A few months back my grandfather went into Hospice. It was believed that he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. He went off all his meds and became free to live the end of his life in comfort. He’s now thriving and the happiest I’ve seen him in years. It got me thinking does death bring life? Why at the end of life do we start living?
During a stop at GVSU I met with Renee Zettle-Sterling who is the Associate Professor of Art & Design. She recently had a show at IUP called “Objects in Mourning” and gave a lecture about her work, which is about death of family, her work as a hospice volunteer and her love of Victorian culture and its ability to embrace mourning, unlike current society who almost shuns it. Renee talked about how birth is the start of death. After her lecture I wondered though her show. From her brother’s obituary to the use of her father, brother and grandfathers silhouettes Renee has captured her loved ones so perfectly and in subtitle detail that is haunting yet powerful with depth. I couldn’t help but feel the energy of life surrounding every inch of her work. 

 Veil #1 from Objects of Mourning by   Renee Zettle-Sterling   photographed by   Bree Mullen

 Veil #1 from Objects of Mourning by Renee Zettle-Sterling photographed by Bree Mullen

A week earlier I was with Renee’s students at GVSU. I was not really aware of mourning jewelry before my visit but would get almost a crash course in it. Mourning jewelry is a piece of jewelry that is worn to remember loved ones who have died. Things got a bit interesting during the Victorian times when hair from the ones who had passed were made into the most intricate hair art that I got to see first hand thanks to Renee’s personal collection. It was absolutely stunning. 

Victorian Mourning Hair Jewelry

Victorian Mourning Hair Jewelry

As I wonder round the metals studio and had one on ones with each student, the depth of thought in the work took me. Each one of the students had their own take and ideas on mourning. I thought to myself, What do you all know about death? You’re too young. But as we all know too well,death isn’t prejudice to age nor is life, is it? 

The ones that experienced death were figuring out how to preserve those lost. The others were working to create pieces that radiated life. Regardless of the outcome every student showed a passion for exploration and volubility in their work. The facility at GVSU have created this safe haven that allows students to dig in deep to experiment with metal techniques fueled by thought and intent. I began to feel the almost blurring of the lines between life and death, how neither was good nor bad but just were.  

GVSU Student Studios click link to see more

At ECU I visited with a grad student Barbara who’s life has been filled with loss, which she puts into her work. At first we talked about techniques of how she wanted to capture her late mother in her work but then we went deeper. She showed me pictures from when her mother was younger, flowers her mother loved and she shared memories. With every story, every picture I could see her work coming to life with her mother’s spirit. It was breathtaking. 

A brooch in progress with a photo of Barbara's mother in the background.

A brooch in progress with a photo of Barbara's mother in the background.

The more time I spend talking with others about death I’ve realized we are actually talking about life. Through mourning jewelry we are connected with those that have passed and that connection captures the stories that live on far beyond us all.

So are we busy dying if we aren't busy living? Does it matter?  I've learned much from my Granddad who has been faced with death, walked hand in hand with it many times yet he has always lived to the fullest not out of fear or acceptance of his end of life but for the pure and utter love of it.

Thank you Renee, Beverly and all the students at GVSU for the great visit. And thank you to Barbara, Hosanna and everyone at ECU. Yes, I’m taken by your work but even more so by how I saw that each and every one of you are as artistically complex, beautiful and strange as a piece of exquisite Victorian hair art.  Keep kicking ass my friends!!!

And by the way, my Granddad will be spending Christmas with us once again this year and yes, I have his keen fashion sense. Thank you!


If you are in Lincoln on December 8th please come to a great event where I'll be sharing my stories from the road. It's a fundraiser event hosted by my good friends and amazing supporters Angela and Jon. Thank you both!!

"We are raising funds to support Casey's message of 'Roaming to unite Radness." And to support Casey who is brave enough to go after her dreams, who gives back more than she receives and dares to make the impossible possible." 

Facebook Event

If you aren't able to make the event but would still like to donate it's easy, just click on the donate button. Thank you!!


The universe works in such mystrious ways. As I was putting the final editing touches on this post I received a donation from Renee and her family. I know you worry about me on the road Renee, sign of a kind soul, but I'm okay. More than okay because of people like you that I am so proud to call my friend, that's what makes this journey worth wild. Thank you for the support and for thinking of me while I was thinking of you!! 


Make sure and keep an eye out, I have a bunch of fun posts coming up....soon!!!

Please contact me with questions, comments, stories, hi-fives or just to say hi!! Pass along to any and all. Thanks for reading!!