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Half Moon Bay Artist Spotlight: Making Jewelry to Overcome Pain

Half Moon Bay resident Roberta Gelt learned to make jewelry after being diagnosed with a rare chronic pain syndrome.

By Roberta Gelt

I started making jewelry about 15 years ago. I had just been diagnosed with a rare chronic pain syndrome (supposedly incurable) in my foot.

I was in extreme pain all the time, 24/7, and couldn't walk without screaming. I didn't talk to my neighbors or acquaintances much about it, but one day I was out in the front yard, and my neighbor Phyllis Smith came by, and I just couldn't hold it in anymore. I cried and complained about how I couldn't hike anymore, walk my dog, go grocery shopping, go to the mall, do any of my normal activities because of this horrendous pain.

Being an older and wiser woman, she said, "If you can't do one thing, you learn something else. Come in, and I'm going to teach you how to make jewelry. You don't have to walk to do that."

It was a huge lesson for me, a turning point in my life. Phyllis is an incredible teacher, and I've been with her ever since. I still endure the pain but making jewelry helps me focus on something else. When I'm soldering, filing or designing, I forget about the searing pain in my foot, most of the time anyway.

The first piece I am sharing here is a ruby zoisite stone set on sterling silver. I found the stone when I came across a couple of jewelry makers on the street in Cuzco, Peru. This is silver fabrication, using jewelry saws to cut the silver, files, and soldering. I then found the beads here to make the necklace part. I love this piece since it reminds me of my trip to Peru and now I collect stones wherever I travel.

The second piece is sterling silver with a carnelian stone. I was at an outdoor art fair by the San Francisco Ferry Building years ago and was admiring a jeweler's work and discussing jewelry making since I was so new at it. The artist was so talented and interesting and at one point gave me the stone in this piece as a present and good luck in my new venture. I always think of him and the generosity of people when I wear the piece.

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