My So Charmed Life

Heavy Metal


For my birthday this year, the BF lovingly gave me the gift of tuition for Metalsmithing for Jewelry, Course AR229 at Montgomery College, Rockville Campus. For you non-locals, this is a small community college, about which I had a very snobbish attitude… with my year at RISD, my art degree from UMD, and my decades in the practice of making. Hmmph. But from day one, the experience has exceeded every possible expectation, connecting me again with being an art student, the exhilirating anxiety of classroom learning, term-paper writing, and pushing oneself so far outside of one’s self-imposed boundaries and comfort zones as to literally feel stretched of mind and body.

The metal studio shares a hallway with the drawing studios, and as I’m often a few minutes early, I love seeing the amazing work being done by these first year (mostly 18-year-old) students. The intense and brooding portrait above, hanging in the showcase this morning, is particularly impressive.

Sometimes I file a piece I’m working on while I’m waiting for Tom (aka Mr. Tom) to arrive.

Mr. Tom, a senior practicum student, seems to have some sort of special permission to obtain a key and open the studio door before our teacher arrives.

Allow me to introduce the formidable, extraordinarily talented, world reknowned artist Professor Komelia Okim. Who does not like it when Mr. Tom shows us how to do stuff! Prof Okim makes us feel very nervous and stupid at times, esp. when she is yelling at us to TURN DOWN THE FLAMES… but I think she is just anxious about the serious trouble we newbies are going to get ourselves into, whereby she will be calling for emergency back-up on the bat phone (see below, only used once thusfar in our class! But still!). The professor, who built this remarkable studio and metalsmithing program from the ground up like 40 years ago… also makes us laugh a lot.

The first day of class, we were introduced to The Guillotine, pictured below, for cutting through our heavy sheets of metal. I was seriously terrified, but mastered it quickly enough. Now I can’t believe it ever scared me as it’s the easiest thing in the studio.

That was the day we also learned how to use a jeweler’s saw, each of us breaking a half-dozen or more of the teeny weeny blades and several of us (yours truly for sure) feeling burning tears of frustration well up. What a bad bad idea this class was! Could I get my the BF’s money back?

Pictured above is my bench, which I think I sort of stole from my friend and classmate Ellen back in the beginning of the semester (Ellen, I’m so sorry!), and it has become my little cozy spot for working. I’ve been compiling a list of tools and supplies for the home studio, including the V-pin, as noted above. One of the more affordable essentials!

This is one of eight torch-soldering stations. Soldering is difficult, really tricky. Last week I had a HUGE breakthrough, and just sort of got it. Temperature control, and dextrous manipulation of molten objects and materials without setting your hair and eyelashes on fire. Yep, got it! Just remember: Red = gas, green = air! Lefty Lucy, righty tighty. Right? AND TURN DOWN THAT FLAME BEFORE YOU BURN THE STUDIO TO THE GROUND!

After using the fire to anneal or solder, your piece will go in the pickle pot. There are no pickles in the pickle pot. Just hot acid. Sorry.

The sheer number of machines, hand tools, chemicals and other scary fascinating stuff in the studio is really off the hook. The machine above is for grinding/sharpening/cleaning the metal BBQ skewers you are going to use while soldering. Sparks fly when you do this. Which is sorta cool.

Pictured above, my most dreaded and feared machine… a saw/sewing machine that seriously desires to cut your fingers off one by one and enjoy doing so. I just can’t seem to warm up to this thing and hyperventilate while having to use it. Which probably doesn’t help.

Now this fella, I love! I love the hydraulic press (above) so much in fact, that I’m looking into a desktop model for the studio at home. So what this amazing thing does is puff your annealed (torch-softened) metal into a little pillow, in any shape you’ve designed. The puffy objects I’m working on make me laugh and smile, they are just… silly and wonderful. The whole concept of metal behaving like fabric is mind blowing and inspiring. I could do this all day long.

Before you puff your metal, you might texture it with the tools pictured above. This is fun and easy, and really the only technique I was familiar with from a bit of stamping I’d done at home.

Prof. Okim likes to tell me to save my scraps, but I generally can’t be bothered with these little razor sharp bits that could send you off to the hospital for stitches in a heartbeat. Pictured above is the scrap box… I understand there is someone who recycles it for cash. Good for him, and be careful!

Another delightful spot in the studio is The Stump Room. Here you’ll find actual tree stumps into which someone has hand-carved lovely little rounded divets of varying depths for forming metals into bowls. I am working on one such bowl, hours and hours and hours of labor. At one point I thought: Why am I doing this? I could buy this bowl at Target for 99 cents instead of sitting here like Fred Flinstone hammering a resistant piece of metal into a… wait, this bowl is sooooooo cool. I hold it in my hands and CAN’T BELIEVE I made it. My mom saw the bowl this weekend and she couldn’t stop holding and petting it. I mean it’s just a bowl but it was once a solid flat sheet of metal!

There’s a whole cabinet of hammers and mallets, and it’s fun to sit in here pounding away. Prof. Okim tells us to work out our frustrations on these stumps!

Vice on Stump. I can’t say why this amuses me so. I need a good vice at home also. And a stump for that matter.

Speaking of amusing, these girls, best-friends Aidan and Lizzie, just absolutely kill me. Aidan is a seriously talented artist (and super funny) who will go on to make some spectacular things… and Lizzie… well, she is SUCH a delightful troublemaker. Can’t you see that glint in her eye? PLUS, she thought I was in my 30’s!! I love these teenagers! They make me laugh and have been great company through this incredibly challenging class.

Pictured above, my benchmate neighbor, and friend, Tiffany, who is desperately awaiting the NBA to settle their nonsense so life can return to normal (the BF concurs), and who is always good for a field trip to the school store for supplies and a soda. Tiffany and I struggled with those jewelry saws together and I truly admire her perseverance and good humor. This class is not for the faint of heart and Tiffany will flash me a smile and just keep on working away at her projects.

Two and a half hours in the metal studio goes quickly. Suddenly, it’s time to clean up for the next batch of would-be jewelers, and for me, time to make the 45-minute drive home to walk dogs and eat lunch, to my work for designfarm, to my daughter, my “real” life. As I head across the parking lot on a chilly fall day, the sky is the same gray blue I remember it being in the month or so before Providence would become uninhabitable and frozen. And, I can’t help but feel very changed by those 2.5 hrs in Room 302. Regardless of my state of mind on any morning, I enter feeling a little nervous, somewhat incapable, femme-y and weak. Always though, I leave feeling accomplished, powerful, capable. And there is an exciting sense of miles and miles of road untravelled, with many creative adventures just waiting to be had.

Stay tuned for pictures of the work, some of which is pretty good! Some, not so much. But I’ll share it all with you dear readers.

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