It started simple enough…an admiration for handmade jewelry compelled Shelli Kahl to take some art jewelry classes. She quickly got immersed, initially making beaded jewelry which she started selling at art shows. Eager for more, she started taking silversmithing classes––partly to expand her skillset, but also so she could make her own rings, which is what she was really drawn to.

Through the art show circuit, Shelli met another well-known jewelry artist, Charles Duncan. She was fascinated with his work and it opened her to a new world of design and texture possibilities. Charles agreed to take Shelli under his wing and teach her his signature method of gold fusion, something that continues to differentiate his and Shelli’s work to this day.

After learning that method along with reticulation, Shelli (also known as Shell-Bell) was set on a new path. Her work began to take off. Now she has made it her mission to carry on the gold fusion method her mentor taught her so many years ago––and it’s become somewhat of a calling card for her.

Read on or watch the video below to learn more about Shelli, what she loves most about creating jewelry and how she keeps herself challenged after all these years.

What inspired you to pursue jewelry making?

Like most ladies, I love jewelry. I especially love rings and handmade things, and I frequented art shows and bought art jewelry for many years before I started making it myself. I had taken some art jewelry classes, started making beaded jewelry about 20 years ago. Then I started taking some silversmithing classes because I really like rings and without knowing how to solder, it’s really hard to make rings. So I took some basic soldering classes, a casting class, and then I met Mr. Charles Duncan, who actually used to do Celebration of Fine Art.

I was very enamored with his work and style. I became a customer of his before I ever asked him, but a couple years later, I finally asked him, “Would you teach me?” And he said yes. At the time, he was in Scottsdale doing Celebration of Fine Art. So I got on a plane to come study with him during one season of Celebration of Fine Art. That’s really how I learned the good stuff. I already had the basic skills, but I loved his style. Specifically, gold fusion was his method of putting gold around the edge of sterling silver–– it is, and always will be, the Charles Duncan method of gold fusion.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

Making people smile. It’s really rewarding for me to see the smiles on faces when they put on the jewelry, and when they come back the next year wearing the jewelry and they’re back for another. It’s just so validating. It makes me want to cry. Then when I do a custom piece, maybe they’ll bring me their stones––I’m entrusted with the most amazing things––rings from grandmothers and all kinds of amazing things to be reset into something new. When I finish it and they’re happy and they get to wear something that’s been sitting in a drawer for many, many years, it’s just so rewarding. Then when I get it done and get to see the smile on their face and to know that they can carry that sentimental piece with them…there’s just nothing like it.

So the smiles and the joy of the customers who come back year after year after year. And the fact that it’s a business that my husband and I do together is truly amazing because it means that my husband and I can actually work together. Most people who have been to the show know that Timothy is actually the one that you’ll meet when you come to the jewelry counter. I’m out in the center courtyard in another area creating and making the jewelry. Then he goes out one day a week and he does all of the finish work, making the jewelry look really pretty. He’s really the wind beneath my wings. Although we always call him the wind beneath my rings. He really makes it even possible. I just absolutely could not do this without him.

What do you love most about the creative process?

I really love coming up with new designs and new twists on old designs. I’m not an engineering type person. My designs are completely organic and they take shape as I’m making them. I start with a flat sheet of metal, then start bending, twisting, turning, shaping––turning it into what it’s going to be. I kind of let it happen as I create it. Then I’ll do certain designs that I co-create with my clients and allow them to help and be involved in the design. That’s rewarding too. I don’t mind that at all because then they can have exactly what they want.

How do you keep yourself challenged?

Coming up with new designs. I want to keep my customers looking forward to coming back and seeing something new because we do have customers who come back year after year. I always want to have something new and exciting for them. Though I do create some similar designs because sometimes people will bring friends and they want something like their friend has. So I’ll continue with designs that are popular, but I always want to have something new for my repeat customers who have come back for something new and fresh. So, I have to challenge myself to come up with new and different.

What brings you back to the Celebration of Fine Art?

The experience that we have here with the customers and other artists, it’s truly a family. There’s no way to describe it if you haven’t been a part of it as an artist or even as a customer. The customers feel it too. I think it’s really a family. We basically live together for 90 days. And the customers come back again and again. Most of them come more than one time during the show. They come to see us and to watch us work. It’s just a feeling like none other.