Shirley Moss has been practicing the ancient art of making chain entirely by hand, also known as chain-maille, since the early 1970s. In her native city of Detroit, Shirley studied the finer aspects of jewelry design and chain art with renowned jeweler, Amanda Drake. In 1977, after several years of travel and selling her craft in Maine and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Shirley was drawn to the Pacific Northwest, first to Ashland, Oregon and eventually to Port Townsend, Washington in 1997. She exhibits her work at the Port Townsend Gallery and also sells her pieces at select art and jewelry shows in the region.
Shirley is often asked why she continues to create, link by link, her intricate chain jewelry. She responds with this story: “When my mother was in school, she took a jewelry-making class. My grandfather also became interested in the process and began making jewelry as a hobby and he made a beautiful bracelet and necklace for my mother. Years later, my mother lost the necklace in a move, so I decided to surprise her by duplicating the missing necklace. I took the remaining bracelet apart in order to study its construction. When I gave her the finished necklace she was extremely pleased. However, she told me that the one I had made was somewhat larger in diameter than the one my grandfather had made. I picked up my tools again and this time I was able to produce a perfect match. There is no question in my mind that this experience led me to take up chainmaking for a living. And now I proudly wear my grandfather’s bracelet every day.”
One look at Shirley’s work and it is easy to see what a special temperament is required for the delicate, painstaking work. Shirley feels that chainmaking suits her personality. She believes everyone has a gift to do something. She feels she has been given the gift of patience to use metal like others might use thread.