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A one question interview


Hi, our local guild, the Chicago Metal Arts Guild, of course has a
newsletter. I would like to pose a question, and anyone who is
willing to answer, may, and with your permission, we’ll publish some
of these in our upcoming newsletter.

Here’s this issue’s two questions: (you may choose the one that you

  1. How did you decide to become a metalsmith? (substitute jeweler,

  2. What, in your opinion, is the role of debt in building a small

Thank you so much.
Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor


Hi, Elaine- Some decide to become metalsmiths, and some have
metalsmithing thrust upon them…

My core issue is that I am a habitual and incurable rockhound. Not
long after I moved to Arizona (roughly a decade ago) and began
gratifying my addiction to found rocks, my wife posed the profound
question, “what are you going to do with them?” This led to my
purchase of a used Highland Park lapidary unit, and to my becoming a

Sometime later, I had amassed a fair assortment of completed
cabachons. Once again the question- “What are you going to do with
them?” Good question. I tried pre-made findings, and found early on
that they were not the way to go- most were cheap and cheesy
looking, and, besides, pre-made settings require calibrated cabs,
and that is a pretty significant limitation.

So I took up wire wrap, which has the advantages of requiring little
in the way of tools, materials and workspace. Wire wrap is a good
way to start out, as it requires little in the way of tools and
materials, and provides training in use of pliers, plastic
properties of wire, etc. Wire wrap also is good design discipline,
in that it requires that you do varied and interesting things using
only one starkly limited technique- bending and twisting wires. In
the end, I found wire wrap to be /too/ limiting. So I bought a
torch, jeweler’s saw and a set of files, and sallied forth into the
arena of silversmithing. For several years, I have pursued lapidary
and silversmithing as a hobbyist (sp?) and I am now seeking to make
a full-time living of it.

Lee Einer


The reason I became interested in metalsmithing (in my case mostly
with silver) was that back in the 50’s I did lapidary work and there
was very little choice available in the way of ‘findings’ at that
time, so I became interested in making my own.

Phyllis Richardson
Member of the Creative Jewellers Guild of B. C.

Hi, our local guild, the Chicago Metal Arts Guild, of course has a
newsletter.  I would like to pose a question, and anyone who is
willing to answer, may, and with your permission, we'll publish
some of these in our upcoming newsletter. Here's this issue's two
questions:  (you may choose the one that you like) 1.  How did you
decide to become a metalsmith?  (substitute jeweler, goldsmith...) 

About twenty years ago, I found myself looking everywhere for
specific pieces of jewelry that I could envision very clearly, but it
seemed nobody was making them. I suddenly realized-- I know what they
look like, all I have to do is learn to make them! I lived in
Washington DC at the time, and was a member of the Smithsonian. They
have en extensive educational arm for members who live there, so I
signed up for some jewelry classes. Soon I realized that I had found
my proper vocation, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Janet Kofoed


Wonderful for you Lee! Such a nice little story and, I am sure, one
that may be shared with hundreds or thousands of lapidary/smiths out
there. As much as we hear about the limitations resulting from a pure
’academic’ career, so too can a purely ‘self-taught’ career have its
limitations. My question then is, “Have you had an opportunity to
take any courses in either of your principle fields?” So often my
students tell me that they never seemed to learn the 'little tricks’
that can be learned from someone who has, in turn, learned them from
another. The end result is a much richer repertoire of skills.

Just a thought from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL whre it
has been brrrrr - cold this past week and where simple elegance IS
fine jewelry! @coralnut1


To add to the list of “How I became a metalsmith”…

I’ve been an artist all my life. After college, and a year in grad
school (art history), I turned to art as my profession. I was a
professional potter for more than 20 years. Then, my life was
thoroughly disrupted by taking care of my dying mother (emphysema)
and mother-in-law (Parkinsons, kidney disease, dementia) while
raising 4 kids, 3 to 12. When the dying was done, I could not simply
take up where I left off. I had always wanted to try jewelry, but
didn’t feel I could stop running full-speed long enough to try it.
With everything now up for grabs, it seemed like a good time. I took
the class with the soonest start date. Imagine my joy at going to a
medium with which, after 20-some years of the long drawn-out process
of working with porcelain, I could now have an idea, and see the end
product in the same day!

I still do a bit of ceramics, but not to market. Very few of my
jewelry ideas can be finished in the same day, but I am well and
truly hooked.



Hi Elaine, My involvement in jewelry began in 1973 when I was living
in Spain. I met a retired American jeweler from Los Angeles and one
day he brought me a bag of pliers, hammers, a saw, and assorted other
hand tools. He suggested that I get some brass sheet and wire and
"play". At the time I was trying to make a living designing and
making wood furniture. I started “playing” and he would come in and
offer suggestions on technique and design. I quickly switched to
working with silver and within a few months I had a business making
very simple designs, primarily in silver wire, for the tourist trade
on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. Within a year I had a few
employees and was selling retail and wholesale.

I didn’t look back at that point, I was hooked on metals. I moved
back to the States a couple of years later and opened a business in
Nyack, NY. I soon was working in gold and silver and eventually in
platinum as well. I do both fabricating and wax carving of
one-of-a-kind pieces for private clients and have been working in a
home studio for the past six years.Thanks to a chance meeting with my
mentor in Spain, I have enjoyed many years in a very satisfying craft
that I will continue with as long as I’m able.

I have met many wonderful people along the way.

Joel Schwalb @Joel_Schwalb

   My question then is, "Have you had an opportunity to take any
courses in either of your principle fields?"  So often my students
tell me that they never seemed to learn the 'little tricks' that
can be learned from someone who has, in turn, learned them from
another.  The end result is a much richer repertoire of skills. 

An excellent point, Don! I have taken no courses per se. I have
taken two workshops, one in wire wrap (ages ago) and the other was
Charles Lewton-Brain’s workshop on surface applications. I’m sure
that I could benefit from extended instruction. As you indicate,
it’s not necessarily the major techniques, but the simple little
tricks which I am likely missing, and not knowing these may be a
major cause of wasted time & effort at the bench.

Lee Einer



The only jewelry making class I was in was a lost wax casting class
at the adult craft center. I have been very fortunate to have
learned a lot from others in the jewelry field.

My field is limited in that I do not work with faceted gems nor am I
in the very competitive field of fine jewelry.

Being trained as an engineer presented many obstacles to jewelry
creation in that I never have been able to developed the ability to
create the fascinating freeform found in fine jewelry. But my
engineering background has also given me the ability to solve
jewelry construction problems.

We must always challenge our ability but never be depressed because
do not have the talent other do. Lee


here goes:

about (counting fingers…) eight years ago, I was fairly fresh off
the Boat from Germany, and in that phase of life, where one tries to
figure out what to do with oneself. I was also traveling The
Legendary West by the means of my thumb and backpack. One late
evening in January, I arrived in Tucson AZ. It was the warmest I had
been for many days! So I decided to stay for a few and regroup my
energy, maybe try to sell some shells I had collected at Ocean Beach
in San Diego. As I connected up with other people I heard about the
Gem show that had just happened. I was bummed! even as a small kid I
loved to look at pretty rocks, and the full color pages showing gem
formation in my Parents were all dog-eared and abused because I had
looked at them so many times.

Anyway,…a few days go by, and I sit outside a coffee shop (in
JANUARY) soaking up the suns rays along with a double mocha and
one of my new friends walks up triumphantly, puts an about two
fist-size velvet Pouch loudly on the mnetal table before me. “HaHAA!
There you go!” As my thoughts, so crudely awakened from their musings
about golden light and sunshine, returned reluctantly back to Earth,
here and now, I looked confusedly at the bag, and the guy, which I
really didn’t know all that well, raised an eyebrow and
intelligently remarked: “Huh?” answer to that:“this is for you!!” so
I opened the bag, and out come Rocks, tumbled, any shape, most of
them some milky brown translucent color with beige solid colored
circles in it, some chevron amethysts, some other stuff, and a
irregular coil of previously used copper wire…

a few months later I went back to Berkeley (Telegraph Ave, not the
University) and became Michael Thomas’ Apprentice.


– Sparrow’s Jewelry ( - Adventures
in fine metal art. Hand-formed metal art jewelry, hair ornaments,
tiaras, ancient art, ceremonial and period costume items. Custom
stone-setting and jewelry design for accessories as unique as you!


hello, all i went to school specifically for jewelry, and
unfortunately, i’ve had to spend a lot of time “unlearning” what
they taught me there. they took the position that their way was the
best and only way, and in the time since, i’ve found that wasn’t so.
i wouldn’t recommend a jewelry school to anyone - maybe a few
classes here and there, but a school is mostly a waste of time and
money. i personally have found that i have learned far more and done
far better by doing something just to see what would happen. i’ve
taught myself glasswork, lapidary, inlay, and wax carving using the
"what does this thingy do?" method of education. just my humble
opinion, susannah


Hi Elaine, I have never really been employed in jewellery making but
I have made quite a bit over the years. Apart from one or two bits of
tumblestone jewellery and a few trinkets for my mum I really only
started in earnest when I began courting my present wife back in the
late sixties. At that time I was a struggling apprentice surveyor
earning 4UKP a week - 2 of which went to my mother for board and
lodgings, so I had virtually no spare cash with which to shower my
girl with gifts! Anyway, the day came when we decided we wanted to
get engaged and there was no way I could afford to buy a ring.
However, at work, a friend’s mother had just died and he offered me a
couple of old gold wedding rings that she had had, for a very nominal
sum. He also gave me an old broach which still had a reasonable
sapphire in it (most of the stones had fallen out). So, I designed a
ring which was fairly modern for the time - a couple of parallel bars
with the sapphire offset from centre between them, and made a mock up
out of two bits of copper sheet sawn to shape and held at the right
angle to each other with soft solder. I used this to make a
cuttlefish bone mould (sorry budgie…) and melted the two rings
together in the remains of an earthenware cup in the domestic Baxi
fire. I had to use the vacuum cleaner on blow under the grate to get
enough heat and the grate vurtually all burnt away in the process
which puzzled my father greatly and got the coal merchant a telling
off for supplying us with the ‘wrong coal’! Anyway, I got a workable
raw ring which I could finish by filing. The setting I made from
silver and I then registered a makers mark with the Sheffield Assay
Office so I could get the ring properly hallmarked. All in all it
looked very good and still survives 35+ years later although I did
once have to replace a broken claw.

The next project was a 21st birthday gift for her and this took the
form of a bangle with a watch in it. The kind of two-part, hinged
bangle which is now made from wide oval tube was just becoming
popular and so this was the basic idea. However, I couldn’t buy
ready-made tube at about 1/14" wide so I fabricated it from two
sheets of silver with square wire between for the edges. The silver
sheets had to be beaten to a dome shape in two directions to make the
right shape. This was my first experience of hingemaking and I not
only hinged the two halves of the bangle together with a ‘hidden
hinge, but also made a hinged compartment in the back for the watch
movement whose dial was just below the face of the bangle. The
’glass’ was made from a piece of smoky quartz (Cairngorm) which I
flattened and polished down to a 1mm thick sheet and then mounted in
a silver bezel. (I persuaded the local university geology dept.
technician to help me with this stone cutting as I had never done any
before). There have been a number of other similar projects which I
have just careered headlong into - learning as I went along and they
have all turned out well. My motto is - You can do anything you want
in life until you PROVE otherwise!

Best wishes,
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield, UK

but a school is mostly a waste of time and money. i personally have
found that i have learned far more and done far better by doing
something just to see what would happen 

Hi Susannah, I’m glad that you are able to pick up things naturally,
you are one of the lucky ones. For myself though, I learn well from
others in the school setting and had the opposite experience with a
jewelry school, going through the whole program at Revere was an
incredible time. The instructors there teach what they know but are
not closed to other ways. I have used what I learned there and have
made enough money to make it worth it. It wasn’t the end to
learning, but a great beginning. It’s important to chose the path
that is right for you but not to discourage others from a different
path. Not all schools are created equally… Shop around



First ring I’ve ever made, I build from brass strip from old "flat"
battery and piece of emerald green toothbrush which I cut with
kitchen bone saw and polished using toothpaste to high luster by
hand,I was 7 , yes, seven years old.Then came Zorro spades made from
steal welding rods begged for at autobody shop,aluminum ladle for
guard and filed with corks shotgun shell for handle Next my mum,and
sister proudly wore pendants, brooches and bracelets made of cooper
wire,hammered,twisted,and soldered with tin solder.Then I started to
use silver cutlery for my creations.By 14 I had basic tools adapted
for my needs and started to make simple silver jewelry with natural
stones,corals,amber, ivory,ebony,mother of pearl and so on.I melted
in to silver color glass heads from dressmaker pins for
decoration.In high school I started to collect real jewelry tools and
I made primitive torch for natural gas and air.Then I took 3 years
apprenticeship in Wrought Iron shop .After that came Dental
Technician school ,with all the beauty of lost wax casting.Working at
dental lab I made Jewelry for my coworkers ,in exchange for
dentures,and repairs.It was truly symbiotic coexistence.My ladies had
new jewelry, I was doing what I really wanted to do.After living
Poland I found work as jeweler much easier then dental technician.
So here I am making one of a kind pieces mostly in platinum,with my
own plat. casting in well equipped studio in Toronto.Through all this
years /from my first ring 36/ I haven’t had any formal training
except for Matrix course at Gemvision,but this is digital.The rest I
learned reading books, magazines, asking questions, watching fellow
Jewelers and mostly on my own mistakes.My mum says that my fevered
toy as the child wasn’t a teddy bear or car , but a hammer!Jewelry
making hasn’t make me rich,but it enriched my live in a great
way,gave me opportunity to meet great people,learn about metals,
gems,art and history.Hearing praises from clients for something done
with my own hands something what some days ago was just a handful of
casting grain and some lose stones is priceless to me.On the whole I
wouldn’t like to change my carrier even if I could turn back the
clock.Some of my old creations you can see visiting my site

all the best


Hi Elaine, The other question you asked appears to have been avoided,
so like a fool I rush in where others fear to tread (with apologies
to Alexander Pope).

Debt is good, if used in moderation. It is also cheaper than equity.
One needs money to start up a business. The question is then how much
will one and one’s associates put up and how much can one borrow from

The advantage of debt is that the interest on the loan can be
deducted from income (at least in Canada) while a dividend on stock
cannot be deducted (again in Canada). However as the debt becomes
higher the lenders perceive higher risks and at some point will not
lend money. In fact banks will insist that one signs a covenant
stating that the firm will have a certain ration of working capital
(money in the bank) to the amount of money borrowed. Break the
covenant and the bank has the right to immediately recall the loan.

Perhaps you know this already, and in case you don’t, retain a
financial advisor to give you good advice. He or she will ask the
right questions and provide you with a reliable advice based on your

In any case don’t discount the value of debt, without sufficient
funds a firm may never be able to grow.

At least that’s my 0.64 of US $0.02 worth.



Hi, I just read your wonderful story on how it all started for you.
That is the way, the progression to an Artisan. Letting no one
’hammer your dream’. How wonderful.

I am just starting in my journey-at a rather advanced time in my
life, but as with everything I have done/am doing. this fire burns
just as brightly, and in my own little way, hope it will bring me the
pleasure, frustration, learning, growing that your ‘love’ has brought

Cheers! Dinah *(from the cooold Southern Tier of NY)


Thorrko…What an inspiring story. You have obviously had a full
life doing the things you loved to do best. I applaud your tenacity
and determination and suggest it as an inspiration for those starting
out. Thanks for sharing t with us. Cheers from Don at The Charles
Belle Studio in SOFL where simple elegance IS fine jewelry!


I’ve always been an artist and I’ve always been a salesman (That’s a
plus). Apparently I used to sell people pretty rocks out of their
own driveways when I was a little girl! :slight_smile: I was an art major in
the mid 70’s at our Community College. I was doing everything from
painting and drawing to calligraphy. I took a ceramics class and a
jewelry class. In my mind I was sure pottery was the way I was
headed. I wasn’t sure about the jewelry though. Turned out I never
could throw a pot and I went into business with the jewelry.
Another example of how you never know sometimes where your talents
lie. So you should always try different things. I loved making
jewelry and the instructor just gave me the key to the studio and
I’d sometimes be casting at 2:00 in the morning. After that class I
never really had any formal training. I picked peoples brains, read
a ton of books, screwed up a lot of things and got pretty darn good.
In 1988 I took a jewelry class at The Springfield Art Association.
I realized that I already knew most everything he was teaching. I
approached the Director and suggested that they separate the jewelry
students and have a beginning class. He said, “That’s great but who
would teach it?” “How about me?” I said. And so I not only taught
that class but I taught design, fabrication and lost wax casting for
the next 10 years! In 1991 I took a GIA class on diamond setting.
Over the years I’ve taken numerous workshops to keep up my skills
and add to them. I’ve taken enameling and recently granulation
among many others. I officially started my business in 1990. I do
a lot of custom work as well as some art fairs. I’m in some
galleries and I have a website. I quit teaching in 1999 to focus on
my own work. Although I do miss it, the Orchid has kind of filled
the void. Then 2 years ago October I made the big move and had a
log cabin mobile home custom made for my studio and set it out
behind our house. It’s 12’ x 20’ and I already wish I’d made it
bigger. After almost 27 years I am now looking at a lake instead of
a brick wall in the basement. To say it’s awesome is putting it
mildly. I really wish I had done it years ago. I was so afraid I
couldn’t pay for it. But I’m so much more inspired now, I’ve been
much more productive and I’m proud to say I even paid it off a year
early. It was the best thing I ever did. It just seemed to make me
much more credible. It’s amazing how I can almost see the wheels
turning in people’s heads. It’s like they’re saying, “Wow you
really DO make this stuff”! Same equipment that was in my basement
but now you don’t have to look around my laundry to see it. I
really want to get a picture in the archive. Hopefully it won’t be

God Bless you


Dinah, Don’t let the “advanced stage” get in the way. As long as you
are following your heart you are on the right path. The road to
fulfillment is following your heart. All the best. Joel

Joel Schwalb

What, in your opinion, is the role of debt in building a small

I am inclined to believe that it is very difficult to develop a
small business, such as an art studio, without taking on some amount
of debt. A good question is what amount of debt can be conducive
towards moving further in the direction of one’s goals, and remain
financially manageable. It is necessary to be able to acquire the
tools, education, and materials that are required to produce a body
of work in a timely fashion, without causing an immediate hardship.
Additionally, new needs will inevitably arise on a steady basis, so
there is a benefit to not inundating oneself with too much debt at
the onset, which might preclude future expenditures as the necessity
arrives. Writing a business plan, no matter how simple or basic it
might be, is a very helpful and prerequisite tool in evaluating what
the needs of the enterprise will be, and determining what portion of
those needs might be best acquired through debt or financing. In my
experience, the reluctance to borrow often slows or delays the next
steps needing to be taken, to realize steady growth and progress in
one’s career.

Michael David Sturlin, jewelry artist

480.941.4105 Scottsdale, AZ USA