Metal Body Art
About Metal Body Art

Metal Body Art : A Vision of Exotic Precious Metal and Gemstone Couture

Husband and wife team Chris & Shani Christenson are master jewelers who create provocative, one of a kind, wearable art fashions that they call Metal Body Art. Each piece has been hand wrought from silver and gemstones, and each outfit is complimented by matching components of fine jewelry and accessories. These ensembles are powerful and dynamic representations of Chris and Shani’s mutual fascination with ancient symbolism; and with each outfit the artists strive to evoke the beauty, strength, and empowerment of a jewelry-armored goddess. Each of these ensembles takes between 300 and 400 hours to complete using a combination of fabrication, hand forging, casting, and glass enameling techniques. The use of precious materials such as sterling and fine silver, as well as precious and semi-precious gemstones, reflect the artists’ goal to bring fine jewelry craftsmanship to the fashion runway.

“Our goal is to create something unique and visually powerful, and we knew that with our technical skills as master jewelers, we could create designs that transcend the materials and touch the wearer's inner spirit.”

Chris and Shani have been designing jewelry together for over twenty five years - ever since they began their love-affair with each other (and forging metal) in high school. After high school, Chris and Shani traveled the country to apprentice with several master jewelers, including renowned artist Heykoa Merrifield. They have been selling their work in galleries across the country since 1988, and in 2005 the pair opened a studio gallery of their own in their home town of Mendocino, California. Specializing in Celtic design and custom wedding rings Chris and Shani longed to bring their intricate style and symbolic design into exotic creations for the whole body. In 2010, they premiered their new line, " Metal Body Art", to rave reviews in several Northern California art galleries and hotspots.

Their unique line of jewelry art can also be viewed at, or visit Celtic Creations Studio & Gallery in Mendocino California. For more information or to inquire about custom orders please call us (707)-937-1223 or send us an email

Metal Body Art: Passion and Dreams
The Jewelry Art of Chris and Shani Christenson
By Margi Gomez

It's about having a dream. And it's about having the passion to follow that dream into reality.

Chris and Shani Christenson's world is a parallel universe, steeped in myth and tradition. The Mendocino couple has been working in silver, gold, and gemstones, creating work that reflects their longtime fascination with ancient symbolism.

Both Chris and Shani can trace their fascination with jewelry back to childhood, when each used a kind of creative deconstruction to experiment with metals and jewels. As a young child, Shani used to take apart jewelry that her grandfather bought at junk stores and garage sales. "I used to pry out the gems and beads, organize them into little boxes, restring necklaces, and just generally hoard the pretty sparklies." As a child, Chris was fascinated with fire, and he spent a great deal of time melting lead pipes that had been put out for collection on the streets of his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. He would then pour the molten metal into horsetails and other natural objects to form casts."

The couple first met as schoolmates in local Mendocino schools. The two were high school sweethearts and have been in love ever since. They started their jewelry careers at that point with Shani getting involved in beading and Chris apprenticing with master goldsmith Wolfgang Hasselkas, who was based in Mendocino. They soon began selling earrings and other pieces at various Mendocino shops, and participating in local crafts fairs until their two children, Connor, ten, and Caiden, 4, came along. "At one point we attended 15 fairs per year," Shani remembers "We had to slow way down, especially when Connor started school."

In 1996, the couple joined artist's cooperative, NorthCoast Artists Gallery, in Fort Bragg. Shani says that being a part of that community organization has made a huge impact on their business and their work. "The community support and encouragement, the additional resources available to us through the co-op, and the consistency of sales through NorthCoast all gave us a big boost."

In 2003, Chris and Shani took another big step and opened their Mendocino shop, "Celtic Creations," overlooking Big River Bay from above the Gallery Bookshop on Main Street. "We wanted a place where people could watch us work, where someone could come and even participate in the creation process," Chris enthuses. "The beauty of our coast is a constant inspiration and we hope to capture some of that energy and magic in our art."

The Christenson's have studied jewelry construction with a number of teachers, most influential of whom was Heyoka Merrifield. Merrifield, a Native American who taught jewelry through the Lady of the Lake foundation in Washington State, was also central to their quest to see their work in jewelry as a personal spiritual journey, using symbolism and ceremony. Chris and Shani do not consider their creations to be truly finished until they have an "Awakening Ceremony," that they feel brings energy to the jewelry, and a connection to the earth for its next owners. "Every piece of our jewelry touches one special feather", Chris says. "this also allows us to let go, to say good bye to our creation."

Chris and Shani create rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and now jeweled armor in their Mendocino studio, often basing their work on ancient symbols such as Celtic knots. Although they draw from a number of cultures, including Native American, Egyptian, and Asian traditions, Celtic symbolism is still their main focus. "We have always been intrigued with Celtic art," Chris explains. "The Celtic Knot, for example, is a single interwoven line with no beginning and no end, which symbolizes eternity and the interweaving of all life. This early decorative and religious art was born of the traditions of the Celtic people who inhabited Britain and Ireland for many centuries."

The couple use a number of classical jewelry techniques, including a glass enamel technique called Champleve, using a rubber mold, lost wax casting, and packing ground glass into recessed areas of the metal, usually silver, torch firing the piece at 1500 degrees, then grinding and polishing. Another common design used frequently in Chris and Shani's artwork is the cameo. They specialize in a specific type of cameo known as the Commesso, which originated in the 15th century French court. "Only the face of the cameo is sculpted from shell, stone, or piano key ivory and the design is completed in metals," Shani says. "A unique feature of the Christenson's comassos is that they are finished with a design on the back, creating a reversible piece of jewelry."

Chris and Shani have also been teaching others, participating in the Mendocino Art Center's Open Studio program as well as offering a number of jewelry fabrication classes through the Art Center. They offer instruction in several techniques, including the double-sided technique for which they have become known, layering metal using a unique cut away soldering method, and "sandwiching" large stones between silver overlays. Shani has taught jewelry to high school students during Alternative Education week, an enrichment program offered in April in Mendocino, high schools for several years. "We've had a number of apprentices over the years, and we love to share what we have learned," says Chris. "I would say that teaching has been one of the most rewarding things we've done and gives us a chance to give back to the world that has given us so much."

The Christenson's path has not been without some major challenges. In January of 2008, the couple was shocked to receive a phone call informing them that the historic Jarvis-Nichols building where their Mendocino shop is located, at the corner of Main and Kasten Streets, was on fire. Chris rushed to the scene, crossed Big River bridge to see flames and black smoke billowing from the building.

Although the devastated couple was able to clean and save much of their jewelry and some crucial customer information, Shani describes the scene that she saw the following day as "total devastation." She continues, "The fire started in a bathroom, and everything was covered with thick, plastic smelling soot. There was water and retardant foam everywhere. All of the woodwork, benches, shelving, and display cases were ruined."

Chris says that the most important thing he was able to take from the fire was the gratitude that came from the realization of how much worse it could have been. "Despite the amazing work the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department did, we literally almost lost everything. My mom had passed away a few years earlier, and I kept feeling that her spirit was there protecting us." Thankfully, with help from the community at large as well as fellow jewelers, Chris & Shani were able to get back on their feet and get back to work within a year.

Six months after they reopened their shop, though, the Christenson's were hit with another shocker when Chris, while coaching his son's baseball team, ruptured a disc and had a piece of it detach and lodge in his spinal column, necessitating surgery. "A lot of our commissioned work is in wedding rings, and those kinds of deadlines have to be met," recalls Shani. "Chris was laid up for almost six months. We kept a low cot in the studio, where he was able to keep working. He never missed a deadline!"

"I would say that these experiences only strengthened our resolve. Through our love and passion for one another and our work we have overcome these bumps in the road to follow our dreams." says Chris.

It was as Chris was being wheeled in for surgery that he realized that there was a possibility that he may not wake up again. "I would be devastated if I had never made the attempt to follow my dreams" Chris recalls. "Through the course of our career, our lives, and taking care of a family, we just never felt we could take the risk of dropping everything to pursue our vision."

For almost 20 years Chris has been dreaming of making exotic, fine art metal clothing and lingerie, incorporating precious materials like silver, gold and gemstones. "I had a vision of strength and beauty, shining in the darkness. I imagined creating complete ensembles that would empower the wearer, a kind of magical armor."

Chris and Shani threw themselves into this new work, and made a big splash at the September First Friday celebration at North Coast Artists Gallery, where they presented an exciting runway fashion show of their new project, Metal Body Art. The new work is both provocative and exotic, and glitters with gemstones such as amethyst, citrine, and garnets, as well as fine silver, and fired glass enameling. The Christenson's have taken their passion for jewelry construction a step further, creating wearable art that reflects the power and the symbolism of ancient world cultures and shines with the passion of it's creators.

Brigit's Armor was the first of these one-of-a-kind fashions, and was created by Chris expressly for Shani. The piece has won an award for Best Armor from Beyond Fantasy magazine. Brigit was a Celtic goddess of fire, poetry, healing, childbirth, and most appropriately, metalsmithing. "Brigit was born at dawn, and her fire represents the spark of life," Shani's sister Kelsie Hubik collaborated with the couple on the construction of this and other Metal Body Art outfits.

Another body armor outfit created by the Celtic Creations studio is called "Kegan's Fire." In Gaelic the name Kegan means "Bright and shining flame". This outfit symbolizes the element of fire and the archetypal Fire Goddess celebrated by many cultures. This outfit features Chatham rubies, garnets, cubic zirconium, and black suede.

Shani designed a piece called Druanthia, a Celtic forest goddess, known as "Queen of the Druids." symbolizing protection, knowledge & creativity. Druantia is often seen as the eternal, wise, and knowledgeable mother, the one who guides the seeker to their true path. The outfit incorporates tourmaline, green quartz, fluorite, peridot and green suede.

One of the new wearable art pieces presented in the show at NorthCoast Artists is based on Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Japanese Sun Goddess whose name means "Shining Heaven". She was so bright and radiant that her parents sent her up the Celestial Ladder to heaven, where she has ruled ever since. This outfit was created with sterling and fine silver, citrine, ametrine and black suede.

In order to make their dream of magical armor come true, the Christenson's recycled their scraps of silver, which they had been saving for 20 years. "We were able to recover almost 500 ounces of silver to use in the outfits," Shani explains. She estimates that each outfit represents between 300-400 hours of labor to create. "Chris's mantra throughout these long hours has been, 'People don't even know!' referring to the sheer amount of tedious work needed to create these wearable works."

Enjoy a personal look at the unique jewelry art of Chris and Shani Christenson by visiting their shop, Celtic Creations, above Gallery Bookstore at the corner of Kasten and Main Streets in Mendocino, or by clicking on their jewelry website at, or on their new website, The Metal Body Armor will be on exhibit at NorthCoast Artists Gallery, at 362 Main Street in Fort Bragg, through September 28. For more information, contact Chris and Shani Christenson at the Celtic Creations studio by phone at 707-937-1223.

Chris and Shani would like to thank all the wonderful friends and family who helped them present their art in such a unique and exciting way during the Fashion Show premier of Metal Body Art, including Kelsie Hubik who help construct on the outfits. The models Melinda Miller-Klopfer, Jessica VanBuskirk, Samantha Horn, and Mandela Linder. Jocelyn DeChenne and Marrinella Brey of Mantra's Affirmation for Hair in Mendocino, makeup artist Liz Hetherington and Amy Wall from Mendocino Beauty, musicians Sean VanBuskirk and Dan Melo from Hanging Chad, and Meaghan Grijalva Davis who MC'd the show.