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This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete Country Travel and Heritage Council on the people and places along U.S. Highway 89.
Monroe Jewelry Maker has International Flare
From the basement of her home in the tiny town of Monroe, Utah, Sallee Kesler offers her customers the world.
Kesler is a self-taught maker of fine jewelry. And the materials she uses to design her custom-made, one-of-a-kind pieces — coral, jade, gold, and silver, to name a few — come from places like Bali, Indonesia, Thailand, Africa and Hong Kong.
“I also use a lot of materials that are made by other people, like hand-carved gemstones. I even found one man in Tahoe who does fossil carvings in Ivory and I incorporate his work into my pieces,” she says.
“I have made pendants from pieces of pottery, from materials left over from the Ming Dynasty, from African beads that are 200 to 300 years old, and I even have some beads from Persia that are 400 years old that I am mixing into some pieces. I always look for the unusual. I check out all of the antique stores that I see and I hit the estate sales.”
But finding those unusual items — and enough of them — to use in her designs requires a lot of patience. “Once I found a few Russian bears made of beautiful stones, but I didn’t have enough to do anything with them. It took me three years before I finally accumulated eight of them, enough to do a necklace and some earrings. Another time, I wanted to do something from some beads from Bali that had inlaid carvings, and it took me four years to accumulate enough to do a necklace. I ended up bartering that necklace away for marble tile for floors in my house, but now I have really beautiful marble tile,” she says with a laugh. “I do a lot of bartering in this business.”
Kesler says that she has always been interested in jewelry design. “I’ve been making jewelry since junior high school.” But she started her career as an artist designing quilt patterns and making quilts and dolls. She switched back to jewelry when quilt-making became a big import-business. “Nowadays, you can go into a discount store and buy a quilt made in China for $50, and I can’t even get the material for that,” she says. “So I gave decided to make jewelry again and started experimenting.”
Kesler gets some assistance from her husband, Vaughn. “He is better than I am at wrapping wires and working with clasps because his hands are stronger than mine. He was an electrician in the military, so he knows how to do a lot of things to help me, like tie knots so things don’t fall off,” she says with a laugh.
Currently, Kesler shows her jewelry at her home by appointment only, and attends a few special jewelry shows a year throughout the Southwestern United States. “Most people who come to me have heard of what I do and have something special in mind. They may have a necklace from their granny they want modernized, or are looking for a special piece.”
“I love having customers come by to see what I do, and I love designing for people and I love making jewelry.” Kesler’s future plans include developing a web page to help her market her jewelry to a wider audience. “I would like to sell more of my jewelry and be free to continue living in rural Utah, enjoying the beauty of this wonderful place.”
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