Los Gatos jewelry maker Angela Keller says that being diagnosed with breast cancer put a whole different spin on her creative process.
Keller is a Bay Area regular on the art and wine festival circuit who has been manufacturing Venetian and Italian glass bead jewelry under the name Dolce Beada for years. But it wasn’t until she came down with cancer in 2009 that she really understood the true value of her work, Keller says.
“That’s a big, scary thing to go through. It made me realize how important it actually is when you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, and you want to feel good,” Keller says of her cancer scare.
“It’s like, ‘If I can get up and put my makeup on and put my jewelry on and feel OK, I’m ready to go for the day, and I’m going to be OK.’ So that’s what inspires me. I know that it helps people express themselves and it makes them feel good.”
Though most Americans probably wouldn’t know Venetian glass from Plexiglas, in Italy glassblowing and glass art is a huge industry. Techniques vary, but Venetian glass consists of basically tiny pieces of silver, gold or other metal encased between thin, lucent layers of glass that are then baked in a kiln. This process creates a sparkly, jewel-like effect that makes the Venetian glass great for jewelry.
Keller has professional glass-art training and has manufactured her own glass beads in the past. However, she now chooses to import most of her jewelry-making beads from artisans on the Italian island of Murano. Only a 10-minute ferryboat ride from the city of Venice, Murano’s craftsmen have been world-renowned since the Crusades for their elaborate, colorful and often gold-and-metal-flecked glass creations.
“One of the things that is very prevalent in their style is they use a lot of gold foil or silver foil underneath the glass,” Keller says. “Doing that takes a lot of practice and technique because the gold is super, super thin. You’re working over a torch flame, which creates winds, so you have to be really quick and careful about holding onto that tiny piece of gold because it’s worth a lot.”
Working out of her home studio among the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Keller says that living in Los Gatos has given her an appreciation of nature that frequently works its way into her tasteful, understated jewelry designs.
“When I’m out in nature, it helps me figure out colors and just clears my head and helps be more creative,” she explains. “I really am fortunate to be able to be creative and soak up so much stuff in our natural environment. I think that enhances what I’m able to do.”
Keller says that her most asked-for design, an autumn-toned necklace-bracelet-earring-set titled “Seasons,” has gained popularity because of its versatility. The set features translucent topaz, olive and dark amethyst Venetian glass squares that Keller has threaded and framed with silver wire and metallic beads.
“It’s not super trendy; it’s very classic,” Keller says of her designs. “Plus, they’re very easy to buy as a gift, because if you know someone’s favorite color, you can always buy that color for that person. And I’ve never heard anybody complain about getting a gift of a pair of earrings,” she adds with a laugh.
People can catch Keller at her Dolce Beada booth at the upcoming Mountain View Art and Wine Festival Sept. 11–12.
Her works can also be bought at the Butter Paddle in Saratoga, Scentsations in Santa Cruz, the Los Gatos Company in Los Gatos and Heavenly Treasures in Santa Rosa, among a handful of other Bay Area boutiques. They can be purchased online at dolcebeada.com.