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Higher Learning?

Sam, Iam jumping on the band wagon with you. I did not see who wrote
the self grandiosing college and workshop bull but it is sad. Most of
the college art programs that I have seen try to teach psychobabble
expressionism instead of the rudiments of the craft. Like maybe how
to draw or paint. For the money that people are spending they should
get a good product. They are not. I have interviewed people that have
gone to prestigious east coast "art and design"schools. Their parents
and themselves have paid exorbitant amounts of money to learn the
craft of metalsmithing. The skills that they have gleaned from these
so called centers of higher learning ore negligible to say the least.
Apprenticing is a gift compared to what these people get. I feel the
attitude of sharing has come not from enlarging your brain and ego
in so called college art programs. It has come from the fact that
geographical boundaries have become non existent on the internet I
don’t mind sharing my trade secrets with someone in the middle of
Nebraska. There is no threat that they will enhance their business
from me sharing info. When I was learning this craft way back when it
was hard to find on anything concerning jewelry. You
could go to the library or try to apprentice . Few options existed.
Options for are almost boundless the internet. And the
pool of resources isn’t in just my geographical neiborhood it id the
entire world. That is what has created a sense of sharing. There is
no value in not sharing. Regards J Morley Coyote Ridge Studio

Will the schism between the trade and academic sides of this field
ever heal? There is so much to learn from either pole. I began in
the academic side of jewelry and metalsmithing in college and
understood very quickly what it had to offer and what it would
exposed me to. I also realized early on what it wouldn’t teach me,
on the technical side, and I sought this knowlege out elsewhere–
in the “trenches” as it were, sitting by the side of several “old
timers” whose knowlege was invaluable.

I must admit that the statement “pschobabble expressionism” made me
bristle and took me back to those days at the bench when the
gentleman sitting to my left would mutter “artsy fartsy” in response
to any design that showed some imagination or departure from

At the risk of ruffling any feathers, J Morley’s response (I have
not read the original post) comes across, to my eyes, as fairly angry
and intolerant, an attitude that I’ve seen from both sides of the
"Great Schism". Any student, professional or hobbyist with true
passion for the field should be able to see past the feelings of
marginalization manifested in the jewelry trade shop, store and
studio and the academic Ivory Tower and sift out the valuable
that either pole has to offer.

I’ve enclosed an essay that may be of interest to some.
Respectfully, Andy Cooperman STARTING OUT

True story: Early Spring 1987. My first official custom job in the
Evergreen State. The sister of our landlord’s wife wanted a wedding
ring built in gold, set w/ two small diamonds and a square cut pink
sapphire. We met several times, in Seattle and on the east side, to
discuss drawings–I produced over 20 carefully rendered color
sketches-- examine stones and approve wax carvings. At any rate,
having finished the ring, which also involved the making of a rubber
mold, I cheerfully drove my 1979 V8 GMC gas lovin’ pickup somewhere
into the country around Duvall and delivered the completed piece to
my client, who then invited me to the wedding reception where-- if I
wouldn’t mind-- she’d really appreciate me tending bar, since I
probably wouldn’t know that many people any way. Price tag?

I told this story to a friend and colleague recently who is trying
to establish himself as a goldsmith after recently finishing a
university undergraduate degree in jewelry and metalsmithing. My
friend is on the horns of a dilemma: to work for another metalsmith
producing their line of jewelry or to take a low paying grunt type of
job in the commercial jewelry industry where he would learn through
doing or maybe to work at a non related job, for a higher wage, buy a
home, sock some cash away and pursue his passion in the off time.

Tough decision, one that I suppose depends to a large part on how
much he really wants to be a successful jeweler or metalsmith, and
just how he defines those terms. Working for another artist might
allow you to gain speed and proficiency at, say, soldering,
fabrication, setting and finishing. It’s inarguably a great way to
gain an education in production methods, gallery communications and
the operation of a business in general. Being in another artist’s
space can be quite positive, can give you some exposure for your own
work and allow you to use and discover tools and processes that you
had no idea existed. You may even be able to subcontract piece work
from your own studio, a situation some find more comfortable. If you
have your sites set on establishing yourself as a production jewelry
artist, for instance, than working for one can be invaluable. The
downside is that the skills you learn may be very specific and the
work itself can become repetitive. However, as a friend once reminded
me, there’s more to be learned from a job than dry technique and
sound business practices; working with or for another artist can
offer life lessons that cannot be had elsewhere. Watching another
artist integrate their work into the rest of their life–especially
when the studio demands so much physical and mental energy-- and
seeing how they conduct themselves in an ethical manner under what
can be trying circumstances are object lessons that can truly change
your life. It’s knowledge that perhaps can only be found in this
type of situation.

Working at the bench in a jewelry store or “trade shop” situation
is another deal entirely. You may start at the bottom , often in the
polishing room–which is as bad as it sounds. With some advancement,
however, things can look up and you can gain some real experience in
soldering, fabricating, repair, maybe wax carving and casting and
eventually setting. You get to try a wide variety of techniques on a
vast assortment of jewelry and, although much of it is often mind
numbingly banal and stupidly designed, this variety offers myriad
opportunities to learn. You get to sit next to old timers who may be
really great people willing to share their tricks and short cuts or
paranoid sociopaths who wrap their benches in tin foil because they
believe that you’re broadcasting thought rays to steal their
carefully guarded knowledge. (Even the kindly old timer may not
understand “jewelry art” and by the 187th time you’ve heard the term
"artsy-fartsy" you’ll be ready to wrap him in tin foil.) This is
learning in the trenches. The pay may not be great and the
environment nerve wracking, but the potential to learn is huge. This
is all about technique; something that school may have fallen a bit
short on. (Besides, there’s often the text book way to do something
and the real world way.) It can be humbling. But if you want to
be a goldsmith or studio jeweler or want to establish a sound
technical vocabulary then this is a great path to choose. You will
become fast and you will become good. The drawback here is that the
"trade" carries it’s own frustrations, the festive holiday season,
personality clashes and territoriality being just a few.

Working at a decently paying job not related to the jewelry
industry, buying a house and socking away cash sounds great. Taking
care of life’s essentials and pursuing your metallic passion in your
spare time is sound, adult thinking. But what spare time would that
be? You may be one of those renaissance people who can do it all:
work all day, drive home, cook dinner, remodel the house, create
passionate evenings for the spouse, partner or significant other and
build wonderful, thoughtful brooches that comment on late 20 th
century angst and the need for ritual and community in modern life.
I’m not one of those people. I need to sleep. It’s the rare
metalsmith that I see who hasn’t submerged themselves somehow in the
field and is still really good. Technical proficiency and depth of
thought are most often achieved by constant exposure to process and
to ideas.

As for me, I viewed every jewelry related job as another brick in
the foundation. I steeped myself in the metals world, working days
at the bench at a variety of jewelry stores and trade type of shops
and working in my own studio nights and weekends, even spending
several years making crowns and bridges in a dentist office where I
really learned to cast and be comfortable w/ the process… I tried
the production route and attempted to market a line of cast sterling
jewelry which, wearing a dark blue blazer, I carried in a briefcase
from store to store and from booth to booth at gift and wholesale
shows. ( This led directly to a gallery affiliation and a custom
jewelry relationship, both of which with I’m still involved .) I
sent my slides to calls for entry to juried exhibitions and mailed
more slides along with cover letters to countless galleries that
caught my eye in the pages of Metalsmith, Ornament and American
Craft. I applied for grants and competitions.

There’s many ways to approach your career. But never forget that
opportunities come in many guises: a staff position at a gallery, a
job in the trade or at a supply house. Along the way, find your
particular voice and once you have, generate a cohesive ,
recognizable body of work. Remember that this is your edge, the one
thing that truly sets you apart from the pack. Have black and
whites and good, professional quality slides of this work ready to
send to whoever asks. (Slide dupe costs can add up, but it’s pretty
cheap advertising when you think of it.) Get your name out there.
Speak about your work whenever asked to-- no venue is too small.
Write about your work-- you don’t have to show it to anyone, but it
will aid you in clarifying your vision. Keep your ears open: Ask
for feedback from galleries, clients and colleagues and consider it
when it’s offered; it can be invaluable. Learn to live with the
fear of failure and don’t let it get in the way. Sometimes you will
fail; learn from it and then put it behind you. Always remember to
follow through and do something if you’ve said that you will.
Nothing can compete with the sour taste left in the mouth of a
client or colleague left hanging. Plow the profits back into the
studio for a while if you can. Build up your equipment. Take risks
sometimes. Kiss some ass if you have to–you won’t have to pucker

The point of my story: Don’t pass up any opportunity. Nothing is
too small when you’re starting out. You may take it in the shorts a
few times and some people are going to walk away with some really
great deals. But keep your eyes on the prize. Remember that this is
like the stock market: you’re in it for the long haul. I have clients
now who are third and fourth generation referrals.

Having a home, a family, a nice car, and a social life are certainly
not achievements that mutually exclude a successful career as an
artist. The real world has to be dealt with: you have to eat, buy
clothes, have fun and enjoy life. But making a commitment to what you
want is essential. Those who have a supportive partner are certainly
at an advantage. My wife never questioned my commitment of time and
emotion or the dedication of funds to the studio. I was very
fortunate. For every one it’s a matter of choosing priorities.
Sometimes you may even have to tend bar.

metalwork can be a function of trying to earn money, it can be a
creative expression, and it can be an art form where the artist is
expressing feelings, opinion, values, life story. college programs
more probably help a person work through problems of design and
expression. i have never tried to communicate emotion or feeling by
sizing a ring. apprenticing is more likely to educate as to polishing
,sizing,setting, and there is no training for artistic expression. i
am mostly self taught. i can see value for some of the areas i have
not been able to explore by not being supported to invesigate how
different processes to evolve my process which would have been
available in an acedemic setting. if i was being defensive i might be
critical without realizing the value of something i don’t understand
because i didn’t participate and experience what the thing i am being
critical of is about. people are drawn to their destiny by choice
and by serendity. i have learned from self taught and from academia,
and i have appreciated what i have learned from any source. the
bitter tone i detect might be in the criteria that the observer
choses to articulate what his position is in relationship to what he is
observing. richard hart

    Will the schism between the trade and academic sides of this
field ever heal 

Dear All, in reference to the above observation I said in my
original tirade that academia was crazy making , to paraphrase
myself, I must also say that if I were stuck in an elevator with a
bunch of bench workers I would be moved to homicide by the boring
conversation. I firmly bereave that a great dose of both academia and
bench work make the most interesting work but, then I sound self
promoting…Far be it from me…

Sam Patania, Tucson

Thank you Andrew, for recognizing this discussion for what it is .
." the schism between the trade and academic sides of this field."
Both sides can learn from each other. Both sides pay their own sort
of dues for their experience and training.

Marilyn Smith

Perfectly put Andrew. I have done many of the suggested avenues,
and am seeing the evolution of my work, talent, and knowledge over
the years. I am still virtually unknown, but I don’t believe that is
forever, so perhaps patience is a valuable lesson to learn in this
business. Thank you for your insight. Cynthia Wallace Gold Impressions

It is not a schism between academia and the world of business, just
a different focus. The study of any discipline in an academic
situation gives one the opportunity to explore without regard to
financial result. In the world of business the financial results
are emphasized. Of course there will always be “Enrons”.

But there are ethical considerations for most people. Someone said
that in meditation you discover who you are; in business you discover
what you are. If you’re working in this area ( hobbyists aside ) and
you don’t have a passion for the work there are easier ways to earn
a living.

This discussion reminds me of an interview I heard on the radio
program Fresh Air. The interview was conducted by the show’s host,
Terry Gross, and in it, she talks to cartoonist Daniel Clowes, who
has not a very high opinion of art school. To listen to the
interview, click on this link:

Christine in Littleton, Mass., USA, where it’s a bright and sunny
late winter day.

Most everything that I know about making jewelry I have learned on
my own. Early on, 28 years ago, I had a mentor for about a year. He
was a retired jeweler who I met while living in Spain. He couldn’t
have been more helpful. He is the person who inspired me to get
involved in making and designing jewelry. I also have an M.F.A. with
a focus in furniture and exhibition design. That was much earlier. I
would not trade that two year experience at a great school. That is
where I found myself artistically.That is where I developed myself as
a designer, although not in jewelry. But that doesn’t matter. In an
academic setting one develops in many ways. I doubt that most have
the range of experience if they are an apprentice for two years. The
focus is too narrow. The exposure to others in the arts is very
limited. I was surrounded by painters, sculptors, potters, print
makers, weavers, architects, metalsmiths & jewelers. We shared our
experiences all the time. It is hard to duplicate the richness of
this type of experience behind the bench as an apprentice or at a
specialty school that only teaches jewelry. Everyone finds their own
way in the end. In the long run though, I think that someone starting
out would be much better served by a undergraduate and graduate study
at one of the better schools. One persons opinion. Joel

Joel Schwalb

During Christmas I made a beautiful pair of earrings for a friend.
From the classes and workshops that I have taken, I have learned to
fine tune my craftsmanship so the earrings, as embellishment, sings
on the body. That is what I have learned through the technical
workshops at Metalwerx. Sometimes I want to tell a story, or wear a
concept or create a wearable metaphor. That is what I learned at art

One is not better than the other. It all comes down to intent. For
me, when there is too little craftsmanship, or too much metaphor, the
piece becomes bogged down. If I were to do this all over again,
first I would spend four years learning bench techniques and then go
to art school. The problem with most art school metals programs is
that they rely too much on concept and not enough on craftsmanship.

In the Orchid Gallery is a photo of my silver cubes. This was my
senior body of work at art school which employed a simple exercise of
recreating the geometry of the cube, ellipse and cone in a precious
metal. My task was to make each piece geometrically exact. I made
many models in paper, but when it came down to fabricating the pieces
in metal, I discovered it was not very easy The art part was to make
each piece of geometry have it’s own life and story. You could hold
these little sculptures in the palm of your hand and walk into a
world of intense observation and play.

It all comes down to a choice or intent.

Karen Christians
10 Walnut St.
Woburn, MA 01801
Fax: 781/937-3955
Accredited Jewelry Instruction

I have been following this thread, eager and also somewhat reluctant
to respond.

The schism between Art Jewelry and Commercial Jewelry or between
Academia and Trade, was here when I arrived. It was not pretty then
and it hasn’t changed much since. It never made a lot of sense to
me. The schism benefits nobody. It comes out of fear and self doubt.
It is time to get over it and move on.

In my mind, the guy who bangs out copper on a street corner, and the
artist who expresses inner feelings in metal, and the one who
creates jewels in gold, as well as the hobbyist working on Saturday
mornings are all just as important. Their work is equally valid. If
they are living their passion, they are fulfilled and fulfilling. We
need them all and they all make their contributions. What’s the

Andy, you said some great stuff in your essay, Getting Started (from Thanks for posting it. Andy’s story is very
much in accord with my own experiences over the past 32 years,
starting with the old timer who on my second day at work in the
U.S., erected a plywood wall between us so that I could not see his
bench. Andy’s story revalidates my belief in the importance of
following one’s dream, seeing every window, no matter how small, as
an opportunity to grow through. And, being prepared to pay your
dues; the world works that way. Keep things in perspective.
Perseverance furthers.

I would strongly recommend that anyone entering this field,
wondering which way to go, considering or even curious about real
world avenues and compromises, read Andy’s posting. I am going to
make a copy and show it around if that’s okay, Andy.

(And Sam, good man that you are, I think you are riding with the
wrong bench workers.)


Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts
760 Market Street - Suite 900
San Francisco, CA 94102
tel: 415-391-4179 fax: 415-391-7570


I can no longer resist. . .

    . . . . If you're working in this area ( hobbyists aside ) and
you don't have a passion for the work there are easier ways to
earn a living. 

Nicely put! Having come from both worlds with a B.F.A. and M.F.A.
in metalsmithing, a fair gallery exhibit record (Art in America
listed) and 26 years at the bench in retail business and trade shops
(including my own), the arguments are nothing new to me. I’d like to
recommend a book that I think will be extremely enlightening to both
camps. It might be hard to find, I hope not:

The Story of Craft, by Edward Lucie-Smith. published in 1984 by Van
Nostrand Reinhold Company

David L. Huffman

My educational experience has been a slow process, over the course
of 26 years. It was in 1976 that I was fortunate to be able to take
a jewelrymaking one night a week, one semestre course at a local
community college. From that point on, my education was accomplished
with the help of the following teachers: me, any one of the many
wonderfully generous jeweler/friends whose paths I have crossed
during those years and good jewelrymaking books. Although I painted
in college, I did not take any craft courses. However, I graduated
with a Bachelor of Arts degree and this had given me the foundation,
the understanding of the human experience, that I hope I am bringing
to my jewelry art pieces.

So, I guess I would suggest, Learn, Learn, Learn, wherever you can,
wherever your path takes you, from whomever you can, from whoever is
willing to teach and share And. . never stop. Your next
piece of jewelry is just waiting to be made.