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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

For Pet Lovers, This Vermont Artist Makes Jewelry With A Personal Touch

A lot of folks attach sentimental value to their jewelry, but some artists are going a step further to create pieces their customers will treasure.

Erin Harris didn't always make jewelry. A former social worker, Harris was burnt out and looking to make a career change.

After her 3-year-old dog died unexpectedly, Harris made necklace for herself.

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Credit Courtesy Erin Harris
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Artist Erin Harris uses photographs clients send to create her handmade jewelry.

"I knew I needed something that was tangible, so I could keep his memory. Have something I could touch and think of him. So I made a piece for myself," said Harris. "It had just a little bit of his hair, some soil from where he was buried, a little bit of fuzz from his tennis ball. Being able to wear that and touch it just made me feel closer to him."

People began to notice her piece, and orders started rolling in from others with deceased pets. Harris calls them reliquaries, a kind of locket made of silver. The front has an imprint-often of an image of the pet.

On the back, there's a window where the relics - like the tennis ball fuzz - can be seen.

Of course, some orders come from customers with living pets. But for those that have experienced a loss, Harris says her former career comes in handy.

"I pull on the social work as well. I kind of give them a mini therapy session though email, and validate the feelings. Validate that it's OK to mourn a pet," said Harris. "I think a lot of people think they're nuts. They think 'I can't believe I can't get over this loss. It's just a dog, or it's just a cat.'"

But the pieces don't just commemorate dogs and cats.

"I've done a tortoise, a ferret, birds. Just this past year I had someone ask me to do one for their child's stuffed animal. They had lost the stuffed animal and it had been something she'd had since she was a little baby," said Harris. "Her mom wanted me to make something that would memorialize this stuffed animal. That was definitely a first."

Harris also creates pieces that commemorate the loss of human loved ones as well.

She says her customer testimonials remind herself why she keeps doing it.

"It's so rewarding to read these emails. There's a lot of tears," said Harris. "I had one woman who ordered a piece, and she just wrote me, very simply, 'What you're doing is beautiful and amazing, don't ever stop.' I had that tacked up on my bulletin board for awhile."

Harris now has two dogs. She says the days she makes necklaces, they get a little extra love.