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Awkward teaching situation


I’m in a bit of an awkward situation. I’m teaching a silversmithing
class and I told the students that the last day of class would be a
day that they could work on whatever they wanted and told them to
think about it and let me know so that I could have everything
prepared. The problem is that I’m uncomfortable with what they chose
to make the last day. They decided that they wanted to make an exact
copy of one of my pieces - exact - same stone, same size, same
design down to every stamped detail - an exact copy. Basically the
piece is going to sit on the table and be copied.

My issue isn’t so much about “copying” as it is that the ring is
really my pride and joy piece and I feel like I’m "handing it over"
by having it used as a template for a group of students. And I don’t
think I’m ready to do that with this piece - I just cherish this
piece and am so pleased with how it turned out. I just love the
ring. I don’t mind teaching my techniques and what I’ve learned, but
feel kind of funny also giving away my designing - if that makes

I guess it’s the fact that I really like the uniqueness of the ring
and I feel kind of funny about it being copied by a group of
students - I really wasn’t ready for this kind of situation and I’m
not sure how to handle it. I don’t want to come off as not wanting
to share - because I’ve been more than forthcoming with all the
techniques I’ve learned. But as far as copying an instructor’s piece
of jewelry that she is wearing down to every last detail - I don’t
know, it just doesn’t seem right. I’ve taken many classes and I
don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where the class has told
the instructor that what they want to make is an exact copy of what
the instructor is wearing. I know I personally would never even
think of asking an instructor to do that - but maybe that’s just me.

Isn’t the whole point of learning new techniques to be able to take
those techniques and incorporate them using their own design ideas?
Ughh… I really feel like I’ve been put on the spot here… I just
feel like this kind of crosses the line. I remember when I started
taking classes and all of the things that were going through my mind

  • as far as what I was going to do with the techniques that I was
    learning and I don’t think I ever once thought “I’m going to make an
    exact copy of the instructor’s work.” It just makes me


I find this a very interesting situation from a rather unique
perspective. About four years ago when the Russian Gold exhibit was
at the Houston Museum of Natural History I was contacted by a curator
friend of mine and asked if I would be interested in spending the day
with one of the Russian Curators from the contemporary jewelry
department of the Hermitage. The idea was that this curator wanted to
meet some of the local jewelry artists and see their work. I
naturally jumped at the chance to meet this lady and escort her and
her interpretor around for the day. During the tour of the various
artists and local teaching facilities the discussion came up about
teaching methods and student direction. It seems (at least my
understanding) that in Russia the students are taught (and this is
the real relevant part) to copy the old masters works before they are
allowed to venture out with their own designs and creativity. In
America, however it seems that we teach the students to take
techniques and immediately explore their own interests without ever
truly mastering the technique before hand. Which way is best? I think
that somewhere in the middle lies my preference. Mastery of technique
and then creativity with creativity allowed to flourish during
mastery of the technique. Hummmm? sounds sort of like the old chicken
and egg thing. Anyway as the designer I would say it is up to you to
let the students copy or not with the realization that their tech
will probably not measure up to the teachers nor will the finished
product. This might just lead them to the realization of their skill
level and the better appreciation of their teachers skills. If it was
me I would let them copy but not without a final critique.

Frank Goss


Oooohhhhh…and you thought I wouldn’t write anything about this
one…lol…lol…lol…lol…lol! Let me see…you want to teach,
but you don’t want to teach the best of what you know. Is that like,
uh…" kinda", being married? You want the financial support, the
attention and companionship, but gee… you don’t really want to give
all that much back? The old conundrum…should it be:#1 “how much
can I do for you?” or…#2.“how much am I going to have to do for
you?” Uh…hint hint…if you are teaching, then it should be #1, if
you just want to come in and collect your student’s moolah and
earned disdain, pick the other one.

Dictionary definition of teach:1. To impart knowledge or skill to 2.
To provide knowledge of; instruct in. 3. To cause to learn by example
or experience.

Ok… I can understand being uncomfortable with students copying
your work. As I found out by having mine do it, the first time is
always the hardest, but you’ll get over it. That is what you signed
up for. Teaching is what you do…I know…I know…it is always
more interesting to have your students copy someone else’s work, and
have you show them how to do it, (that would have been a-ok wouldn’t
it?), (tongue in cheek on that one, in case you thought I was
serious), but I would guess that you could really teach them some
amazing things that you have learned over the years by teaching them
how to make one of your own pieces. After all, who knows them better
than you?

Ahem…You did set the parameters for the assignment, your students
met them. Now it is time for you to rise to the occasion. Maybe I
think this way because I sell just about everything I ever make, and
teach whatever anyone wants to know… if i know it… unless nobody
wants it. I think there is only one piece in all of these years that
I have kept, but I have taught others how to make that same thing.
Trust me, it doesn’t come out looking exactly the same because it
isn’t you who is making it. For me, the magic of the piece is in the
making of it, Once it is finished, I let it go.

So let it go. Teach your students what you are best at. They
recognize that, and have given you a great compliment by admiring
what you do so much that they want to slave over attempting it
themselves. What a great opportunity to be selfless. God
forbid…they might even grow to be better jewelers than we are, .
In any case, there really is no graceful way to squirm out of this
without looking like a total moo.

Oh…alright…sigh…there is ooooone way…New Assignment: You
have each student make their own interpretation of your ring…the
requirement being, ( say this to yourself in the nasal voice that it
begs for): that the interpretation can not be the exact
ring…sigh…sigh…sigh… You know of course, as soon as they learn
enough they will make the ring anyway, if only to prove that they
can? No controlling those dang students.

…Do I hear a CHICKEN in the background…??? Hmmmm…must be
one of mine…( I am hoping that you teach them how to make your
ring). In any case, good luck!

Lisa, ( Chickens I own: Arucanas, Leghorn, Buff Orpingtons and Barred
Rocks = blue eggs, green eggs, white egg, pink eggs and brick red
eggs…I am always ready for Easter) Topanga, CA USA


Hi, Catherine,

I understand your dilemma! The first question that comes to mind is,
can they make exact copies of your ring? If you are proud of it, I
gotta think it wasn’t totally easy. If they really can’t duplicate
it, there’s probably no harm in trying.

I was pretty stunned once when, after I demonstrated titanium
coloration and handed out pieces of titanium to the students, I
asked one woman what she was going to do with hers and she looked me
straight in the eye and said, “Oh, I’m going to make a landscape
just like yours!” My second thought, though, was, “Good luck!”-- and
that’s what I told her. I had nothing to worry about, as it turned

Chances are, unless you do it for them, you have nothing to worry
about either-- unless you’re a much better teacher than I am!



your students want to copy your design cause they love it, nothing
wrong with that, maybe you could change the objective for the last
day of class to creating this ring, but changing as many aspects of
it as possible, and this would also serve to test their design
skills and modelmaking skills as well, dp

I'm in a bit of an awkward situation. I'm teaching a silversmithing
class and I told the students that the last day of class would be a
day that they could work on whatever they wanted and told them to
think about it and let me know so that I could have everything
prepared. The problem is that I'm uncomfortable with what they
chose to make the last day. They decided that they wanted to make
an exact copy of one of my pieces - exact - same stone, same size,
same design down to every stamped detail - an exact copy. Basically
the piece is going to sit on the table and be copied. (Snip) 

Well, it seems to me that you are the teacher and you control your
class. I think it would be pretty simple to say "I’m flattered that
you want to copy my ring. However, the purpose of this exercise is
for you to develop your own designs. Therefore, each of you will come
up with an original design. I’m hoping that no two designs are the
same, other than each making the same particular item, e.g. ring,
bracelet etc. And I will help you if you need it.

End of discussion - take your own ring home and don’t wear it again
in that class. No reason you should have multiple copies (be they
less perfect than yours) floating around out there. If your ring is
not around, they simply will not be able to copy it. I’d have no
problem with stating that the design of your ring is your own and you
want them to have the same pleasure of creating a "one of a kind"

Keep us posted. K



Well, as the instructor, you are the one who has to set the
parameters of what is acceptable in the class. And as the designer,
you have the right (and responsibility) to allow your designs to be
used – or not used – in such an exercise.

I think you’ve encapsulated how you feel about it beautifully. I’d
simply say to them that after consideration, you’re not comfortable
with what they have proposed (tell them why) and make a

  • They can use the design as an inspiration and their task is to put
    their own “spin” on it as a design – no exact copies will be

  • They can use a different piece (make some suggestions, if you have
    other pieces that you’d be comfortable with them copying), if
    copying is really their gig

I’d be quite frank as to why this makes you uncomfortable: You’ve
been very giving in showing them your techniques, but taking your
design originality is taking it a step beyond what you’re comfortable
with. They need to stand on their own two feet from a design
perspective, unless their goal is to be nothing more than “knock-off

That’s my opinion.

Karen Goeller



What a complement from your students! I have taught wire work and a
few other aspects of the jewelry arts. I know how you feel about a
prized piece. Since, the purpose of taking a class is to learn to
think for yourself, as I tell my University students. I would have
them use your piece as a starting point and tell them they have to
change at least 4 elements, the stone, design, and anything else that
you think is necessary. That way it is not a copy but an original for

Hope this helps,



Part of the problems may be the type of students you teach in your
class. Not all students have the desire to be a creative artist. All
they want to learn is the ability to make jewelry most of which will
be a copy things they see.

I think you need to remind the students that they have learned the
techniques you taught and it is time for them to put their
development skills to work and design something on their own.

Its a compliment to your design that they want to copy it. They
should prove to you and themselves that your training has giving them
the ability to create on their own. Remind them that the best
compliment they can give you as their teacher is to use the skills
you taught them to develop new designs. They should create things
that is from their ideas and not a copy of someone else’s.

Lee Epperson

Isn't the whole point of learning new techniques to be able to
take those techniques and incorporate them using their own design

This is my first post, but even as a “newbie” I can relate to your

As this is a “classroom” situation, get them together as a group. Go
back over the idea that ‘the whole point of learning new techniques
to be able to take those techniques and incorporate them using their
own design ideas’. Explain to them that an exact copy of your ring is
not what the class is all about. (I am assuming this is a class they
paid for.) You might have each one explain what their favorite part of
the ring is, i.e. the stone, the setting, etc. Then, have them design
a ring, and it can be similiar to yours, that reflects their

This happens alot when you deal with young kids in art classes. By
using the above technique, I have refocused them onto their own art

Hope this helps.

PS. It’s snowing here in Western North Carolina and it is COLD!


Catherine, as I read your post I had many ideas, the first was to
comletely agree with you and to say they can’t do it, then I thought
that maybe that was taking it too personally, maybe you should be
flattered. Maybe they want to “walk in your shoes” as far as
technique is concerned and not have to think about design when doing
it. You did say they could do anything. I feel any design I produce,
when it is out of my head, is out there for what ever anyone wants to
do with it. I have no control over that. One time when I was talking
to an East Indian jewelry manufacturor about sending work over there
to be produced, I decided that design security is too big of an
issue. I thought one of two things could happen if my designs were

  1. they would be all over the world and I would no longer be the
    designer or

  2. they wouldn’t be all over the world and that would be a global
    critique of my designs that maybe I don’t want…

In any case I had to laugh at myself because I am not in that
financial position to send work like thatout anyway. I think in your
case I would be pissed they want to copy but, flattered they want to

Sam Patania, Tucson



That should not be an issue at all. a direct copy of anyone’s design
is not OK under any circumstances.

As the instructor, you establish this level of ethics early on and
it does not become a problem to deal with. You still have time to



Firstly, You didn’t mention what level of students you’re teaching.
And it seems that they too love the piece you’re referring to. If
they’re beginning students, the most difficult part of making a
piece is coming up with a design; copying your design solves that
one. I know some proficient makers who haven’t a clue when it comes
to design.

You should speak openly with your students about your feelings. But
you did make a promise. Perhaps you might suggest that they each
mark the piece they make giving you credit for the design using a
stamp of some kind. I wouldn’t think they see it as a knock off but
simply as a lovely design they would like to emulate.

Kevin P Kelly


This might be a good time to bring up up a teaching point about
copyright law.

I think as beginners, we all look at a teacher, and take a project,
and change pieces about it. We make it something different. The
technique is there, but there are differences. I think that is

This is something that has to be taught. There is nothing wrong with
that. Don’t feel awkward about it. If you don’t teach them, down the
road, one of them might find themselves in a lawsuit.

Don’t miss this opportunity to make a teaching point.

Isn't the whole point of learning new techniques to be able to take
those techniques and incorporate them using their own design ideas? 

Absolutely! I feel strongly about this problem. You need to make
this a statement not a question with your class! This has happened to
me and I wasn’t altogether popular when I refused to allow students
to use my stencils and designs. But… original creativity is
hopefully the aim of your students with whom you have been generous
with your teaching of your techniques. They must respect your
ownership of your design and apply their learning to their own work,
no ‘ifs or buts’!

Jenny Gore Enamels
Adelaide, South Australia


Dear Catherine,

Stand up for yourself and your design. You told the class they could
work on whatever they wanted, you didn’t say they could copy your
design. Perhaps accompanying this with a short lecture on copyrights
and commercial production vs one-of-a-kind designs.

Do not let the class bully you, they have techniques to make their
own creations, and if they are not able to be creative with the new
skills they have learned, that is NOT your problem, it is theirs.

Frankly, this class sounds wierd. I’ve never been in a class that
had this kind of “groupthink” thing going on.

Good luck,
Susannah Page-Garcia
Moonshine Metal Creations


then explain to your class, that this is crossing the line, and why.
this is as much of a learning experience for them as is the piece.

Explain to them how you feel, and why. And why you have made your

that is as valuable a lesson as they can learn - eventually they
will feel the same way about their own work.



The class has told the instructor that what they want to make is an
exact copy of what the instructor is wearing.

You could tell the students that in a class situation, copying
another’s work is like plagarism in literature…not the cool thing
to do. What is cool, is to take the techniques learned and create a
piece that is unique; make your own statement, show what you

Donna in VA



I had to write to you because I understand the feeling as a jewelry
designer myself. Let me use an analogy. For 25 years I taught English
Comp. I to freshman at a college; I often used my own essays, some
essay, a persuasive essay, etc. These were models, but of course they
would have failed had they copied my essay word for word or even
followed it closely (unless they did a parody). The point was
teaching them to take THEIR thoughts, ideas, experiences and come up
with an essay that made their own special point about something. Do
the same with your jewelry. Tell them that copying is copyright
infringement and do not encourage it anymore than I encouraged
plagiarism. Tell them how you came to create the piece, its meaning
to you, why you chose the materials, the form, then tell them that
they must do the same thing for themselves. If you teach someone to
copy, then you really haven’t taught them anything more than the
person who teaches a parrot to say,“Polly want a cracker.” Tell them
that. Tell them that you want them to find their own voice, their own
words, their own FORM. I guess you can tell that I was very used to
telling students what to do. Forgive me, but I have strong feelings
about this, and you do too or you wouldn’t be so reluctant to let
them copy. It’s wrong because each artist in any medium has to find
his/her own voice or he/she is not an artist and has no voice.



First of all, you are not on the spot with this. Although you state
that the issue is not so much about copying, but the fact that ring
is your pride and joy. Wrong. The basic issue is most certainly about
copying. Make it clear immediately that the class was designed to
teach them techniques, not copying. Therefore, they can make anything
they want based on the techniques they learned in class, but they
must come up with their own original designs.

This might also be a good time to explain that one of the essentials
of any artist is to create their own designs, and that copying the
work of another artist–especially the work of a teacher, does not
demonstrate their ability to utilize the techniques they have learned
in class.

Certainly, if they plan to become professionals, they will need to
develop their own styles and designs. Furthermore,copying of
anyones’s work–including that of the teacher is considered

Just be firm about it, and don’t feel pressured. I am sure that as a
good teacher,you have given them the skills to come up with some
creative pieces—but copying yours should be out of the question,
and you should not feel awkward about this situation…