Take the world’s oldest art form and make it relevant in the 21st century - that’s the challenge of modern jewelry makers and metalsmiths, and one we embrace at MECA. In one of our most discipline-intensive studies, Metalsmithing & Jewelry majors develop a deep understanding of the intimate connection between object and body. You’ll not only learn to make beautiful objects - but how to make meaning. The tools and techniques you master will come together as you create in wood, marble, fabric, glass and less traditional materials. Throughout your studies, you’ll learn the vast history of the art form, question the meaning of material value, the concept of power and even the definition of jewelry. Ultimately, you’ll discover how to captivate people with your metalwork that will capture your ideas and last for millennia.
Not content to spend her summer with one internship, this year MECA’s Elizabeth “Betsy” Lewis traveled to New York City to intern for jewelry designer Janice Grzyb, as well as Erin Daily and Brian Weissman, owners of Brooklyn Metal Works.
“My objectives for this summer were to be thrown into the depths of the metals industry,” Betsy explains, hence her choice to work with two very different kinds of metalworkers rather than just one. Over the course of the dual internships, she reflects, “I was introduced the differences between production work and art work, which raised a lot of questions for what kind of artist I want to be.”
While working as a bench assistant for Janice Grzyb, Betsy learned a number of jewelry-making processes, including oxidizing, tumbling, finishing and soldering. She was also introduced to the business side of making and selling jewelry, with her tasks including inventory control, pricing, inspection of materials, and negotiation with vendors. In fact, Janice recalls, “the processes and many aspects of running a business were of special interest. I believe this was a profound realization for Elizabeth.” Furthermore, she praises Betsy as being “refreshing and extremely eager to learn. Her enthusiasm was well felt by all in my studio.” By the end of her internship, Betsy had produced finished jewelry pieces for Janice’s fall 2013 collection.
Meanwhile, at Brooklyn Metal Works, Betsy had very different jobs to do and very different things to learn. Tasked primarily with maintaining and organizing the studio, gallery and school, Betsy maintained a weekly cleaning schedule, as well as creating an inventory of tools and helping to set up and take down several galleries and artists’ talks. Once again, Betsy took a particular interest in how the business itself was run, with Brian noting that she “really came to appreciate how much work it takes to run a studio/gallery/school”. He further added, “I feel she got a pretty well rounded understanding of the assorted knowledge and skills needed to make a multifaceted business like this run.” Her passion also continued to help her, with Brian remarking that “Betsy’s enthusiasm was her greatest strength because she was always ready to try something new with the tools and techniques she was learning.” This love for her work encouraged Betsy to attend workshops at the school, try out tools she had never used before, and ultimately complete several of her own projects by the internship’s end.
In reflection, Betsy was thoroughly pleased with her time at both internships, and with all the things she had learned. “Janice Grzyb gave me a taste of what it was like to be a working production jeweler, craftsman, and teacher,” she explained, “while Erin and Brian showed me the tough and small world of what it is like to be in the metal arts.” Overall, she concluded, “It gave me a sense of where I want to be in ten years. The work I did and the people I met gave me a lot of ideas about what I can do, and the kind of person/artist I want to be.”
After receiving her BFA in Jewelry and Silversmithing in 1982 from the Portland School of Art (now Maine College of Art), Professor Portelance traveled the country, ultimately settling in Seattle, Washington, where she began her studio practice and discovered what was to become her future in teaching at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle.
In 1989, Professor Portelance returned to the east coast to attend graduate school at the State University of New York at New Paltz, receiving her MFA degree in Metal in 1992. While in the Mid-Hudson Valley, she maintained her studio practice, producing provocative work that was exhibited though out the United States. In 1996 to 1998, she taught at both Southwest Texas State University and the University of Texas in Austin; she was also invited to teach metal skills to a group of indigenous people in Michoacan, Mexico, and to lecture at institutions worldwide, including The Akademie de Bildenden Kunste in Munich, Germany, and Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. Since then she has been a guest lecturer throughout the United States and in the Czech Republic and Canada.
Professor Portelance has been teaching at MECA since 1999. She maintains an active studio practice, exhibiting both nationally and internationally. Her work can be viewed in collections at New Mexico State University Museum in Las Cruces, The Samuel Dorskey Museum in New Paltz, New York and the Okresni Muzeum Ceskeho raje in Turnov, Czech Republic. Her work has been featured in *Ornament Magazine*, *Metalsmith Magazine, *and Lark Book publications (“1000 Rings” and “500 Bracelets”). Her latest body of work explores the relationship of the body’s interior and exterior, while continuing an ongoing investigation into the nature of jewelry and how it can operate both privately and publicly.
BFA in Jewelry and Silversmithing, Portland School of Art (now Maine College of Art); MFA in Metal, State University of New York at New Paltz
Metalsmithing & Jewelry Faculty - Sharon Portelance
Seth Gould '09
I knew I wanted to go to either an art school or a liberal arts school and study art. I visited almost every art school on the East Coast - some big schools and some little ones. MECA was my first choice.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER METALSMITHING?
It was on my tour of MECA. It was a private tour for just my family and me. I had never seen metalsmithing before. First semester freshman year, I signed up.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PROJECT?
Learning how to saw - literally just cutting metal with a jewelers saw. The assignment was cutting two small squares of metal and making a thoughtful composition that would work when the two pieces overlapped.
HOW’D IT TURN OUT?
Not very well! But it made me want to get good at it. I was like, okay, I can do this.
ANY DOWNSIDE TO YOUR CHOSEN MAJOR?
I had to get glasses because I work so close to my pieces.
What are some of the career paths for someone who majors in Metalsmithing & Jewelry?
Become a bench jeweler for a jewelry store, set up a gallery and studio, become a self-sustaining one of a kind jeweler or production jeweler. Teach art, become a manager within a large jewelry corporation, go to graduate school, become a watchmaker.
How do you prepare your students for the real world?
Beyond our professional practice course students are also required each year as a major to apply for a juried national student exhibition, We encourage students to do internships and we also work with local jewelers and metalsmiths to provide competitive opportunities for our students.
Once a major, students learn to develop their own studio practice. Students are expected to work more independently while learning to generate, develop and execute work from self-determined areas of inquiry.
What are some examples of what your alums are doing?
Alum examples: gallery owners, teachers, studio artists, watchmaker in Switzerland, designing portable water filters for third world countries, many students go to grad school Students also leave the institution with such skills as technical proficiency (the ability to manipulate and construct with materials, are visually acute, gain critical capabilities, and are creative problem solvers. These skills can be applied to many fields in the arts, in industry and in an entrepreneurial business practice. Our students are empowered to think creatively and many have the ability to link unorthodox connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. This kind of insight regardless of what they choose to do, encourages new ways of thinking and can solve problems at large.
What are the prerequisites to major in Metalsmithing & Jewelry?
Students must complete MJ101 and any of the four rotating elective courses that include Casting, Tableware, enameling or “More than one” (production).
What unique skills do your students get?
Students learn how to learn. They learn how to design, develop ideas and execute them with skill. They learn how to research and pursue answers to questions on their own.
There is a strong emphasis in developing all aspects of ones work that include: Strong technical skills and design sensibility in relationship to one’s idea. developing on tools and mechanics (the way things work).
Will I be able to incorporate other media or interests with my work as a Metalsmithing & Jewelry major?
As students move through the program they are also encouraged to explore non-traditional materials and their potential meaning in relationship to jewelry and hollowware. Students learn how to transfer the technical and problem solving skills they learned in metal to manipulate new materials. Students have incorporated multiple materials in their work that include felt, wood, orange peels, pantyhose, plastic and much more.
What are some of the classes that are offered in your department?
After gaining basic skills in MJ 101 the 1st and 2nd year elective classes focus on introducing students to multiple aspects of the field that include enameling, casting, tableware and production. All assignments address technique, design considerations and concept in relationship to the diverse formats of jewelry and hollowware.
What are some of the unique aspects of this program?
Students begin by learning how to view metal as a plastic, malleable, seductive material. All of the techniques that students need to begin expressing their ideas is covered in Metals I and II. These techniques are taught through ideas and concepts.
What are the faculty like?
Our faculty are working artists who bring diverse expertise and aspects of the field to the classroom. Their voices both compliment one another and provide varying viewpoints.
What are your facilities like?
Facilities include general elective classroom space with enameling facilities, a forming and casting room, a finishing room, and majors studio space. Our studio is well equipped to learn techniques required to become a successful jeweler and metalsmith. These techniques include basic jewelery and metalsmithing skills as well as specific equipment necessary to learn fomring, rainsing, enameling, and casting. Our majors share a generous studio space where each students has their own bench for two years.
What are some examples of internships your students have done in the past?
Portland has a wealth of self-employed jewelers in the Portland area and many of our students have pursued internships with them. For example Folia, a local gallery and jewelry shop, has hired many of our students to do internships. Patti Daunis, another locally successful jeweler who does shows throughout the country also hires students. These students are exposed to a number of new technical skills and begin to see the inside operations of what it takes to run and own ones own business. If a student is interested in developing a production line we will work with them to find the appropriate person to do an internship with so that they also learn the many aspects of designing for production. This year three students will be doing internships with the Metalsmithing & Jewelry faculty over the summer. Students will learn about various ways in which different artists pursue their work and learn new technical skills as well.
How many students (juniors and seniors) do you typically have in your major?
Anywhere from 10-18 students.