body twisted into seemingly impossible positions. Finally, when she was dying, and after trying all the different kinds of medical help they could find, her family brought in a shaman to have him try to help her. The Shaman was able to see that she was being taken over by Vajrayogini (a buddhist Goddess) and that this was a moment in her life in which she could either give her life in service to Vajrayogini and her people as a healer, or she could die.
As a devout Buddhist, she chose to give her life in service and ever since has had a strong spiritual practice and has been healing people. I came to meet her because I had heard about this tradition of healers. When we first started working together, I asked Rajendra— the man who makes the amulets with me— if he knew of any of these healers which are known as Matas, or Mothers. He very shyly said his auntie is one such Mata.
I then met her and received healing from her many times. I found that being in her presence is being in the presence of Love. It is an ancient tradition to have holy people bless amulets in cultures all around the world. The thought came to me of sharing Mata’s blessings with those who wear the jewelry. I believe the metal used in the amulets holds her love and that the energy of the pieces is amplified by the same. I also feel that wearing something that carries this kind of intention in its cells is a powerful ally for people during these challenging times. Her blessings are a kind of a portal to that which is important for all of us to remember. The connection to spirit and to indigenous ways can help inform us in unseen ways that I believe is very needed.
Tell us more about your creative process. How are your designs inspired?
My designs are inspired by my own spiritual journey which has evolved over the last 30 years and continues to grow and change. That’s why I have so many designs! Initially, spending so much time in Nepal meditating and hanging out with traditional artists, my designs started with a Hindu / Tibetan Buddhist influence and have evolved into more nature based symbolism. In recent years I started incorporating Totems and other kinds of archetypes and symbols which have been speaking to me personally through a different kind of nature based pilgrimage path I have been on for the past 8 years.
We noticed that you also are extremely knowledgeable in plant medicine. Could you tell us about this journey? How did you become involved with this practice? What is the biggest misconception about plant medicine that you hope to dispel?
Years ago I went to a day long workshop taught by Eliot Cowan based on his book, Plant Spirit Medicine, and was deeply moved. Some years later, when going through a hard time in my life, I went to receive a series of healing treatments from Eliot in something he holds called Healing camp. This is an offering that takes place on beautiful land in NY state at a place called the Blue Deer Center. That was life changing for me. I experienced a very special connection to the natural world that was very much alive and magical, and I longed to engage it further. So it was born from that experience, from wanting to learn from Eliot and the plants and a deep yearning for connection. That led to embarking on a traditional pilgrimage path and to my taking the healer training he offers.
Plant Spirit medicine in the way Eliot teaches it is a healing modality that relies on the spirit of the plants to do the work. There is no physical aspect of the plant used, rather it is through the healer developing relationship with the different plant spirits that healing comes for others. That is the difference between this and other kinds of plant healing modalities that use the physical plant. Here nothing is ingested, it is more of an energy medicine. Eliot says the Spirit of the plant kisses the Spirit of the Person and deep healing is initiated.
Multi-talented, we also see that you are a fresco painter. Could you tell us more about this creative endeavor?
I haven’t been doing any painting in recent years, as my jewelry business has taken over! But originally I came to it because my passion was traditional forms of painting, and I really resonated with the ancient yet fresh feeling of fresco. Creating a fresco was challenging in that it demanded presence and alertness— a kind of exacting strategic quality that kept me connected to what I was doing, and I really liked that. I miss painting on a regular basis, though interestingly right before I moved here I got a good sized commission. I’m excited that now that I have a big enough space to paint in, so I can get my hands all colorful again and see what new things come out after all these years.
What is your biggest challenge as an artist? What do you find to be the most rewarding?
The most challenging thing of course is making a living while expressing something that is meaningful and authentic. I find that the world seems to be increasingly interested in going faster and faster, and therefore people are mostly only aware of a more superficial experience. One example of this in the jewelry world, is the superficiality extending into choosing fashion and low cost over something traditionally handmade and filled with meaning. I understand this and my challenge is to keep creating a product that often feels not recognized for its full value, in spite of people choosing to buy something else.
The most rewarding aspect is when I do meet people who respond to our work and not only recognize it for the value it brings, but have tremendous healing experiences through it. There is nothing like that for me. To me this jewelry is medicine and my wish is for it to serve people as adornment and as instruments of healing.
Could you tell us about the various charities you support?
TULKU donates custom amulets and a percentage of all proceeds towards the following organizations:
One Heart Worldwide is an organization with over 15 years of experience implementing maternal and neonatal mortality prevention programs in areas where women often die alone at home giving birth. Our aim is to improve access to, and utilization of healthcare services to reduce the risk of maternal and neonatal mortality in the most remote, rural areas.
The Blue Deer Center is an important home for the teachings and practices of Heart - those ancestral traditions of healing, ritual and retreat which restore connection to self, community and the Natural World. The Center is supported by the living spirit of our land, nourished by the tradition of the Huichol people, and guided by the timeless wisdom of Sacred Fire.
Sacred Fire Foundation (SFF) is a charitable organization, supporting initiatives that preserve and promote Ancient Wisdom traditions—and their perspectives—to insure their continuance for our children and future generations. The world's Ancient Wisdom traditions are being threatened, and a key focus of our work is in supporting relationships with them and between them. Through events and media, the Foundation seeks to bring a greater
Why did you decide to become part of the Adorned community?
A few people I met from the Boulder area recommended I go to Adorned with my work to see if it was a match. From the second I walked into the shop with the jewelry I was received with so much appreciation and warmth it almost knocked me over. I am still kind of in shock at the openness and receptivity I am experiencing with everyone that works there. I’m very grateful to be a part of a community of people who really care and genuinely want to help each other. It’s a rare and precious thing and I’m honored and excited to share what I do in alignment with that.
Tulku Jewels will at Adorned Saturday, October 5 and Sunday, October 6. You can also visit her work at www.tulkujewels.com.