Shelly Harper sold her first piece of jewelry when she was just 11, but she’d been making beaded pieces since she was even smaller (yes, really). It was all a part of her arts-focused education, called unschooling: “It’s to the left of homeschooling—all self-driven and passion-based learning, so I got to pursue what mattered most to me,” recalls the Santa Barbara native. That early enthusiasm eventually led Shelly to the Gemological Institute of America’s graduate program, which was all about technical skills like soldering and stone-setting, and around that time, Shelly dug up her memories of basic carpentry, built a jeweler’s bench in her apartment, and put her newfound techniques to work.
She officially launched Harp Jewelry in 2011, and since then, Shelly has grown into a well-known Bay Area name, finding all kinds of fans for her daisy-shaped wire hoops, bold chain belts, and delicate pendants. “I want my pieces to be approachable to everyone, from those that aren’t that daring to people who really want to go all out,” she says. “The other day I sold a piece to a woman in her nineties, which made my day.”