Silver mesh sheet, 20g copper sheet, 20g brass sheet, silver chain, jump rings, copper washer, silver tubing, silver tube bezels, clear CZs, silver textured wire, bronze casting grains, steel pin wire, picture jasper, thread, silver beads, silver polka dot fancy sheet, silver bar blank, silver teardrop blanks, and silver arc triangle blank

2.5 x 2 x 0.5 inches

Photographed by Dave Lehl
Video by artist.

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My family suffered a devastating heartbreak recently and whether I like it or not, my emotions always find a way into my work. I realized about half way through building this piece that it embodied the situation that was unfolding with my family. We found out in September that my brother-in-law, whom I’m very close to, has pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver. As I was working on this piece I kept running into road block after road block and couldn’t seem to do simple things that are normally not a problem, it was because I was feeling out of control and helpless.

As the piece finally began to take shape despite the setbacks I began to notice some symbolism. The picture jasper that I was using as my found object had this red dividing line down the middle, like a broken heart, I decided to set it sideways in a rebellion against the possibility that we could lose him and truly experience that heartbreak.

The silver beads that are soldered on the top right of the piece perfectly held delicate white threads that look like crazy hair and began to symbolize the frazzled feeling of despair that my family and I were feeling during the ups and downs of him receiving multiple chemo treatments over the winter. Our heartbreak was realized on February 6 when my brother-in-law, Michael Johnson, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

I celebrated his life with my sister and their three children, many friends, and family. We’ve shed many tears in the last 4 months, which is symbolic in the teardrops falling from the bottom of the brooch. However, the back of the piece is my favorite as the two bright shining CZ’s shine over the three pebbles nestled in the little pocket. I like to think that the CZ’s symbolize Mike and his mom Barb (we lost Barb 2 years ago) and that they are looking over his three wonderful children.

Building this piece was frustrating and I’d be lying if I said it turned out exactly how I wanted, but just finishing it was an accomplishment and very therapeutic. I also felt vulnerable in sharing any of this but when I looked over the finished brooch it seemed that the only way to truly complete the challenge was to share the story as well as the idea that sometimes what is hidden comes out in our work that we share with the world.


Michelle Keller is a jewelry designer and metalsmith that has been creating jewelry for 15 years and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in metals from Boise State University. After graduation Michelle founded a nonprofit arts organization in Boise called the Idaho School of Art & Craft. After running the nonprofit for four years she apprenticed with jeweler Mike Rogers of Precious Metal Arts in downtown Boise. You can now find her line of jewelry under her business name, Union Studio Metals that is carried in about 100 stores, shops, and galleries nationwide. Currently Michelle lives on the road in a 38’ toy hauler travel trailer with her boyfriend Dave, 2 dogs (Woofie and Finny), and Larry the cat. Each piece is made in the garage space of the RV however this piece was built at the Voyager RV Park in Tucson, AZ that has a silversmithing studio for the community to use. Living on the road has been a wonderful adventure and the best part is that the view from the studio is ever changing.