Modern Heirlooms: Designing Contemporary Jewelry from Family Treasure

This unique workshop came about as a result of a conversation between metalsmith Katie Wood and Jai when Katie asked about the grief that arises when families decide what to do with treasured items. Meaningful pieces can serve as milestones in a family history – Dad got this spoon on a trip overseas or  they can remind us of significant moments honored with a special gift.

person talking to a roomKatie talked about how she came to metalsmithing. She showed “before and after” examples, juxtaposing the original item with the new work of art. Working with metal can be challenging. Many heirloom metal pieces have the precious metal bonded to another metal. This means she can encounter difficulty bending the metal or trying to solder joints together. This is when her creative process honors the meaning over the material and she taps into other ways of presenting the item. For example, rather than welding a piece, she might instead wrap the item in a mount.

She worked individually with each participant, carefully considering the items each person brought with them and suggesting ideas for a new design. One participant had non-metal material, and she was quick to adapt and suggest how the item might be incorporated into a pendant or other hanging decoration.

person reviewing spoons


It was amazing to watch her reimagine each item. She would take a spoon in her hands, for example, and then begin to verbally desconstruct the item for the owner. “Look here at this flower, we might take that and then move it here. . . .” Her vision was boundless, seeing cufflinks here, earrings there, and necklaces and pendants in between; all from the same discrete item.  Perhaps the most meaningful part of the time together was the storytelling. Each person had a special story about what they had brought along and why they chose it. And in those moments, the intersection of art and grief was apparent. We have special things that remind us of our loved ones and incomparable meaning arises when we acknowledge both.

We hope to welcome Katie back to the studio for an encore presentation, let us know if you are interested in attending!