Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Out of the jewelry bubble

Last night I returned home from five days at the Peters Valley Craft Center but it feels like I've been gone for much longer. It was a transformative experience, not least because, for five days, I was totally focused on one thing. I don't think I've experienced that kind of exhilarating all-consuming engagement since grad school. Here's how the days went: breakfast from 7-8:30, class from 9-12, lunch from 12-1, class from 1 or 1:30 to 5:30, dinner from 6-7:30, class from 7:30-10. Turns out that "jewelry camp" is exactly what it was.

The setting is incredibly beautiful and very isolated: the nearest Starbucks is 25 miles away. (Fortunately, the kitchen made excellent coffee.) The accommodations are, shall we say, somewhat rustic. It wasn't so much the yard sale collection of seen-better-days furniture that bothered me, or even the violently green velour bedspreads apparently made out of polyethylene, or the can of flying insect spray thoughtfully provided in each room. The worst thing was that the bathrooms had signs in them warning you not to drink the water, but saying that it was ok to use it to brush your teeth! Kinda creepy. However, the food was good, the people were interesting, and the workshop was, ultimately, thrilling.

The class started with a morning of technique demos performed by Rick Marshall, the workshop teacher and head of Fine Metals at Peters Valley. He then set us the task of making a two-sided puffed heart pendant out of copper with one small heart applied to the surface and another cut out. I think we all panicked at that point - it seemed like an impossible task. With lots of support from Rick and his fantastic assistant, Aalia, we all managed to finish our hearts (except for the one woman who bailed before lunch the first day). My first heart is on the left. About 30% of the front surface is actually covered with solder - patina hides a multitude of sins, including wayward solder. I also managed to smush a big thumbprint into the front of the heart while sanding it. The second heart I started right after finishing the first one - I was intent on making one that looked cleaner. It took much less time and only about 20% of the front is covered with solder. Progress!

The puffed hearts were made with a hydraulic press -- basically a powerful jack, like they have in garages, attached to a frame. An incredibly useful tool and one (among many) I now feel that I cannot live without. Here's the very press that I used in making these hearts and several other pieces of jewelry. And here's a picture of my workbench. Note that it's incredibly messy and that I've snagged one of the flex-shaft machines available for student use. I was determined to do three things at this workshop: learn to solder, learn how to set a cabochon stone, and figure out if it was worthwhile to replace my Dremel with a real flexshaft machine. The answer to that question is a resounding Yes! In fact, I ordered the economy model from Contenti today. According to Rick, this model is perfectly good for the beginning jeweler, especially if you splurge on a Lucas foot control to replace the control that comes with it - which, of course, I did.

Sorry for all the technical jargoneering -- part of the experience was a total immersion in the language and techniques of metalsmithing for jewelry and I haven't quite escaped the jewelry-making bubble. I took my laptop intending to keep a record for the blog while I was away, but the only time I wrote was after I arrived on the night before the workshop started. Once it began I pretty much didn't think of anything else for five days. Any free time I had was spent sketching, thinking about jewelry-making, looking at jewelry related books and magazines, or talking to other workshop participants, mostly about jewelry-making. Or taking quick cat-naps - the intensity of focus was exhausting. I ate three hearty meals a day, as if I were doing heavy physical labor (and, amazingly, didn't gain any weight). While there were a few things that required a significant amount of actual physical labor, most of the work was exhausting because it was so painstaking, and so damn little! (Note the jump ring soldered onto the first heart. It's only about 4mm wide. I attached it at some point later in the workshop and there's not a bit of extra solder around it - but it took ages to set up and execute.)

Clearly this is a story that's going to take a few days to tell. I'll close with a tally of wildlife sightings, since the wildlife, especially of the tick-ish variety, was one of my big concerns:

What I saw at Peters Valley:
Rabbits: 40-50 (I stopped counting around the mid-twenties, which was on the 3rd day)
Chipmunks: 12
Deer: 6
Wild turkeys: 2
Turtles: 1
Bears: 1
Ticks: 0


knitsteel said...

It sounds magical and a little scary. Hmmmm... My husband saw a bear when he was there too. It sounds like it might be a good idea to bring bottled water along...

On the other hand, your puffed hearts are indeed magical. If that's your first experience with soldering and forming, then you did a fantastic job. Too bad about the woman who bailed early.

TrueMirage said...

Definitely bring bottled water! Lots. It's not that easy to find a store nearby or to find the time to find a store.

It is too bad about the woman who quit early on. She'd been coming to Peters Valley for 17 years doing ceramics and I think she'd forgotten what it's like to be a rank beginner at something. She was extremely unhappy from the beginning.

Thanks for your kind words about the hearts.

DC Designs said...

a lady jumped ship after the first day, wow!

congrats on the new tool.

I love the fact that you were counting rabbits! ;)