Starting a metals school

Hello Orchidians! From time to time, I receive questions on building
Metalwerx and how it got started. I thought I would enclose my
letter in response to a Massachusetts College of Art grad in the
metals program (my alma mater). It encompasses my thoughts about
marketing and how I go about attacking any project really.

Dear L, I applaude you making the first steps in opening a metals
teaching facility. There are a lot of questions to be asked and

My advice to you at this point, is for you to ask some questions of
yourself first. The big one is, what exactly do you want and how do
you see yourself running your facility. Forget the money, forget
everything. What what would be your ideal school/studio? These are
questions I asked myself when I began developing Metalwerx. If you
were a student coming to your school, what faculty would be teaching
there? Why kind of facilities would you have. What would the space
look like? What kind of equipment would be installed. How many
students will you take. How will you advertise?

Running a business for me was asking myself questions. Hundreds of
questions, and when I thought of the answers, I started to develop a
business plan. You will learn to talk to the bank, negotiate a
lease. It’s scary at first, but you will leearn. Navigating
through town permits, fire permits, meetings with the fire
department and insurance companies.

So many people, like yourself, want to start a business like
Metalwerx, which I think is great! Great for you, great for the
faculty teaching, great for the students, and great for the
suppliers of whom many will become friends.

To really be in this business, you have say to yourself, my business
is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and
the last thing I think about before I sleep. It takes commitment,
100% of total commitment.

You have to be able to take leaps of faith, smile when your bills
pile up and answer stupid questions from customers with a cheerful
smile. “I am sorry, we don’t teach platinum and diamond setting in
Beginning Jewelry, but here is a good school that would suit your
needs”. Yes, I have actually had that question. You have to be OK
about making mistakes, learning from the experience and move on.
You have to be totally open to supporting other schools and their

And when you get your tools, all nice and shiny, your students will
do everything they can to dent your hammers and stakes, mark your
pliers or wrap them with tape, bend sawframes, and put water on your
rolling mill, after you have told them thousands of times not to.
It’s part of the process and part of letting go.

You need support from your friends, your family, and your spouse.
They will perk you up when you need a shoulder to cry on and will
stand with you when you first open your doors.

Get a good lawyer, and a good accountant who understands your
business and taxes.

Most important, you have to love what you do. Somebody asked me
once, “Karen how may hours do you work in a day”? I replied, “I
sleep 8 hours a night”. I love my day job.

How do I measure success? A wonderful woman in my Jewelry II class,
NK, who is 83 years old, made a candle stand that paid honor to her
cousins who were killed in Auschwitz. N said, “I made a Star of
David which was askew and warped, and etched their name in brass.”
A tall, slender white tapered candle stood off to one side. She
said, “in all my years of working with metal, I always went the safe
route. You pushed me to make something incredibly personal and
unlocked years of pain by expressing what was in my heart. This was

It is those times that make it all worthwhile.

And lastly, even if Metalwerx were to go down in financial flames
(which isnt’ the case!), spending my life in the “would if” is much
worse to me then “at least I tried and gave it everything I could”.

Now I am moving into my third building in three years. It is
everything I could ever dream in wanting the perfect school.

Good luck,
Karen Christians
10 Walnut St., Woburn MA 01801
Ph. 781 937 3532, Fx. 781 937 3955
Jewelry/Metalarts School & Cooperative Studio
Board Member for the Society of North American Goldsmiths