Now, after nine years of teaching jewelry at the Boca Museum Art
School, I have begun to understand how to answer this question.
I conduct beginning through advanced fabrication classes, fun
casting, lost wax 101, and a number of workshops, in addition to
cabochon cutting and faceting. I believe the latter two are important
for those performing fabrication because they better understand why
cut and angles of a particular stone can affect the setting process.
Many of my students are beaders who want to 'go to the next step’
and add a new look to their beading. There are also quite a number
from South America who studied some in their native countries and
learned ‘the old fashion way’. This fits in quite well as I learned
that way whilst in Taiwan!! These folks usually progress quite
quickly because they (we) have a good foundation in preparing the
metals from scratch, drawing wire, making solder etc.
After a lecture on what we will do and where we are going, I start
all my students from the most basic functions…sawing, filing and
bending (copper/brass) in which they make a solderless setting. Not
supprisingly, those who have art courses or graphic design
backgrounds sometimes become quite innovative with these simple
settings. The others make quite basic and lifeless settings. But I
never criticize them…only critique and point out areas to improve
or where they did well. From there, they make a twisted wire ring to
learn manipulation, forming, annealing and soldering. Not how to make
perfect joins, but rather the process. Later many add stones to this
simple ring or use it for other projects. Next is a simple open back
square wire bearing setting with prongs to hold a tumbled stone.
Purpose; how to create a bearing for a difficult form and do
Each process is explained, what they will do, why, what happens and
the intended result. All processes are documented in class papers so
they can go back to them for future referrence.
These are all required projects and are completed in 4 weeks. Then
they must conjour their own design, estimate the amount and kinds of
metal required (with help of course) and make the piece. Most want to
make a Winston or some complex design but I coax them to do the idea
at their skill level plus a step or two. This way they receive the
practice they need to progress.
Soldering is the most difficult part. I have found average students
take around 80 hours to become competent and confident enough to go
to the bench and solder without assistance. And even then they have
not yet mastered off-hand soldering and innovative set-ups.
After about 2 years my advanced students begin to really branch out.
Some have been with me 8+ years and do some quite advanced
techniques. They set both cabs and faceted stones. Do repousse,
etching, fold forming, etc, etc. Many, with help, set up their own
studios and sell on various markets!!! 0ften I am pleased (and
rewarded) to see very professional work being done by those who just
2 years prior could not do any of this.
In short, a properly taught and designed program should provide all
the basics (with explanations) and the projects necessary for new
students to practice those basics. Their projects must be kept within
the bounds of their knowledge and techniques but always pushing the
envelope so they know where the can go. An instructor must also be
nurturing, attentive, willing to answer mundane questions and perform
simple tasks over and over and over. I tell all my new students that,
“The key to success is going from failure to failure without loosing
your enthusiasm”. I refuse to allow them to fail!
Cheers from Don in SOFL.
(Did I mention that I never studied Fine Arts or jewelry making in
college, never attended a ‘jewelry school’, nor have I ever had the
opportunity to go away for a jewelry making/learning week. All my
jewelry knowledge is based on one year of apprenticeship in Taiwan,
a few classes at a Guild in MD, and looots (38 years) of research and