I just got back in the office after a 5-day trip to the Milwaukee Bead & Button show. What an amazing experience! The Bead & Button Show hosts nearly 400 classes from the nation’s best jewelry instructors. I was extremely impressed by all of my instructors and I learned more about metalsmithing than I imagined was possible in such a short time span.
I have some experience with assembly and basic wire/beading skills but I was nervous to take metalsmithing classes. As a beginner I was afraid of doing something stupid like burning my arm with the soldering torch or sawing into my finger. I am happy to report that my only injury from the weekend was a blister on my foot from my new flats.
My first course was from the talented Julie Sanford who regularly teaches at national events and also offers courses at her studio in Grand Haven, MI. Julie has a background in art education so she did a wonderful job teaching techniques and composition. The class focused on surface finishing using the rolling mill, texture plates, stamps and hammers. Additional skills included patination, riveting and shaping. We completed two cuff bracelets in class. I think my copper practice cuff turned out pretty well but I am not completely happy with my sterling piece – live and learn:)
My second course was with Joe and Anat Silvera who have produced many instructional videos and authored Soldering Made Simple, the popular book published by Kalmbach. They run the Silvera Jewelry School in Berkeley, CA. The Silveras are gifted teachers who obviously have a lot of experience with students. They had an amazing bench set up with a video camera projecting close-up side angles of Joe’s hands that was displayed on a large screen for demos. We could look directly at Joe demonstrating techniques and then also look up to see the close-up screen to get a different perspective. We sawed, filed, raised and textured several pendants in class to learn various techniques.
My third class was by Lisa Lehmann of Studio Jewel in Grand Rapids, MI. This was Lisa’s first year teaching at Bead & Button. She did an amazing job creating a project that incorporated a wide variety of basic metalsmithing skills. Plus, she included demos on the Flex Shaft and allowed for each of us to get some time experimenting with Flex Shaft accessories. Lisa and her lovely assistant Anneke both have a great sense of humor that made the class a lot of fun.
The grand finale of the week was my Saturday Basicz Soldering Course with Thomas Mann of New Orleans, LA. Thomas Mann is an accomplished jeweler with wide distribution in the United States. He is a major influencer on the American Craft movement who has helped to drive focus on business skills development for artisans. Tom will be opening studioFLUX jewelry school in New Orleans this July. He also travels extensively to teach jewelry technique classes around the country and present art business seminars. Taking a soldering class from Thomas Mann feels like taking a guitar lesson from Jimmy Page. The class focused on a soldering skills drill that resulted in a small sculptural piece. I found that I am terrible at soldering but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Once the torch made me less nervous I saw how much fun it is to work at high temperatures and I loved it!
This week was invaluable in helping me to understand our customers’ needs better by gaining more technical knowledge. I also left with a much better appreciation for different tools and materials. These experiences will greatly influence our product merchandising to support the needs of our client base. I should have made metasmithing courses a priority long ago. Better late than never! I am officially hooked and hope to squeeze in some bench time here and there to keep learning more.
My next big project is setting up a jewelry bench here at the office. I am so excited. I have been ordering new tools and bench organizers all morning. I have several ideas for product features in our 2012 catalog so I need to get busy practicing all my new skills. A week like this just makes me realize how much I have to learn. Hopefully, I will be taking more metalsmithing classes again very soon. Maybe I will see some of you at Bead & Button 2012!