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The role of education in metalsmithing


#1

For young people, in regards to college degrees, here’s what I can
recommend based on my own experience.

Get a college degree in business administration and a minor in what
you think you may want to do after you graduate. I have a B.A. in
Business Admin and a minor in Graphic Arts (which included
traditional art classes, but not jewelry). You can never go wrong
with this. With a business degree you can get any number of jobs not
requiring specific scientific training. You can open your own small
business doing just about anything you want. Of course the other
classes they make you take to become a well rounded individual will
help you at cocktail parties should you choose to go that route!
(Don’t forget artist receptions!) And also to make intelligent
decisions about other things, such as to who to vote for President
of the United States (not just blindly taking the advice of others -
but I digress.)

My own circuitous route over the last 25 years led me through retail
management, a Masters Degree in Natural Resources, naturalist jobs,
running my own landscape design business (it’s still a design
field), and back to school yet AGAIN for a one year technical degree
in jewelry design and fabrication. And yes, I did learn to solder,
and graduates of our program do go on to become bench jewelers or
entrepreneurs like myself. Looking back, I don’t think there was any
job I’ve ever had that didn’t require some artistic talent or an
artist’s eye.

At any time in my life I can switch to another type of business
depending on where the winds take me. I love this freedom. Of course,
given the $ investment that I just made for tools and materials for
jewelry making, I plan on sticking with this for a while.

Lynn White
Lynn White Jewelry


#2

Several people have been kind enough to offer advise about my
options for educating my sons off-forum as well as to the group.

Katherine Sidney Margolis wrote:

Many "applied" programs have trouble getting respect in 4-year or
graduate universities. Therefore, art teachers in those
institutions focus on getting to and staying on the cutting edge.
They are rewarded through the tenure process for publication,
research and innovation, NOT for teaching or counseling students. 

Sometimes I think I am being too hard on the college programs and
maybe ungrateful for what they did for me (BFA Syracuse 1980, MFA
Carbondale 1982) but then I think I lucked out in that my professors
were fairly honest about what it takes to make a living and did make
some effort to expose us to reality. I also think that times have
changed and that the trade schools are much better artistically than
they were back in my day.

Given that much of what passes for art education does not offer that
much in the way of technical rigor, design for the marketplace,
business skills or production efficiency, what are the alternatives?
I would like my boys to have a college experience, but not waste a
lot of time and money and risk getting drawn into some kind of
alternative reality where they get praised for filling the gallery
with plastic bags when we set out to learn goldsmithing. When people
ask me how to learn the trade I usually suggest they get a job with
someone who will teach them I actually have two young college
graduates working for me part time doing just that. But this ain’t no
practice life You should be able to attain a pretty good mastery by
the time you are the age of a college graduate.

By the way. It was suggested that chemical engineering bachelor
graduates are not ready for the workplace. My daughter, who is
herself a mechanical engineering student, says most of her friends
already have firm job offers before they have even started their
senior years. One of her friends in chemical engineering earned $25
an hour this summer as an intern. She says this is typical. It seems
to me that there should be a way that a 22 year old goldsmith can be
just as ready to play in the big leagues.

Stephen Walker


#3
It seems to me that there should be a way that a 22 year old
goldsmith can be just as ready to play in the big leagues. 

So playing devils advocate, if you sent your son to Germany to
become a Goldsmith, how would he be trained and how old would he be
when he was able to play in the big leagues?

I believe there is a system of education and training is Germany that
produces someone who can be hired as a skilled and competent
Goldsmith or can open their own business.

An analogy to me is if you wanted to be a chef and you took a
weekend cooking class, and then got a job in a Pizza Hut for
experience. Going to college or taking a two month or six month
"training" results in someone who then can only be hired to then be
trained and start at an entry level wage that pays less than other
less skilled jobs that involve no previous training. Realistically,
theory and practical training for a competent well trained Goldsmith
is available in Germany. It is not available in the U.S. There are
no schools that prepare you to open your own “Atelier”.

To go to college for “the college experience” and graduate with no
practical skill seems to be an interesting choice, especially when
huge debts can be incurred with no practical way for these debts to
be paid off with the knowledge and skill gained. I would like to know
what debt would be incurred by someone trained to be a Goldsmith in
Germany. However, to be successful in America in jewelry, take a
business class and go to a fashion institute or a school for design
and have your designs produced and set up a marketing program so
jewelry is the product in a business plan and you might be very
successful. Hire the skill and you achieve a goal without that
learning curve of working to develop skill, figure out your product,
and develop your market.

It would be interesting for some of those who participate in this
forum to relate how long it took from graduation in a college jewelry
program to a high paying job in the jewelry industry.

It seems that an educational system either produces someone who can
provide goods or services, or those who learn to teach others to
teach.

Richard Hart


#4

Agree strongly.

It’s not as much fun as majoring in what you love, but it makes more
sense to use school to shore up your weaknesses. Business is where
almost all artists are weak.

Having your passion for a minor lets you take the courses you love,
while the stuff you’ll learn in those business courses will help to
save your bacon when it comes to the practicalities of actually doing
it in the real world.

RC


#5
If you have a undergraduate degree in, say, Chemical Engineering
you at that point have nothing to contribute until further training
by the company that hired you. 

This is not true at all. The company will train you on their product
or system, but they expect new hires to be able to do design and
analysis in line with their education. Fluid Dynamics, Statistics,
Calculus, and more, are the tools/ techniques of the trade, and a
graduate better be able to use them. I’ve seen many people let go
(side promoted in larger Co.) because they weren’t prepared.

Dan


#6
Given that much of what passes for art education does not offer
that much in the way of technical rigor, design for the
marketplace, business skills or production efficiency, what are the
alternatives? 

Jo-Ann read my post yesterday on EIP and said, “I agree with that,
but we’re talking about two different pathways in this (world).” And
that is the crux of the problem, is that it’s not two different
worlds. Pretending that there is such a thing as “Art Jewelry” or
"Academic Jewelry" is the worst possible thing a person could do. And
when Academic jewelry programs made the decision to invent a "new"
methodology of jewelry making, they shot themselves in the foot. We
all cut and bend and solder and hammer - nobody, and I mean nobody,
is doing anything different, it’s just that many of us are actually
trained to do it well, and with a greater skill. Many of us. What I
get to do is make exquisite things out of the finest materials in the
world, and I’m not sure what’s wrong with that, or how it’s not art,
if any jewelry is art. The notion that learning bad methods in
college and making rudimentary jewelry that few people actually want
is somehow lofty or better is a curious position to take. The world
of jewelry and goldsmithing is vast and limitless, and the greater
your skillset, the more fun and rewarding it is.

Maybe it’s a bit of a rant, but I feel a sense of urgency at this
whole issue. A college grad came into a shop and lasted about 20
minutes. When she left, the foreman (a man with galactic knowlege of
jewelry) said to me, “She asked for binding wire, what’s that?” When
I explained it to him, he laughed and said "Really? They do that?"
We don’t use 3 grades of sandpaper, we don’t use 12 grades of
solder, we don’t agonize, we make jewelry. Spending $50K on a
program that leaves you unable to function at any level in the trade
at large seems to me - well, maybe something’sbroken, there. The
jewelry trade involves filing endless castings, soldering endless
findings, and more. It also involves setting fabulous gemstones into
innovative designs and watching the world eat it up. There are no
limits but those we put on ourselves.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#7

Stephen thank you, I don’t understand why some people are just dead
set against the idea of a university degree teaching the student the
skills of their chosen field. What is wrong with having a vocation?
Since when did knowing your profession and advancing in it become a
bad thing? I am glad someone out there agrees that getting a college
degree in studio arts should be worth more than the paper it was
written on. A basic education in any chosen field should be the
premise of all degrees available otherwise one is just throwing the
money away for four more years of postponing adulthood.

cheers. Dennis


#8
A basic education in any chosen field should be the premise of all
degrees available otherwise one is just throwing the money away for
four more years of postponing adulthood. 

We have not ruled out a college metals program for our boys.
Certainly some of the schools are better than others. Has anyone out
there got a program they want to pitch to us?


#9

This has travelled a bit from metalsmithing to the purpose of a
college education. And there, I think, lies the problem. Many people
today mistakenly think college is a place to learn a trade. It is
not. When done properly, a liberal arts education is a place to
learn how to THINK - a thing many people today are NOT very good at!

It is a place to learn to question, to explore, to examine, and to
determine your own truths. To learn to listen, to converse, and to
understand that others may have different opinions. To learn to
defend your own opinions well and politely. To stretch your
understanding and ability.

Yes, it may also provide you with career basics, but if you go with
that as the sole purpose you are missing the biggest benefits of a
genuine liberal arts education.

Just as someone mentioned that having a business degree had allowed
them to do a wide range of jobs successfully, and good genuine
liberal arts education, in ANY field, will allow the recipient to
successfully move in a huge range of directions - because they have
learned how to think, to plan, to execute, to follow through, to
research - and most importantly, to communicate!

Just dropped my teenager off at what we hope is an excellent small
liberal arts college (College of Wooster in Ohio). She is there to
learn how to learn, how to communicate better. Her major? History.
Big bucks down the road? I seriously doubt it!!!. But happy person
doing what they love? You bet!

With the background Wooster will give her, she will be able to
tackle almost anything once she graduates. Yes, she may need
additional training or skills - but she will now how to get them and
get the most out of them.

So if you have a teenager who wants to learn a specific trade, send
them to trade school - much more efficient for them! If they want to
learn to learn, and are genuinely interested in the life of the
mind, then send them to a GOOD liberal arts college or university.
This will give them the foundation to jump in whatever direction they
choose.

Do be aware that most kids DO change their minds about what they
want to do. Mine has been passionate about history all her life, and
has been doing original research since the 8th grade - this does NOT
mean she won’t change her mind about what she wants as she is exposed
to more options and ideas. Same with someone in trade school. They
may think now that is all they want; down the road they may decide
differently. Plenty of folks enroll in college later - no problem
with that!

Just don’t send them to college thinking you are funding a job
training experience. It might be that, but that is not, nor should
it be, the primary goal. That would be an extra added benefit.

Beth in SC who will now get off her soap box


#10
It would be interesting for some of those who participate in this
forum to relate how long it took from graduation in a college
jewelry program to a high paying job in the jewelry industry. 

Two weeks.

I graduated from college and two weeks later started as stone picker
in a factory.

Elaine
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com


#11
Having your passion for a minor lets you take the courses you love,
while the stuff you'll learn in those business courses will help to 

(this is Re: major in business, minor in art)

The problem with this plan is that to take a lot of art classes you
have to take a ton of pre-req.s (to keep the non-majors out) and
many classes are closed except to majors.

So really, you might have to double major, which could add a year to
your schooling.

An entire biz major might not be necessary, perhaps Econ 101 and
some accounting. Those would be good additions to an art major.

Elaine
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com


#12
A college grad came into a shop and lasted about 20 minutes. 

Back in the day when I used to hire more people, I refused to hire
anyone out of an art program in college unless they had actually
spent time working in the industry afterwards. They all had great
ideas, but not one iota of an idea of how to actually make jewelry in
the real world. More recently (about a year ago), I was considering
hiring a bench person and once again tried some people out of the
college art programs. My earlier thoughts on this proved to be the
same once again. Not one of them could sit down and duplicate a
hammered half round band in sterling silver that I had given them to
copy (I mean, a plain, half round band with a peened surface). Two of
them spent 5 hours in my shop and couldn’t get it right. One of them
was able to approximate it a bit, but the end product was nothing I
could sell (assuming I sold sterling silver). The only one of the
four able to finish it and make it look ok, was a woman who had
actually worked in the field for awhile. Still took her 2 hours to
finish a band I did start to finish in less than 15 minutes. Give me
a North Bennet Street or Revere Academy graduate any day but just
skip the art school graduates (at least until they’ve had some
practical experience).

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
www.spirerjewelers.com


#13

Hi, Stephen

I lucked out in that my professors were fairly honest about what it
takes to make a living and did make some effort to expose us to
reality. I also think that times have changed and that the trade
schools are much better artistically than they were back in my day.
Given that much of what passes for art education does not offer
that much in the way of technical rigor, design for the
marketplace, business skills or production efficiency, what are the
alternatives?

I think this is a fascinating topic. I teach in three different
programs – one AE (adult education), one CC (community college) and
one summer program. All three on occasion have had the university art
student attend who wanted to get a better “metals” foundation than
they were getting at the university. While I do integrate design and
creative thinking into what I teach, and we do work with alternative
materials, we do not have the luxury of spending a great deal of time
on the more conceptual and pure art approach to metalwork. Nor would
my students put up with it for any length of time.

If I could dream up the ideal education for a jewelry student today,
it would be to attend a good, solid art metals program (not one that
is too far over the edge, but can see the edge from where they are)
which has an excellent CC or AE program nearby that has classes based
in technique – and then to take classes at both. At most AE or CC
programs I am familiar with the student will come into contact with
not only the hobbyist, but also the jewelers who sell work at shows
and in galleries. They are a great source for learning about the real
world.

So while it may not be an ideal set up, it could be the best
education.

Deb


#14

I will have to say that I came to my career in a different approach.

I had a degree in retail merchandising and design.then.I took
training in metals as ‘something creative to do’ while I was involved
in the fashion business. I never thought I would like to do jewelry
or anything like that but the owners of a studio liked my design and
execution to detail I displayed.so.they asked if I wanter to work for
them making work and I thought.ok. I still worked part-time in the
other job for 10 months, with no day off at all(i was single). just
in case I couldn’t do the jewelry production work.

The work was one-of-a-kind art jewelry and there was 2 college
trained metals people there and 3 who weren’t. I worked there for 2
years and then opened my own studio. I was accepted into the ACC
shows in the early 90’s. I sell also through the fashion markets to
stores. The retail business training was a good background. I have
been making ever since and do it full time.

In 2003 I went back to the same school I received the first degree
from and got the BFA in metals. I wanted to learn more and the school
was nearby. I slowed to part time in the studio and finished the work
at school. I liked the experience and am glad I did it.

I will have to say I am looking to take training in England, as the
University of Central England in Birmingham has a great program. They
allow you to use gold that is furnished by a metals ‘bank’. You make
your work get the images and then you give the gold back or buy it
outright. The whole district there has great services. I think
European training is much better that training here, just my opinion.
I met one of the university professors from there. She teaches
Horology and make the most beautiful timepieces. The cases are of
mokume.

I think it has to do with what you want and researching how to go
about getting where you want to be or, at least, close to it.

Susan
www.ThorntonStudioJewelry.com


#15
The company will train you on their product or system, but they
expect new hires to be able to do design and analysis in line with
their education. Fluid Dynamics, Statistics, Calculus, and more,
are the tools/ techniques of the trade, 

The essence of this discussion is simple as can be: If you take
chemistry, statistics, mathematics, graphic design, psychology, on
and on, you will be prepared for the workplace in that field. No, you
won’t be a senior analyst, but you’ll be prepared. University
metalsmithing programs, in all my experience (beginning with taking
one) do not teach anything related to what goldsmiths actually do,
and graduates walk away with skills and knowlege, to be sure, but
completely disconnected from the real industry, which is BTW hungry
for skilled people. It’s just how it is, yes, but if you want to have
a career in jewelry, go to Revere or similar. It’s the too=
ls/techniques of the trade - what anybody does with them is another
issue, but you gotta know your stuff.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#16
The jewelry trade involves filing endless castings, soldering
endless findings, and more. It also involves setting fabulous
gemstones into innovative designs and watching the world eat it up.
There are no limits but those we put on ourselves. --John Donivan 

That is your jewelry trade, not the whole field. There are people who
make a good living making all the work, findings and all and do well
and are in the ‘jewelry trade’. I am one of those. I own my building
and all the tools, metals and stones. House is paid for too. I do
have a car note.

I am just saying it is possible to do it differently and survive.

Susan
www.ThorntonStudioJewelry.com


#17

I went to a community college in the mid 70’s, major in jewellery
and metalworking.

The masters were very good but had never stepped out of an academic
environment. Business was taught by someone who went bankrupt twice
and was saved the third by a fire.

I did very well at school but on my first real job it took about 15
minutes to realise that I should be fired for incompetence on the
spot. A tolerant employer willing to guide and I survived.

School was fun, I learned a lot (most not all of it practical for
earning $) but it was enough to get my foot in the door of a real
shop. Probably money well spent but at todays school prices and
jeweller wages it is a slightly different call.

Jeff
Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand


#18

During my tenure in college, we were taught the theory behind and
also the practical skills and use of instruments to be able to engage
in geology; i was taught (by doing) surveying, map making, following
the structure of geologic strata, etc in the field and then producing
two dimensional representations of surface and cross section of what
we had measured, etc. btw, i am old enough that we didn’t have
calculators, computers (except the card batch system) and i still use
a slide rule. I do not regret the practical portion of my education
in the least.

but then i went to an engineering school, and engineering is solving
problems, so you have to be prepared.

john
John Atwell Rasmussen
Rasmussen Gems and Jewelry
www.rasmussengems.com


#19

May I give my advice to anyone seeking some education in the art of
metalsmithing. This advice is based on my own experience withing the
trade of goldsmithing.

If you are seeking out a college course try and find a teacher who
has actually worked in the trade and earned their living at it. Here
in the UK, I am afraid to say that many colleges employ teachers who
have never actually worked as a metalsmith, to be a teacher in the UK
only requires you to have the relevant college qualifications. There
are exceptions, as many of my coleages teach their skills in their
spare time at well know colleges, but only those who have had some
sort of college education and are self employed and perhaps may be
short of work. When I was at my prime, I would not have had the time
nor energy to teach an evening course after a days work. My
metalsmith training was entirely from the workshop, although as an
apprentice I had a right to go for one day a week college training.
My goldsmith master would not let me go to college as he was
convinced that it would be a waste of time. He was always quoting the
phrase “He who can, does.He who cannot, teaches” which was a quote
from “Man and Superman” written by George Bernard Shaw back in 1903.
To a certain extent back when I was an apprentice in the 1960s, this
was true.

A few years ago, as I had decided to ease up on work, I offered my
services as a teacher to a local college who taught basic jewellery
classes. They were keen to employ me on a part time basis, but when
they found out that I had no college qualifications they withdrew
their offer for me to teach a day class. All they offered me was to
attend their college and gain the relevant teaching qualifications, I
went to their open day to meet the head jewellery teacher and was
shocked to see the low level of expertise, as shown by the head
jewellery department teacher in an at the bench demonstration. I did
not tell the teacher that I was in the trade and asked a few basic
questions about the manufacturing techniques taught and soon
discovered that they would be of no use whatever to anyone
considering a career as a metalsmith. If you are considering a
college course, make sure you ask to see what your teacher has made
in the past, let your own eyes tell you if this person has the skills
to teach you metalsmithing. Nothing equals an apprenticeship to a
good master, but they are hard to find these days.

On another subject may I also agree with Jeff Herman’s advice about
the “Goldsmith’s Review”, as a Freeman of the Goldsmith’s Company, I
get a free copy posted to me annually and find it a good read Also if
you are working in the trade here in the UK. Register with the
Goldsmith’s Company and they will send out free copies of their
"Technical Bulletin" twice a year. This bulletin gives the latest
on new manufacturing and alloying techniques and
plus also articles on historical methods of
manufacture. The latest edition has an article about engine turning
by David Pledge.

Peace and good health to all
James Miller FIPG
https://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/jmdesign.htm


#20
We have not ruled out a college metals program for our boys.
Certainly some of the schools are better than others. Has anyone
out there got a program they want to pitch to us? 

I would send them to trade school for jewelry and college for
college.

If they happen to go to a college that has metalsmithing and can
take a few courses, that’d be cool too.

This is sort of what I did. I took two metalsmithing college classes,
did trade school, GIA and appraisal training during college (summers,
etc.) and graduated with a BA in something else.

Best of both worlds sort of thing.

Elaine
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com