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Sad Fact?

First let me say that I am past the half-century mark myself, and in
no way do I intend to malign my peers much less my current student

I have noticed over the years that a very high percentage of the
students that I see are between 40 & 60 years of age. Hardly any are
in their 20’s or 30’s. Are other Orchidians involved in teaching
seeing a similar trend?

I know from experience that this (metalsmithing in general) is tough
way to make a living. There are so many jobs that pay so much more
for far less time and investment. I just noticed the new sign at the
corner auto mechanics raising the hourly rate to $70 an hour a
rate that very few on this forum seem to be able to claim. We had a
plumbing problem two days ago the tab for an hour was $130 no parts,
straight labor.

I don’t think that it can be the cost of workshops and/or education
in general, because I see the purchases made on the spur of the
moment running into the thousands. Such things as fancy rims for
cars, video and stereo systems, boats, and other items offer no
possibility of return on the investment other than a fleeting ‘cool

Do the younger generations see no future in working at the bench? No
point in even trying to compete with offshore factories that pump out
billions of dollars worth of ‘disposable’ jewelry? All seem to be
looking for jobs that pay at least $60,000 a year to start, loaded
with benefits and perks. Gotta have at least two paid vacations a

Brian Marshall

Brian – And in no way do I intend to malign my peers much less my
current student pool either Brian.

But, I’ve gotten similar impressions from some of my students, “how
much money does it pay” or " I want to have my own business and make
a lot of money". Many want to do everything and become “the jack of
all trades and the master of none” and end up wondering why
everything they make looks like it came out of a butcher shop.
Mostly my younger student’s (with few exceptions) whine about how
hard it is and how tired they are after a day at the bench instead
of what incredible techniques they are learning and how passionate
they feel about what they’re creating.

I also deal with many “hobby happy” older students who are not fully
engaged in the learning process’ that are crucial to become a top
notch jewelry artist.

I’ve decided that private tutoring could be the best way to teach.
That way you’re more likely to be approached by someone who’s
willing to pay you and take the intense one-on-one lessons with the
intention of becoming the best that they can be. These folks are
few, and far between, I’ve discovered over the years.

Fact is - Yes plumbers, mechanics, psychologists, etc. do make more
money per hour. And I get so disgusted with people complaining about
my prices without appreciating the top-notch quailty and experience
they’ll get from me and my work.

I LOVE to teach but I suspect if I’m not careful at some point I may
become jaded and cynical about it from dealing with so many of these

My mantra: “My work speaks for itself”


Dear Brian,

When I was trained in the late 80’s - early 90’s, most students were
in their 20’s and 30’s (and some were just 15). I haven’t been their
in a while, but I think it will still be the same.

If I remember correct, they did a survey once on past students. About
5% of them were still in the business directly and another 5%
sideways (appraisal and the likes).

There are just not that many jobs open.



I am not a jeweler, but I know exactly what you are saying about
being past the half century mark and the fact of the younger
generation not having their priorities. But along the same line
what I find amusing is the fact that the older retired generation
seem to think they are the ones who have the say in what is art, at
least around here. Seems like all of the little society of artist,
clubs, groups, etc. are all retired lady folks (bunch of old
bags---- my opinion only and do not feel offended). Maybe because
they have nothing to do but if you go to any of the classes etc they
seem to be a clic and kind of rule the class. Therefore the younger
folks like myself or the real young ones shy away or drop out from
those classes and those groups. Bottom line who wants to be in a
class or group where all they care about is who brought what to
munch on doing break.

Warren Townsend

Trenton, MI 48183

Hi Brian,

There are still young people who love the job of goldsmith or
designer. I am 25 now and graduated from art school 2 years ago. I
have no daytime job at the moment, but I’m trying to find one in the
goldsmithing bussines. In fact here in Belgium it is so hard to find
one because there are too many young people who studied this and
looking for a job.

I do all kinds off stupid jobs to get some money to invest in my own
workshop. This makes me able to do my own thing in my free time
(which is a lot right now). If anyone have a place for a young girl
who would love to do a goldsmithing job???

You see there are still some enthusiastic young people left.

Kristel Verhaert
Peter Benoitstraat 21/5
3500 Hasselt


I’m 25 and I’m taking jewelry classes. I have a 9-5 job but I’d
rather be making jewelry, so I figured it was time to get serious
and start taking classes. I just finished a fabrication class at
Revere, and I plan on taking more in the winter session.

– Leah

I feel the lack if young people coming into jewelry has to do with a
lack of emphasis on the arts in general starting in public grade
school. Most young people who would get into metals would start in
college, I think. Where else would you get exposed to it other wise?
Maybe from an older hobbiest relative or some weird desire to make
jewelry as a kid. Even with the exposure I got from my family I
don’t consider it something I couldn’t do with out until I was
working 10 years in jewelry production. Just sort of rambling , Brian
brings up an interesting point and worth exploring.

Sam Patania, Tucson

Brian, I’ve noticed too that the students in jewelry classes
(Revere, Mendocino, the local lapidary, local galleries) tend to be
over 40 and have had (or still have) other careers. There was one
notable exception at Revere, who sat next to me as I struggled
painfully through my Fabrication 2 class – a 20 year-old kid who was
a dead ringer for Frodo the hobbit (except no hairy feet that I could
tell, and much taller) who would finish any project the teacher threw
at us in one hour, toss it on the table, and proclaim, "I’m bored!"
He must be singlehandedly making up for his generation’s absence from
the jewelry profession.

On a more serious note, why aren’t more young people taking up
jewelry? Well, maybe they see the handwriting on the wall, or their
parents tell them about it. Over the years many friends I’ve had who
undertook a creative career without a mundane-world backup day job
have paid for it dearly. Unless they had a trust fund or another
source of support such as a supportive spouse or partner, they’ve
ended up in their 50’s with no savings, often no house, no alternate
way of making a living, and unemployable because of their age and
lack of saleable skills. It’s a disgrace, but in this society you
are just not rewarded unless you are an accountant.

First of all, you are punished because you can’t get health
insurance without a “regular” job. That doesn’t matter so much when
you’re young, but it’s very hard when you get older. Then you don’t
make much money, except in a few cases. A number of my friends are
science fiction writers – it takes two years to write a book on the
average, and if you are one of the fortunate few to even get
published you still only get $7500 per book as a beginner. A short
story may take a month or more, and net you $150. I have jeweler
friends who are doing well, but they work like dogs and stand out in
the baking sun at all the craft shows. There are exceptions, but
they seem to be dishearteningly few and far between.



    Do the younger generations see no future in working at the

I can only speak for myself so the sample size is minutely small.
First question, do people out of say, high school even know that one
option is to become a jeweller? It never crossed my mind, ever.

In my case there was enormous family pressure to be a
"professional". That meant get a degree. And yet from a very early
age I was good with my hands and played with a Mechano set over and
over again. I could see what was to be built by looking at the
pictures. However, I am a poor reader. Nevertheless, I got the
required degrees in science and published in academic journals.
However, the innate feeling of satisfaction was OK when the research
was completed. But there was nothing to show for it. So ten years ago
I decided to work with enamel. And that sense of satisfaction
returned, even with all my “learning experiences” that ended in the
waste barrel. Finally the day did arrive that somebody paid cold hard
cash for something I made. That was it, I was hooked, - who needs
drugs-. Thus perhaps it is the sense of “aging” and asking why am I
here and what have I done that prompts some of us to the bench. But I
still can’t not wonder just how much pressure is put on kids by the


Brian, I have seen similar things, not all of which involved
metalsmithing but still…

Believe it or not, when I asked younger people what they thought was
causing it, the answers I got back astounded me. For the most part I
could only attribute it to laziness. I must say here though that
this was a small sampling of 17-22 yr olds in a school setting for
"at risk" students. Simply put, these students told me outright that
they didn’t feel like they " should have to work that hard" to make
a living. One kid (about 21 yrs old) told me that he didn’t plan on
working with his hands at all if he could avoid it. That seemed to
be a strong influence in a great part of the group. They had no real
plans to speak of but a goodly percentage of them said that working
with their hands was not a part of what plans they had.

This baffled me totally. I was raised with the concept that working
with your hands was a fundamental part of most any lifestyle. I’m
almost 48, not so old that I’ve forgotten how to be cool. These
notions you’ve described and that I’ve witnessed struck me as living
in a fantasy land. I hope very, very much that I’m wrong because
I’ve run across a lot of very talented young people with a great
deal of energy to offer. It seems to me that they will have to work
with their hands to survive at all.


Hi Brian;

I’m not sure what’s behind this trend, but I think you are right.
For a while I had been teaching a basic and intermediate level
jewelry class locally, and the majority by far were older students.
I can only suppose a couple things are contributing to this:

  1. older individuals, their kids having grown up, have time and
    money to take up a new interest.

  2. a lot of individuals are tired of their present jobs, for
    economic reasons, time constraints, etc., and imagine that they can
    take a class or two and then succeed with a jewelry business. Boy,
    they’re in for a surprise.

  3. A lot of people have wanted to do this kind of thing for years,
    and are just now becoming aware of the possibilities of taking
    classes in this stuff. If they never were in art school or worked in
    a jewelry store, I don’t know how they would know that such things
    exist. Younger people may not have a clue where to find you. They
    tend to wait until comes to them, rather than seeking it

  4. consider the background of these people. If they are bench
    jewelers, they may have been at it long enough to realize that they
    are probably not going to learn some of those things they need to
    know unless they take a class. I’m 51, and I have some limited hand
    engraving skills, which I’ve picked up willy-nilly. But I have a
    goal, once my schedule is not so insanely hectic and I’m not so
    chronically broke, to come out to your place and take one or two of
    your engraving classes. Just something I’ve always admired and
    wanted to do.

BTW, I can’t believe you are offering these classes at such bargain
prices, please don’t raise them until after I’ve been there :slight_smile:

Why aren’t younger people interested? I think it may have something
to do with the fact that so few high-schools and even colleges offer
jewelry classes. The kids just don’t imagine one can learn to do
this stuff. They think all jewelry just appears in stores from some
mysterious origin. I’m guessing that you probably already have a lot
of contact with local high schools and colleges so that students
might come and visit and see what it’s all about. Have you ever
considered offering the occasional scholarship for a young person in
your area? If not, call the local high school, ask for the art
instructor, and see if they have a talented, interested student. Find
out if there is anything that’s tax deductible for it. Glad you are
asking us these kinds of questions.And by all means, ask the
students what brought them to your school in the first place. And
while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be great if more high schools art
departments knew of the Ganoksin site and the Orchid forum?

Best of luck and keep up the good work.
Hope to see you soon.

David L. Huffman

I think I can shed a little light on this subject (why are fewer
young kids going into arts?) as I have three nieces and a nephew,
ages 19 - 24. None are lazy, all are super-smart, hard-working,
polite, sweet young adults (love them!)–and all of them are
struggling with something that is common in my family: they are smart
and do well in white collar careers–in fact, it’s what’s mostly been
done in my family-- but we also have super strong pulls to the
creative and thus they don’t know what to do with their lives!

I have counseled them all to be smart about it, but to go for it –
do what will make them happy (UNLESS, I say, you are going to have a
family, then you better make sure you provide properly! I can buy
cheaper dog food but not kid food!). I am not comfortable with the
total touch-feely "do what you love and the money will follow"
idea…i think you need to be smarter than that, like make sure you
have some good basic skills to fall back on in case times get tough.
My husband and I have been salespeople, ranch caretakers, birding
guide, kayaking guide, grant writer, executive director, and handyman
to make ends meet sometimes.

BUT, a couple observations: compared to just 20 years ago, IT’S
struggling. It’s just scary. When we were in our twenties we lived so
much better on nothing, as students and working as a salesperson and
carpenter–we took months off in the summer to kayak the Arctic,
explore Baja, and go to Europe and Africa. But the dollar just is
awful right now. Gas prices, rent, mortgages, health care – it’s all
too much.

The irony is that after years quite happy as a freelance writer,
when times got tough in the late 90s/early 00s, I had a foray into a
$60K/year job that had tons of benefits and two weeks off a
year…and I hated it. the money didn’t do what I thought it would
for us. It just made me tired, grumpy, and sad for the state of our
economy and the super fast-paced life we all live now.

Much to my sisters-in-law horror (my brothers are pretty cool), I am
going to help these kids seek what they love. One is launching a
business (at 22!!) making custom machined parts for racing sportscars
(and charging $50 an hour…who’s laughing now?); one is finishing
her engineering degree but is going to see if she can make it as a
costume designer first; one is heading off to LA to join her
boyfriend who is a comic book artist; and the other, well, she’s a
bit hopeless and I recommended she marry a brain surgeon. Seriously.
Her creativity is limited to shopping. And more shopping.

Times are different and the strategy needs to be different now (like
we can’t just do the hippy-dippy thing and drop out, driving around
in a bus and selling stuff at street fairs), but we still should be
encouraging all ages to persevere with the arts.

Hello Orchidland,

I think David Popham has a point: “In my case there was enormous
family pressure to be a “professional”. That meant get a degree.”

My younger daughter is a natural actress (and can sling a mean torch
as well), and was encouraged by her university drama teacher to
pursue the craft. She did a reality check and chose a degree in
business & international marketing. Although she is good in sales
and marketing, and has made more $$ at it than her mom makes after
decades of experience, she has a yearning to perform.

I admit that I was both relieved that she didn’t go the starving
artist route and disappointed for her as well. It would be no
surprise to me if she got on stage and was successful at it. Always
interesting to watch your children progress!!

Judy in Kansas

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
B.A.E. 237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhatttan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936 FAX (785) 532-6944

  Unless they had a trust fund or another source of support such as
a supportive spouse or partner, they've ended up in their 50's with
no savings, often no house, no alternate way of making a living,
and unemployable because of their age and lack of saleable skills. 
It's a disgrace, but in this society you are just not rewarded
unless you are an accountant. 

With no disrespect to the writer here, I feel that this is a bit of
a cop-out. Like any other career choice, being an artist is not just
something you wake up and then “become.” An accountant learns tons of
skills, then works his or her way up in their field. As an artist,
you also work hard, learn everything you can – including, and
probably most importantly, what you need to do as a businessperson to
survive – and work your way up. How to balance time at the bench
with marketing, how to market for that matter, etc. A lot of artists
seem to think you just “do the art” and the money will somehow flow
in. Yes, times are tough right now – lots of amazing artists have
had to downsize, change their focus a bit or a lot. That IS part of
business. Adapt adapt adapt. Evolve. Evolve. Evolve. or not. and

  First of all, you are punished because you can't get health
insurance without a "regular" job. 

Not true! I just got decent health coverage for me (40) and my hubby
(50) through, which is for small businesses and
self-employed people. Great brokerage. I pay $200/month and put
$100/month into a health savings account which is tax free and rolls
over at 4% interest. We both had minor pre-existing conditions, but
the underwriters worked with us on that.

A number of my friends are science fiction writers -- it takes two
years to write a book on the average, and if you are one of the
fortunate few to even get published you still only get $7500 per
book as a beginner.  A short story may take a month or more, and
net you $150.  I have jeweler friends who are doing well, but they
work like dogs and stand out in the baking sun at all the craft
shows.  There are exceptions, but they seem to be dishearteningly
few and far between. 

I am also a writer, and I have been in that same situation – heck
I’m not a beginner (have 12 or so natural history titles to our
names) and they still pay diddly. Again, adapt adapt adapt. Quit
beating head against wall! Evolve! Tired of being offered $1000 to
work for 6 months, I am producing my own books and marketing them
myself… what got me going was being paid 75 cents per book by a
publisher versus making, after all printing and marketing and
distribution expenses through a fulfillment house, $5 per book. I am
not good at math, but gee it looked good to me. Now I make the
equivalent of $30K per year on my books working parttime.

I still do the occasional project for national parks and the like,
where I make no money but the project is fun. you do have to balance
in all things – if your friends are working like dogs and and don’t
enjoy craft shows and aren’t making any money, perhaps a different
approach…for example, when one of my jewelry lines isn’t moving, I
need to change it, or if it’s moving but I’m not making enough money,
I need to either find a cheaper fabrication technique or charge more!

Remember, Darwin was right!


You are right. I myself have always had a passion for jewelry. But I
indeed have paid the price. Never a paid vacation, NO benefits
whatsoever. I work like a dog, but for some bizarre reason I love
it. But do I want this for my children? No! I have taught them to
strive for professions that give them security (401K’s, retirement,
medical, vacations, sick time, workers comp, etc…) I’ve taught
them to keep the things they love as a hobby. If I had it to do over
again, I’d have a hell of an awarding hobby, but I’d have a career
with SOME security. I’m 55 years old and I think what has happened
is this. This is the generation that woke up to the importance of
jobs with benefits. My children are not lazy and are not looking for
an easy way out. They work long tiring hours like all of us, but
they have benefits. They also have wonderful artistic hobbies they
work hard at.

The sad fact is, Small business’s can’t afford to give these
things. I don’t know what the answer is. But I think the industry
is facing even harder times in the future. Yes it is a Sad Fact.


I know where the “young people” are. Go to a SNAG conference, the
damn place is full of “young people” who are getting into the arts.
They do not appear to be any lazier than I was at their age, and I
would caution about labling groups of people lazy as the “young
people” I have posed Brian’s question to bristle at that lazy
suggestion and the conversation takes a less productive turn. I am
putting “young People” in quotes each time because that is a matter
of perspective. The requirements for becoming metalsmiths or artists
in general is patience, good teaching and the desire to express ones
self. The combination of which is not easy, intuitive or pays well.
How could you blame them, the “young people”? Hell, our generation
is the ones selling them the hype, not only on diamonds( reference
the DeBeers thread) but video games, cars, electronic equipment and
fashion. SNAG has a strong acedemic push, the industry and trade are
very little involved in SNAG which is truly a sad fact but, I also
realise that it is hard to sell that demographic good and services
because they don’t have much money to start out. Get into SNAG,
Society of North AMerican Goldsmiths, and now as I write their name
out I realise why many Orchidians wouldn’t look into SNAG, it sounds
like they are all goldsmiths. This is poor marketing on their part ,
sorry Dana, but really SNAG includes metalsmiths of all colors and
bents, check them out, check them out.

Sam Patania, Tucson


I teach at Art Centers, not trade schools or degree programs, but a
fair number of students do go on to make jewelry a primary or
secondary source of income (this is how I learned, also). We do not
provide the rigorous technique necessary for a bench job, but some
go on to places like New Approach or Rever or even RISD, etc.

I do see some older students, but the majority are between 13 and
40, and I’d guess the median age is early thirties. So don’t


Speaking as a 19 year old daughter of a goldsmith with over thirty
years experience, having been exposed to both the retail and
wholesale sides of the industry my entire life, and someone who has
met countless numbers of jewelry professionals (of all kinds)…

I really do not think that I would have had any desire, or the
knowledge of how to get into this business, if it hadn’t been for
my father.

During high school career sessions, we hear about psychology, law,
medicine, and the like. I have never heard … “and now we will
look over the field of jewelry. Please be open to the fact that this
is a large field with many different avenues to take. Production,
design, repair, sales, etc.”

Unless you are very driven to find pathways to experience the
jewelry industry by going to your local jewelry store where they
have a jeweler on hand to speak with, or to spend hours searching on
the internet…there is a lack of out there that is
handy to just research the possibilities.

I have to say that I did not choose to follow in my father’s
footsteps and take up goldsmithing, but to become and appraiser and
gemologist. I was always fascinated by the stones at a very young
age…and even though my dad still hassles me about learning how to
do what he does, he encourages me to do what makes me happy. He is
very satisfied that I am keeping some form of the business in the
family, and will be continuing his legacy in my knowledge that he
played a very large role.

Please don’t discredit the entirety of my generation and those that
come before and after myself. I am sure that if there was more
out there on how to become a member of your exclusive
group, there would be a lot more interest and enthusiasm.

Kristine Jones
Cottonwood Jewelers
P.O. Box 668
Cottonwood, CA 96022
TEL (530) 347-9681
FAX (530) 347-9683

Hi all,

I’m probably one of those gray haired ladies that you can’t quite
figure out what they’re doing in your class, though I never obsess
over the snacks.

My first experience with metalsmithing was in high school (30 years
ago). My basic art class had 6 weeks of weaving, 6 weeks of clay,
and 6 weeks of metalsmithing. I loved all of the mediums, but
working in clay made me wet and muddy (ish!) and setting up the loom
drove me crazy- so that left metals ;^).

After graduating from high school I went to northern Arizona
(Sedona) in the hopes of finding someone who would take me on as an
apprentice- I would have swept floors for years if that’s what it
took. What I found was a lot of store owners who didn’t trust
someone who just showed up at their door and said “I’ll work in
exchange for training”.

I ended up making lots of silver and turquoise pieces for a guy who
had a contract with Stuckey’s (remember them: those roadside
purveyors of fine “Indian” jewellry and plastic paperweights with
embeded scorpions?). By the way, we used a wet bandsaw to cut 20-24
ovals at a time for bezels and then soldered multiples in assembly
line fashion.

After a 9 months in Sedona and still living in my car, I decided
that becoming a jeweller’s apprentice required some kind of secret
handshake I didn’t know, so I came home, went to college, blah blah
blah blah. Amazingly enough, the University of Arizona, had a metals
program, but no one ever mentioned it me and because I thought you
needed a trust fund to be a Fine Arts major I never asked. I got a
degree in Architecture and eventually became a computer systems

Over the intervening years I’ve ocassionally taken a class, but
generally found that I’d start living and breathing design again and
my day job would start to suffer- so I generally kept away from
metalwork (gotta make that money, you know).

Last fall I took a weekend class with Eleanor Moty (if you ever get
the chance she’s a phenomenal teacher) and made up my mind to not
put-off anymore. The fact that I’m 48 and have (probably) 30 years
left, genetically speaking, is a great motivator.

Yeah, I’m sick of my job, it doesn’t feed my soul and takes so much
energy that I have trouble even getting a teeny bit of creative work
done. But I’m not under the illusion that one class is all I need
and I can support myself as a metalsmith. If I could afford it, I’d
go to Revere’s or David Blaine’s school, not because I don’t want to
spend a long time learning and paying my dues, but because I don’t
feel like I have all that much time left.

I’d still like to learn the secret handshake, but unfortunately I
don’t have quite as much finacial flexibility as I did when I was 18
and lived in my car.

I’m really gratefull to Orchid and all of you out there who are
willing to share. It’s made me feel like creativity is still
possible (even at my advanced age :-).

Thank you,

from Tucson, where the monsoon has finally! arrived and it’s a
jungle out there!

 "how much money does it pay" or " I want to have my own business
and make a lot of money". 

margie - my subtle, diplomatic answer to the 'generation x-hausted’
members who want to make a lot of money without getting tired from
doing actual work, “well, then you should have stayed in medical
school or law school. oh, you weren’t in med school or law school?
you went to community college for how many days? oh, just when do
you expect to get your ged?” after hearing a few more whines smile
and say “then suck it up or pack it up. please.” but that might be
too subtle for some of them -

ive: creativity cannot be forced nor its insistence* stifled. *[not
a misspell]