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"Retraining" help wanted

Last summer, I contacted the instructor of the Art Metals class at a
local college about signing up for the beginning metals class,
explaining CLEARLY that my goals for the class were to get used to
using a torch again, relearn soldering, and to learn to set stones,
use rivets, and a couple of other things I’d never done before. She
gave me the ok to do this. Since then, I have discovered the
following about this class:

  1. there are only two torch stations in the entire lab, for about a
    dozen students PER CLASS (there are three classes).

  2. For those power tools that they do have, half of them have some
    problem and we’ve been warned not to use them.

  3. We’ve spent almost 2 weeks “designing” a totally useless object
    out of 3 - 2" pieces of base metal (and/or plexiglass). We’ve been
    told this object is SUPPOSED to be useless, abstract, and is only
    allowed to be perfectly flat. I’ve spent 2 weeks cutting shapes out
    of construction paper for an object I’ve been told is going to be
    useless (and, apparently, is also supposed to be ugly). Yes, I have a
    problem with this.

  4. The only “free lab hours” scheduled are for times I can’t be

  5. There’s a kid in this class who announces loudly to all and
    sundry at least two or three times a class period that she’s a
    "Design Major", and therefore presumably above the cut of the common
    kine (such as myself, a middle-aged fat woman with “no vision”).
    This girl makes a point each and every class of coming up to me,
    sneering at my work, then cutting me dead. I made the remark that I
    was having trouble with the idea of designing a totally useless
    object, since I’m more used to making things to be used - a cup, a
    bowl, a piece of jewelry, any of that I could work with pretty
    easily. A 2" square abstract in metal is not up my alley. She then
    informed me that DESIGN is part of making jewelry, too, and that this
    class is “all about design”. Oddly enough, that’s not what it says in
    the course description. Then she cut me off again. I’d love to ignore
    her, but that’s tough to do when she comes up and takes things off my
    table. She took a piece of red plexiglass I was considering working
    with, and I just let her have it rather than spend one second more
    talking to her than was absolutely required. Apparently, since I
    know how to use a jeweler’s saw and she doesn’t, that gives her the
    right to take what she needs from me because it’ll only take me a
    minute or two to cut out another piece. Yes that’s a rant, and I
    digress. Back to the point.

In addition, I hit a deer last night and pending finding out whether
or not the car is totalled (or how much its going to cost me to
repair it if its fixable) I could really use the money for more
practical matters. This also caused me to miss a critical class
today. I have until Friday to drop this class and still get 90% of
my money back, so I guess that’s what I’m going to have to do. BTW,
it cost me about $500 to sign up for this class, and I only make
about $400 a month at my part time job.

What I WANTED from this class was lots of hands-on fabrication
practice. I wanted refreshers in casting, shaping, using the torch,
soldering, making bezels, setting cabochons, etc. I wanted to learn
to do things I’d never done before, such as setting cut stones,
making bowls/cups/ what have you by raising them out of flat metal
with a hammer, using a drill (which it turns out they don’t have
anyway, just a drill PRESS). I expected to spend the vast majority
of each and every class period in fabrication, hands-on. Obviously
this is not to be. They just plain don’t have enough equipment for
that to happen (isn’t it weird that the dinky little $80 class I
took through an art society 15 years ago was better equipped than a
full-fledged art department metals lab?) So I don’t see any point in
trying it again.

But where CAN I get this kind of hands-on training? I haven’t been
able to identify any other venues locally.

If I have to do this totally on my own - and I guess I can manage to
relearn the things I once knew how to do - has anyone else out there
managed to teach themselves things like stone-setting, smithing
techniques, etc. - and how did you do it?

I’m pretty down. I was really excited to be gearing up to get
started working in silver again. And despite the implications of Ms.
“Design Major”, I sold every single piece I ever made when I WAS
working. At times I had offers on them before they’d even cooled
down from the torch. I had offers on my STUDENT pieces - the very
first things I’d ever made - which I didn’t accept because they had
obvious solder joints or other flaws, and I don’t sell stuff like
that, even if somebody’s willing to pay me. I don’t make repetitive
pieces (or didn’t) so whatever a teen-age artiste may think, I’m not
concerned about my ability to design jewelry. I was, however, very
much looking forward to refreshing my fabrication skills, and it
looks like that’s not going to happen now, at least not in any sort
of a guided way.

So any advice or encouragement anyone can give me would be really


dear sojouner -

this is my suggestion - it requires only a sense of self respect -
guts will follow: edit the email you sent to orchid to cut down
reference to ‘misdesign’ a trifle, leaving in her ‘borrowing’ habit
(this is behavior a good instructor would have monitored) &
everything else, print all of it up and present it to your
instructor; a copy to administration might also help others in
future avoid your experience. you have nothing to lose & self
respect to gain.

you know what you want, so don’t settle for $500.00 worth of dreck -

good luck -
this isn’t a rehearsal people - so go for the oscar!

Sojourner I am appalled by your description of your class. Yes of
course cancel and get as much back as possible.

You will receive many messages, I am certain. My suggestion is to
use books for refresher, much of it will come back to you. There may
be a rock and mineral club near to you that has a workshop. There
you will find equipment and willing volunteers to assist you. there
may or may not be a small fee for this, whatever it will be well
worth it.

Orchid has a wonderful list of suggested books which can be ordered
from this list. Many there are wonderfully instructional and easy to

About the young person in your class, she has no class and that is
shown in her behavior, be glad you will be rid of her, and do not
waste another brain cell.

You do not mention where you are located so it is a bit difficult to
better direct you. Today was the last instructional class of an 8
week session a friend and I just completed at UCSD in La Jolla
California. We are both impressed by what was offered and amazed at
how well provisioned this facility proved to be. I lament the month
long wait until the next session commences. There are great classes
out there, you unfortunately did not luck out.


Sonjourner, you’re obviously not in the right place. I did community
college (for credit) metals classes and the studio was wonderfully
equipped, students and instructor were supportive, but this was, in
part, because we were well directed. Behavior you describe from a
fellow student would never have been tolerated by the instructor. If
you are in an adult ed class the equipment is usually not as
abundant. Design projects like you describe are often used as a first
project to get you to see “jewelry” from a different viewpoint. Our
first project was “found object turned into jewelry”. You might ask
your instructor if she/he knows anyone who takes on a private student
or two. I’d be happy to talk to you off list if you’d like.

Donna in VA

     I don't make repetitive pieces (or didn't) so whatever a
teen-age artiste may think, I'm not concerned about my ability to
design jewelry. 

You already know the right response that you need for this
occasion. I think that you should just be polite to this young
woman. You don’t need to be concerned about her opinion. It’s too
bad that you are not getting what you expected from this class.
Since this class is under equipped, you need to take advantage of
what it does have. People usually don’t like a class that is just
design but it pays off in the long run. You are happy with your
design skills but all of us can do with a bit of a jolt every now
and then. I am thinking of a friend on mine who did her grad work in
ceramics. She was always out of sync with the instruction. I think
that when you pay your money, you are entitled to pick the
instructors brains for every little scrap of knowledge you can! OK,
this instructor is trying to make the best of having no equipment
and is concentrating on design.

Charles Lewten Brain has a book called “Cheap Thrills in the tool
Shop” It has many inexpensive ways of making tools. You might
suggest it to your instructor as a means of putting some equipment
in the studio.

Read Excerpts from: “Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop”:

Marilyn Smith

Sojourner, you didn’t mention what area you live in. Here in the
Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we have a wonderful Arts and Crafts Guild.
Membership in the Guild isn’t that expensive, and you are allowed
discounted prices for all the classes offered. Classes vary from
pottery, weaving, glass making/slumping, book binding, to the jewelry
making arts. It’s very diversified. Is there anything similar in your

Another thing to check into is perhaps finding a mentor. Your
instructor might be a good place to start. Ask if they know of any
retired jewelers. Sometimes in local boutiques, folks make their
goods and offer them for sale. If you see a style you especially
like, find out who the artist is and contact them. The worst they can
say is no. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

I’m so sorry your class turned out to be completely not what you

Best regards,

Sojourner - first, you have to understand that you are in an "art"
department - that means the focus is on “the speak” (says she of the
MFA) - to walk the “art” walk, you must talk the “art” talk. After
you have your nifty degree in hand, you can then do as you wish, and
if I want to make functional work and call it functional - I can! I
don’t have to say I am making a piece that examines the tension
between surfaces, and explores the interaction between hues of
various intensities, with a particular emphasis on the use of
organically inspired forms and their contrast with geometrically
inspired forms. Translation - a ring with texture, multiple stones of
different types and colors, and some swirls of metal somewhere. The
hardest thing for me in earning my MFA was learning to speak the
speak, and what they expected and didn’t. I very carefully matted and
framed my prints for my first big studio critique - only to have the
professors spend the entire time debating whether the work should or
should not have been matted and framed! They did not say ONE thing
about the work itself! As an adult student putting myself through
grad school, I was most definitely NOT a happy camper! You can be
sure I never matted or framed anything else for critiques! So you
have to understand the whole environment this is coming out of.

I don’t understand why the instructor misled you though - it doesn’t
sound as if they are hurting for students!

That said, you obviously are not interested in an art degree or in
learning art speak (gee, why not? it is such a vocabulary builder
!), and you are probably NOT best served by staying in the
class. The design major is both immature and obnoxious - although all
design majors are not necessarily that way!

I don’t know where you live, but in much of the US, at least, there
are gem and mineral clubs that either offer classes/workshops
themselves, or through the regional socities. I was supposed to
attend one such in October, but have developed a schedule conflict.
William Holland School of Lapidary Arts operates from late spring
through early fall, and teaches a range of fabrication and gem
cutting classes - they are in Georgia.

Try if you are in the US for your closest mineral
society. I belong to a club that is part of the Southeast Federation
of Mineralogical Societies, This site
has links to the William Holland school showing the Federation’s

The direct site for William Holland is

The classes are week-long classes, the cost is low and includes room
and board. You work all day every day, with one half day that may or
may not be “off” - up to the instructor. Some have open studio time
then. You will learn an incredible amount in one week! I know a
retired couple that went to William Holland for one week with their
RV (there is a campground), and liked it so much they stayed for a
month, then went back again, and wound up with new “careers”!

Good luck with both finding a class that does genuine hands-on, and
with the deer/car thing - I had a deer “attack” my car this spring,
and haven’t found a time I can do without for long enough to get it
fixed yet! It is incredible the amount of damage they can do. Lucky
for me the deer attacked the side of my SUV, not the front - although
it didn’t help the deer any :frowning:

Best wishes.
Beth in SC who can speak the speak, but prefers not to

I’m sure you have had many responses by now but for the amount of
money you are spending or would have spent on this class you can
equip yourself with some very good video tapes, books, etc. Alan
Revere’s series on fabrication are great - lots of projects. Blaine
Lewis’s stone setting videos are also excellent. Sinking a bowl ,
etc are covered in several books. It can be done!

Sheridan Reed

Sojourner, dump that class. You don’t need the aggravation. Save your
money to attend a long weekend class (or a vacation week for a longer
one) at one of the great short courses available at art centers
around the country. Let us know in what area of the country you live
– people may have specific places to suggest. If you can travel,
there’ve been lots of evaluations of sites from around the country,
and teachers, which are available in the Orchid Archives.

If you are a reader, just get books (library; Interlibrary Loan) on
jewelrymaking, read them and do your own experimenting. That’s what I
did, after taking one BOCES course in 1979. It’s not as “groupy” as a
class, but it sounds to me like your college class has people but no
helpfulness. Stick with Orchid! Us middle-aged and overweight women
can help each other on-line!

If you want specific advice, I’ll be glad to offer you what I know
(if I know anything in that area).

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman

Hi Sojourner, Wow… sounds like a truly useless class. Sounds to me
like the “Designer Debutante” needs a strong lesson in both manners
and life in general. She seems truly impressed with herself in a way
that no mere ordinary human being will ever be impressed with her. I
spent quite a while in high school education, college, and
semiconductor maunfacturing. Throughout that time I found myself
encountering the Prima Dona crowd and I came up with a phrase to
describe the arrogance of their youth. It goes like this, "Any man
that is full of himself is filled with the need for an enema."
That’s a direct original quote and it’s all mine, but you can use it
if you want. It seems appropriate. Another was, “Arrogance
diminishes excellence.” So goes my philosophical reasoning in this

As far as retraining goes, I can only advise what my original
training was and still is. Lots of reading and asking questions
about techniques, materials, and yes, even design. Lots of time in
the shop (originally used as a woodshop/blacksmith shop/general
workshop) whacking away on metal and trying out technique advice
I’ve gotten from Orchidia and others. I also spend a great deal of
time planning and then giving myself an honest critique. Sounds a
lot like you already do this. It just seems to me that getting your
hands back on the tools and materials will be your best option until
you find that dream class. I too am on the low end of the financial
scale and as a result I work primarily with copper and brass because
they are somewhat cheaper to learn on. I have done and still do some
work with silver. I want to do more with silver and other metals
because I know that every metal reacts in its own unique ways. I
think it’ll take some time getting used to things again but I
seriously doubt that your learning curve will be as steep this time
as it was the first. You’ll regain your skills more quickly than
when learning them for the first time. Be brave and go for it. You
might find a workshop or something that you can attend that will

Only two torch stations in a college metal class sounds like a lack
of forethought on the part of the department head. So does useless
or faulty equipment that isn’t getting fixed or replaced. I suppose
it could also be a lack of funding in the school.

One of my pet peaves with our modern educational system is the
reduced emphasis on artistic endeavors and having all the emphasis
on math and science. What most folks thinking this way are missing
is that art and science go hand in hand. Math is a useful tool in
both areas. Art classes promote problem solving ways of thinking.
Especially in an Art Metals class. In my own decidedly humble
opinion, the failure to promote art AS a science will result in
drones that fail to think creatively or think outside the box to
find new ways of dealing with new issues. Note that a great deal of
the people that have come up with truly great ideas were artists as
well. DaVinci comes to mind. Art metals classes should be prepared
to teach hands on, not just “suggest” possible ideas that one may,
in the great someday, possibly maybe think about doing. I’d advise
getting your money back and checking out videos by Alan Revere,
Charles Lewton-Brain and many others for reuseable learning
resources, and also getting yourself back in line with the tools and
getting busy. Just my own view of the world as I see it.


It’s ALREADY Friday! And, I’m so sorry to just now be reading your
long post. Please take the OUT option and get what money you can out
of that dreadful class situation. Anything would be better than

I feel so badly for you in having to deal with insult as well as
injury (to your car as well as hopes) that I want to write a long
letter of encouragement. Don’t give up, don’t give in - EVER !!!
That desire you felt must be protected at all costs - taking a loss
on the tuition is more than enough cost.

I, too, have been hit by a deer. Fortunately no one was injured,
even though my husband and new baby were asleep in the back. So we
made venison! Husband knew how to butcher an animal and I knew where
there was a taxidermist. We still have a gloriously handsome 8pt
buck on the wall and when someone asks who bagged it I say, “ME, with
my 88 Oldsmobile !”

So you must have that kind of attitude in all things - take even
hurts and dings for learning and strengthening exercises, and it
helps make them bearable. Use your outrage at the pitiful state of
the school facilities to make a lot of noise about it. Tell them
what you told us, cut to the main points. You will be able to do what
you want if you want it hard enough. There are ways to retrain
yourself if it’s all that’s available to you at the moment. Orchid
will bolster your efforts all the way. The archives are worth their
weight in gold. Perhaps you have an excellent library in the area to
get some of the wonderful books we recommend. You might consider
videos too. Just plug away at it and try to concentrate on one area
at a time. You CAN do it.

I will write to you again soon. Just pull up your bootstraps, take a
dose of determination, and get on with it - away from that awful
class and worse, rude and mean and small minded person! I am
outraged with you! The instructor can’t be worth much to let that
kind of behavior go on.

Best wishes for your quest,


Listen to the wonderful folks here on the Orchid forum. The message
being sent is clear: Read, watch videos, experiment–and get out of
that class.

If a person really wants to do something and is willing to read, ask
questions, and experiment, there is nothing left between the desire
and the accomplishment except the courage to take those steps. I
admire your courage in putting up with the “educational” situation
you find yourself in. Now, use that courage to make your dreams come
true. They will if you do.

Del Pearson, of Designs of Eagle Creek in Beautiful South Texas.

WOW! I came back from the long weekend and my mailbox was
overflowing with good wishes and advice from so many list members!
I got only one negative response (he or she is blocked now).

I was very upset when I wrote the posting, especially because of the
situation with the car. It’s going to take some time before I can
find somebody to fix the darn thing, if ever. In the meantime, I’m
carless and can’t afford to drop upwards of $600 (by the time you
add fees etc) on this class. Plus the 100 mile one-way trip to get
there. I dropped it Friday, and also found out that because of
having hit the deer and the distance I had to drive, I may be able
to get 100% of my fees back.

This is a state university, four year, and I can’t understand why
the shop is so woefully inadequately equipped. Two torch stations
is just ridiculous. I have to admit, it never occurred to me that
the instructor might be spending so much time on design issues in an
effort to make up for the fact that there’s just not enough
equipment to concentrate on fabrication until one of you guys
suggested it to me. I wanted “hands on” and this class was not
going to give it to me. I was pulling all-nighters just to try to
"get caught up" on the design lingo. (Yeah, I’m aware that speaking
the lingo is really necessary to be able to convince the instructor
that maybe some of MY ideas might have some validity, too, and I was
doing everything I could to alleviate that situation - I COULD have
spent all summer doing that if the instructor had bothered to let me
know it might be an issue!). I did find two or three not totally
useless books on design that I’ll probably continue to pursue
(although not pulling all-nighters anymore to do so).

Additionally, a big part of the reason I signed up for this class
was to see a REAL LIFE studio so I could get some ideas for how to
set up my own studio. That, also, I was not going to get from this
class, given the woefully inadequate state of their equipment.

I’m in South Central Missouri. The nearest “big towns” (eg not
very) are Springfield, about 100 miles away, and West Plains, about
45 miles away. Neither has an art association like the one I left
behind in Huntsville, Alabama, which is where I got my initial
training almost 15 years ago. Kansas City is about 6 hours away.
St. Louis is about 3 1/2 to 4 hours away.

I have, however, discovered that there is an open studio
(specializing in ceramics, silversmithing, woodworking, photography)
in Columbia, Missouri, run by the Art Department of the University
of Missouri. My son attends there, and although it’s a 3 1/2 hour
drive, as a student family member, it’ll only cost me $25 a semester
to become a member and get access to the studio and all their
equipment. I’m really hoping for some weekend open studio hours…

I’m also taking note of the workshops that several people have
mentioned. I hadn’t thought of it before, but at around $600, an
intensive hands-on workshop isn’t likely to be any more expensive,
and IS far more likely to be of some actual use. When I’m “with
car” again, maybe I can pick something like that up, even if I have
to drive somewhere far to get there.

I really appreciate the outpouring of caring and encouragement from
you guys. I can’t express how much you all have done to help me to
lift my spirits again. Thanks again!



Since you mentioned you lived in Missouri, I thought I’d reply with
my experience in classes. Two years ago, I signed up for the
beginning metals class at SMSU in Springfield. It was an experience
I’ll never forget. The studio was excellent, but the instructor was
even better. Her name is Sarah Perkins and she’s known for her
outstanding work in enamels. Last spring, I finished her beginning
enamels class and am now hooked. The experience I gained from the
class was amazing and I would suggest you contact her or even visit
the studio if you think you might want to drive the distance. The
classes are well worth the time.

Also, the Craft Alliance in St. Louis has some great weekend and
evening classes for all levels. I recently attended a workshop one
weekend on stone setting. It was taught by a bench jeweler with over
20 years experience. The classes are small and the studio is well
equipped for it’s size. I was very impressed.

If you want any more please feel free to contact me

Tammy Kirks

Well, I heard back from the studio at U of Missouri, and it looks
like that’s my best bet! The studio is (by their report)
well-equipped, including:

oxy-acetylene, and oxy-propane torches, several buffing/polishing
stations, files, rasps, saws, flex-shafts and handhelds, clamps,
burnout kilns, vacuum casting unit, and some lapidary equipment

They’re open for a total of 11 hours on the weekend. While its a 3
to 3.5 hour drive, figuring I had to drive 600 miles roundtrip (12
hours a week) to get to 6 hours of classroom, not studio, time, for
which I had to pay $600 a semester, as compared to $25 a semester
and 6 or 7 hours drive time (400 miles) for up to 11 hours of
hands-on studio time and plenty of equipment to go around. That’s
about half the drive time, 2/3rds the distance, and 4% the expense.
Plus, I get to see my son at least once a week!

I’ve been told that there are actually 5 torches in the studio where
I was before, but 2 of them are not available to "beginning"
students (eg me) and one is reallly an annealing torch (plus that
one is right next to a soldering torch, really in the same station,
and so both are virtually unusable simultaneously). So that really
wouldn’t have done me any good.

But this is looking pretty good, plus I have on at least
two places that offer affordable seminars/workshops and one place in
St. Louis that I might be able to pick up some workshops as well
(though the one they have currently listed is frankly beyond my
current level of ability). The two places that offer affordable
workshops are (in case anybody else is interested):

Appalachian Center for Crafts

William Holland School of Lapidary Arts

One is 6 or 7 hours and the other about 9 or 10 hours away from me,
but I could manage them as a sort of “working vacation”.

So again I thank all the people who offered me help and advice. And
the about those two workshop centers!

And, I got the news this morning - there was a guy who does body
work who used to live down the road from me, but he moved and nobody
I know had his new number. One of my mechanic’s employees had it,
but he refused to give it up because the guy was working on his
truck and he didn’t want him “distracted” by another job until the
truck was done! Well, the body guy (my former neighbor) came into
the shop yesterday and my mechanic pounced on him and pulled him
over to where my poor little Geo was sitting, all crumpled and
forlorn. And he said he could fix it, probably by Friday! For
probably around $150 or so (won’t be pretty, but I’ll be able to
drive it again).

So yay! Things are looking up!
Thanks again for all the encouragement!

Be careful Sojourner, oxy-acetylene is too hot for silver smithing.
If you are fabricating or smithing hollow objects, the whole piece
needs to come up to temperature not just one area of it.
Acetylene/air works well with silver as it’s a softer flame. Natural
gas and compressed air also works well. Take your time and expect to
lose some projects. If something doesn’t work, try to analyze what
went wrong. Often other students can be helpful.

marilyn smith

...and one place inSt. Louis that I might be able to pick up some
workshops as well....

What’s the name of the place in Saint Louis, I might be interested
in checking it out.