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Jewelry / Metal assignments


I read your post with some recognition and increasing dismay. At
first, I was checking your signature to make sure you weren’t in my
"neck of the woods" (you’re not!) and that you weren’t talking about
the community college where I work. Whew!

For you and others with similar experiences, I have a strong piece
of advice – speak to the Academic Dean of the Arts department and
let them know exactly what you told us. If the Dean of Arts won’t
listen, go the overall Academic Dean.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, if there is demand
for basic instruction that isn’t being met, they need to do
something (and will want to do something) to accomodate that demand.
It’s money in the bank for them. And highlighting the fact that
there are advanced “students” who are willing to pay for
non-instructional lab time should also be an eye-opener to them
about an opportunity to further bolster their finances.

Second, the issue of pay for part-time / adjunct instructors in
community colleges is a widespread one. I don’t know of any adjunct
instructor who doesn’t wish they were being paid more. However,
“stealing” a third of your pay by not showing up to class is beyond
the pale, any way you look at it. If the Dean isn’t aware that this
is happening, then s/he needs to be. If the Dean knows and approves
of the arrangement, then the students need to be informed of the
issue. If the instructor can’t fill the scheduled time, she should
either change the class schedule or adjust her pay schedule.

Going to the Dean with an offer to help be part of the solution to
the problem – being willing to brainstorm ideas, communicate with
other students, design a “fix” for the issue – will get you much
further than a simple request to vent. Taking with you a list of
specific issues and their impact on new students and the college’s
ability to attract and retain new jewelry students, with
recommendations, will get you even further.

I firmly believe that the community college programs in the U.S. are
generally turning out silversmiths with good basic skills and a
practical knowledge of the craft. Many hobbyists use these programs
as multi-year “clubs” – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But
it doesn’t mean that the instructor can get around the basic
instructional time they are being paid for.

In our program, we have people who have been taking the advanced
class for more than 10 years. They do it not only for the access to
the labs and equipment, but also for the comraderie and energy of
working with people of like interest. That class also sees a lively
population of other students flowing through it on a regular basis.

There are a couple of things that make this class remain vital. The
instructor is conscious that there are multiple populations in it.
Her assignment sheets at the beginning of the semester reflect that
– one for the repeaters (if they want assignments as guidance) and
one for the newbies (to teach the skills). Each semester, she
teaches a different mix of advanced skills, combined with the "core"
advanced skills. So while you always get things like mokume-gane,
true marriage of metals, and advanced forming, you’ll also get
different topics like granulation or kuem-boo on a semester-by-
semester basis.

Also, the energy is very positive – the oldsters help the newbies
and foster a sense of the jewelry “community.” At the end of each
semester, there is a public show and sale for all who wish to
participate. Critique at the end of the semester is also combined
and very positive, with some of the oldsters showing “things to
aspire to” and also finding inspiration from the fresh, new
approaches of the newbies.

In my mind, that’s how it should be, and that’s a unique approach
that you’ll find in the community college-type jewelry program.

Happy torching!

Karen Goeller

Jake stated:

 Likewise there are no classes to train in anything related to
jewelry     here. In some other areas (not in Utah) classes can be
had at a community college.  If you want to learn any part of
cabinetwork etc., etc, you must wait until you are out of school,
and take it at Valley Community College or such.  Then maybe you
can become an apprentice afterward.  Such classes no doubt will be
phased out, as it is no longer Utah Tech, as it was once.  Most of
what was once is gone already.  

I mostly lurk here, soaking up many wonderful things. I’m just a
beginner in metal/jewelry (my first love is hot glass). But I needed
to make a comment here. Jake, get out of Utah! Down here in AZ,
tech training in schools is doing pretty well. I was amazed to learn
that my daughter’s high school has not only traditional "shop"
classes, but a very good jewelry studio with 2 or 3 years of
possible tech/design courses. Heck, they even offer pre-flight
training in conjunction with the technical school, as well as
airplane mechanics. I’ve seen areas where what Jake described is
more of the (tragic) reality, but thankfully it’s not true

Beyond high school, there are also many programs available. I’ve had
my first tastes of silversmithing through a local arts center, which
also teaches glass, ceramics and other visual arts to kids and
adults. Open studio time is available, as well, so it can be an
ongoing effort. Granted, it’s not free, but the cost is very

Desert Dreamer Designs

Hey Doc, I can feel you pain !! I too have tried almost every
jewelry class available in my area and they have all been, for lack
of a better word, a joke! The class I tried at our Jr. College was
taught by a kid who turned out to actually be a part time worker at
a local jeweler. All he did was buff and clean and had never set a
stone, cast or made any real jewelry yet. $135 + 60 material was a

Then I tried a art school which has been in the area for over 40
years and has turned out many well known jewelers over the years.
That cost $250 + material for 12 1 hour classes once a week. It
turned out to be more of a daytime gossip social for wayward
housewives. The instructor was a furniture designer and had taken
metalsmithing 8 years ago in college. She doesnt actually make
jewelry anymore but still knew more than I did at that time. I do
have to admit I did learn a little ( from other students) when not
everyone showed up on a couple days. But most of the time it was
hard to even hear yourself think much less learn.

I checked into many of the classes and schools listed in the back of
the magazines, Lap Journal, JCK, Pro Jeweler, MJSA, and most seem
to only offer 3-5 day courses. For some reason they think you can
learn to set stones, fabricate, repair and cast in 24 - 40 hours of
instruction. I dont know about you, but it takes me longer than
that to absorb and retain the skills needed to learn something like
this. Maybe Im just slow?

The other Schools like Revere are to far away for me. Im in St.
Louis, partially disabled, married with 2 young wonderful daughters.
I cant be gone for months at a time. Though it would be more a sanity
retreat for me than school, but my wife would kill mefor leaving her
alone that long with the kids !!!

One after thought to all of this is that would it be really worth it
to learn a trade such as this. It has been a hobby of mine for many
years, I love to do it, some local jewelers, friends , as well as a
few Orchidians I have corresponded with have been told I have what
it takes, I just need to get the training. ( heres the qualifier)
BUT, in this economy and the predictions of the lack of jobs,
employment moving from America to lower wage countries, large
retailers ( Wally World) causing people to be satisfied with low
quality ,low cost jewelry with commercial grade diamonds (industrials
quality salvaged for low cost jewelry) A government and Corporate
environment who has no real support for the people of America, or
anyother country they infect that could soon mean there wont be
anyone left who can support the retail jeweler of quality goods ?
I guess I will never know unless I try though…

St. Louis

Jake et al, It is undoubtably true that the types of education
available in this country are changing with the times. Some of this
is for the good, some not. But it may reassure you a little to know
that Utah’s example is not followed everywhere. Where I live
(Evanston, IL) we are fortunate enough to have one of the best high
schools in the country, so I suppose it is not the average
experience, but kids here can take everything from college-level
academics to welding, general contracting, car repair, computer
repair, agriculture and I’m not sure what else. In other words, they
can come out of high school with a way to make a living, and I don’t
mean flipping burgers. They also have a pretty decent jewelry
program, though it is not a trade training program. We might be
pretty unusual in having all of this, but we can’t be the only ones
to have trades as well as academics. Schools offer what the community
demands, as best they can. If parents would rather their kids learned
keyboarding (what we used to call typing) than wood shop, well, wood
shop is going to go to free up money for computers. And, really,
which do you think is more useful to today’s kids? Losing the
self-sufficiency that comes from having the whole line of production
of everything within our borders is scary, but interdependant nations
are less likely to go to war with each other (at least if you leave
Bush out of the equation) so an interdependant world will likely be a
safer place. At least, I hope so.


Hi All: In answer to James about his experience about schooling he
should that advantage of the BEST KEPT SECRET in lapidary.

The Southeastern Federation of Mineralogical Soc. runs 5 workshops in
Lapitary Arts five times a year, April, June, August, Sept.,and
October. The workshops are for one week which includes room and board
for ONLY $250.00 all inclusive. 3 of the workshops are held at
Wildacres in N.C. and two are at the Wm Holland School of Lapitary
Arts at Young Harris, GA.

You can check out the 2004 classes on their web site.

Ken Kipnis

Hi, Daniel, On the subject of learning material in 40-hour classes–
I have found it very effective to take 5 or 7 day intensive
workshops, then absorb the material over time. For example, I took
stone setting 1 at The New Approach school in Virginia Beach, VA. In
40+ hours, we learned flush and gypsy setting, channel, bead &
bright, prong (for round or square stones), prong-and-channel (as in
marquise or pear shape)… and talked about how to do some others. I
take copious notes, then set them up in front of me when I try the
task, allowing me to make sure they’re clear and complete. Then
later, at home, I use the notes until I’m sure I really know what I’m
doing. This course was especially productive for me, because we
learned a lot about gravers, something that had seemed like one of
the Great Intimidating Mysteries to me previously. I love my gravers

Now, Blaine Lewis is a really great teacher, but he’s not the only
one. I can only make use of one or two of these classes a year,
because it does take a long time to really make the technique part
of my “vocabulary”. But that’s just as well, because they cost
around $800-$1000 for a class like this, plus transportation and
lodging. And the tools you need or can’t resist… But the point
is, I am a real fan of short, intensive workshops. It would
doubtless be great to just enroll in a good school, but few of us
really have that option, I think.

Good luck!

James, For you and others with similar experiences, I have a strong
piece of advice -- speak to the Academic Dean of the Arts
department and let them know exactly what you told us.  If the Dean
of Arts won't listen, go the overall Academic Dean. 

Karen, Thank you for your suggestions. I’m not yet sure what the
hierarchy of this school is, but I definitely intend to pursue this
in a very similar manner to what you suggest, complete with my own
suggestions as to what might be done to help them.

Now to the final class. Last night was the final class for the
course. All but one student managed to cast at least one piece by
the end of the evening. The previous week, one lady had basically
given up the idea of casting anything of difficulty and asked the
instructor for help in modeling a simple ring made of just a piece
of wire shaped into a circle that she could use for a thumb ring.
The instructor practically made it for her and it was turned in that
week for investment the following week. She did cast it last night,
but there was no time for her to learn much about how to finish it.
The instructor was busy showing some of the students how to make
flutes and how to create a “nugget” look. I did my best to show her
what I could, pickling, brushing the scale off and going through
most of the polishing stages. There was so little time that I have
no idea how much she learned or retained. And so ends my brush with
this course.

On the positive side, once I told the lead instructor that I had
purchased my own casting equipment, he immediately began offering
tips on how to set things up, investment/water ratios, burnout and
curing temperatures, acetylene vs. propane, venting the kiln, etc.
He even offered to check my shop out to help make sure I’ll be
casting safely. In the end, it seems that the folks who run the
class are mostly used to the return student who already knows the
basics of modeling and, either knows all they want to about the
actual casting, or don’t care to know. A student must ask for
specific knowledge as opposed to following a set curriculum, even if
the class manual lists said curriculum. I’m now of the opinion that
this class probably had more new students than they’ve had in a
while, hence the lack of planned instruction.

Anyway, the course is behind me, and I did learn a lot from the lead
instructor, once we started talking. Students who feel they aren’t
getting the instruction they need; ASK!


I thought I had previously sent a response/question to this thread a
couple days ago but for some reason it hasn’t come through, here’s
part of it…

While on the subject of schools, classes, etc…

Does anyone have any experience with Stewart’s International School
for Jewelers? I’m considering taking their repair course in early
2004. I have a lot of experience fabricating my own designs, but I’m
now looking at becoming a bench type jeweler as well and I’ve felt
lacking in basic repair and mostly turned away this type of work in
the past.

-Barb Baur

Daniel, Good morning. Am not totally awake yet but trying to get
last night’s Orchid Digest read with my cup of tea. There’s the
fellow in AZ who needs help sculpting toy soldiers with his last
time on earth, and then there’s you looking for help learning the
jewelry trade. I’ve followed this thread with some interest,
because I am a jewelry instructor for a local county recreation
department. We have a studio as well equipped as any junior college
or better. We have pretty good instructors most of the time - the
young ones of late come and go at a great rate, often just out of
college with metal arts specialty and in need of the money and use
of tools we provide. Running these programs is a huge headache for
starters. Liability issues scare the bean-counters at the top and
finding GOOD supervisors to keep everything running smoothly, while
overworked and underpaid, is nearly impossible. Those with
competence easily work elsewhere, and we get the dregs. I’ve been
doing this job for nearly 20 years now and seen a lot from the
bottom up. As has been pointed out on this thread, the instruction
ranges from incompetence to inspired. I have tried my best to be
one of the inspired and inspiring and believe I’ve succeeded. Just
learning the techniques of a thing does not qualify one to teach it.
Teaching requires a bit of a gift for it - as anyone can see from
having just one really good teacher along the line. That doesn’t
show on a resume, so those hiring these instructors tend to use
criteria that seems mysterious, and follow-up supervision is very
rare. So the turkeys just carry on and turn away many who really,
really want to learn something worthwhile. Very, very sad. Very,
very common.

I would suggest that the responsibility for learning a craft/art in
these situations is mainly on the student . Classes can be the best
way or the worst way. Tools for learning can start with some of the
really top-quality books on Jewelry. You have seen most of them
written up on Orchid and also available through Orchid sources.
Start there before you waste money on those bad classes. In Rio
Grande’s catalog, most of them are to be found. Find a used book
store for bargains, or the internet. Absorb, absorb what you can on
your own. There are also videos and frequently, especially for the
handicapped, a local library will obtain them for you - as well as
the books. After you have read and observed all you can, choose
carefully any class available by asking for references from former
students. They will look at you like a Martian, no doubt, but will
also be aware that you know what you’re doing and aren’t just
killing time and wasting money. This puts them on notice you want
your money’s worth. Don’t just sit in a class full of chattering
people with nothing better to do - ask a zillion questions, be a
squeeky wheel so to speak. You may be looked at like something worse
than a Martian, but it’s your nickel for goodness sakes. Be charming
and humorous about it, learn to manipulate a bit rather than sulk.
It can be a fun challenge to wrest some knowledge out of it.

Don’t expect miracles from these local classes, under present
circumstances. Everyone is up against budget constraints. We are
losing one of our Open Studio days after December. Participation is
down since the fees went up. Those who might most profit from
classes and studios are least likely to afford them now. Things
run in cycles, and one day it will change, but not in the foreseeable
future I think. Don’t give up your hobby, don’t give up following
your bliss, but try to make some changes in your expectations
perhaps. What you want to do cannot be achieved in a three-day
weekend, that’s right, you need a lot of solitary study to make
those short courses and workshops work. After you have good
grounding, there may even be some kind of financial aid,
scholarship, or other program you could plug into. You might even
save money by finding a working jeweler or retired one, better yet,
to give you some hands on tutoring to perfect things you can’t puzzle
out on your own. That would be money well spent, more likely.
Seems to me I’ve noticed a great many self-taught jewelers on this
list, so you won’t be alone.

Most of all, try not to hold the schools or organizations wholely to
blame for not learning a thing. You have the desire, you have the
time, now MAKE it happen. It is your quest and the quest is going
to be a lifelong one, with ups and downs and arounds, trials and
joys. We would all marvel if knowledge could be found in a form
like a pill, or liquid that could be just poured in. But that would
take the fun and the challenge away and we’d be like robots. I
have only my own experience to go on, and what I’ve observed others
do, but have no doubt that what you want to do is possible, do-able
and workable. I did it long ago, without much time, without the
chance of total immersion, as a female when jewelry was still a
closely kept secret and there weren’t a fraction of the good books
written yet that you have today. Learning was hard work - a struggle
even - but one I revelled in and persisted in and mastered. And
now, I can proudly tell new students that I want to teach them
everything I know, in a manner that I myself wish had been available
to me. YOU can do the same. Now stop writing about it and talking
about it and GO DO IT ! You have all of Orchid behind you to answer
specific questions, solve problems with you as you go, and cheer you

My best wishes,

I got to chime in here. Don’t dare go to William Holland Lapidary
School. If you do, you will be hooked for life…

I go back most every year just for the Beef Stroganoff on Thursdays
nights. For only $250, including room and 3 meals a day (and the
food is on an all you can eat buffet and is wonderful), you get some
of the most talented instructions in the country.

They have some 30 or so classes: Basket Making, Beading (seed & reg),
Cabochons, Casting, Chain Making, Channel, Enameling, Faceting,
Flameworking, Gem ID, Gem Trees, Glass , Beads, Glass Fusing, Gold I
& II, Intarsia, Jewelry Repair, Kids Class, Mineral ID, Opals,
Polymer Clay, Silver I and II, Silver Clay, Spool Knitting, Stained
Glass, Wirewrapping I & II, Wire Sculpture. The classes are a week
long, and start about the 1st of May and repeat until the 1st of

The instructors donate their time so that others may learn. I have
seen silversmithing projects come out of that class that look as good
as anything a professional would make, and Tom and Kay Benham teach
intarsia and pieces from that class are a dream to be hold. I took
an Opal class and learned wirewrapping at night after dinner from one
of the instructors. I took a glass beading class and learned how to
make pyrex marbles from the instructor’s husband at night after

It is set on the top of a mountain in Young Harris Georgia, about 5
miles from the SC border. Due north of Atlanta at the top of the

Each session will have somewhere between 60 to 100 students divided
between the different classes, and everyone is interesting from all
walks of life.

For my money , it’s the best bang for the buck anywhere in the US.
But don’t blame me if you get hooked, I warned you……

Love and God Bless


I took three of Jim Stewart’s classes a couple of years ago, and
while I enjoyed them and they were helpful, they are very
fast-paced. It’s difficult to cultivate many different techniques
in a period of 5 days (per class).

John Palmer


Glad to hear that you finally got some useful info out of the
course. The one statement you made that I have to comment on, though,

    A student must ask for  specific knowledge as opposed to
following a set curriculum, even if the class manual lists said
curriculum. Students who feel they aren't getting the instruction
they need; ASK! 

Frankly, that might wash in a non-credit, community school setting
for an advanced class. However, in an accredited institution of
higher ed like a community COLLEGE, that’s just plain unacceptable.

Students in a beginning course don’t know enough to know WHAT to ask
– they can’t even tell what info they are missing or know what to
expect when something goes right. So they can’t be expected to
figure out that something is wrong.

In jewelrysmithing, like many other technical arts, there are
specific underlying techniques that need to be mastered in order to
progress to the level of being able to practice and develop your own,
more advanced, techniques. Understanding those basic concepts – how
soldering works and how to do it, how casting works and how to do it,
how polishing/finishing works and how to do it – are the foundation
for everything else you will do in the practice of making jewelry.
An intro course should be expected to TEACH and LEAD students down
the path of understanding and practice in these areas.

Don’t make excuses for them – the planning and execution of
instruction in the class was poor, and the class didn’t meet its
educational goals. It was deceptively advertised as an INTRO CLASS
(deceptive in that it wasn’t geared toward intro students and wasn’t
a class so much as “guided open lab”).

If those of us who are involved in these programs – whether as
students, lab assistants, instructors or staff – take a firm and
responsible stance on this issue, the programs WILL improve and
begin better serving the community of jewelry students. We will get
better quality of skill coming out of the programs, which will lead
in turn to a better pool of qualified employees, educated consumers,
and fellow artists.

Karen Goeller

I must put in my 2 cents worth here. I have been incredibly lucky
with the instruction I have taken. Years ago I decided I needed some
better applied skills in welding. I had done a bit of brazing and
mig welding, but was having trouble with silver soldering a jump
ring. I tried to find a class in welding, but the only thing I could
find was a community college that had a metalwork section, with a
few classes in jewelry. The course description mentioned silver
soldering, so I signed up. I was extremely lucky, not only was the
instructor, a retired high school teacher, very good (Norm
Finfrock), but my fellow students were wonderful. He had a
structured course that covered the fundamentals very well, with an
emphasis on both quality and artistic freedom. The excise I remember
most was the one square inch, one foot problem. We were told to
create an object with one square inch of silver or copper sheet and
one foot of wire. No holds bared, very fun. The only trouble was the
commute through rush hour traffic to class. I found another
community college closer with another excellent teacher. This
gentleman, (Richard Sweetman) has since retired. He was not only a
good craftsman but also a facilitator of learning. He brought in all
sorts of people to give demonstrations and weekend workshops. I have
an MBA and work in a major university, but I found the level of
instruction at these community colleges to be of the highest caliber
� the instructors went out of there way to help students.

I have taken Blane Lewis� stone setting workshop, very intense. I
also joined The Colorado Metalsmithing Association (CoMA). CoMA
sponsors some outstanding seminars and demonstrations as well as a
yearly conference with a multitude of demos, from blacksmithing and
pracical jewelry techniques to the more academic aspects of

My point is that instruction is available in a number of venues, but
you need to seek it out. I have learned almost as much from fellow
students as from any of my classes, but like I said, I have been
very lucky!

Tools for learning can start with some of the really top-quality
books on Jewelry. 

In your opinion, what are the five books that cannot be forgotten?
(more than five :{?

Bets regards,
G. Moura