by Linda Kline
I’m having a challenge with my evening class at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. I’ve been teaching weekly classes there for the past ten years. This semester I have a class in the morning and another in the evening. It’s been years since my evening class has had enough students to meet the class size requirement, so I was delighted when it made. But I’d forgotten how different the dynamics are between day and night classes.
The morning group is fresh, lively, and nicely buzzed on caffeine. There is lots of noise, chatter, and excitement in the studio. They are a diverse group ranging from beginners to advanced artists, all very supportive of each other.
The evening group is as opposite as “night from day.” Probably a bit tired-out from a long day, these folks are quieter and more subdued. They are new to metal clay artistry with expectations that far exceed their skill level. Still, as a teacher, you have to admire students who set the bar high.
The group is an interesting mix that includes a father, mother, daughter trio with no jewelry-making experience. Dad is an avid collector of bling and came to class with a collection of amazingly beautiful, but unidentified gemstones. When I saw the stones, I launched into my discourse about what can and cannot be successfully fired. Intuition told me I was being ignored by at least one member of the class.
One evening, I asked to see the students’ homework assignments, which were to be drawing of the first pieces they would create. The previous week, I had lectured about composition, design, and balance. I had ended with specific criteria for the construction of the first piece, which was to have ONE gemstone.
Dad did an excellent job designing a simple, straight-forward piece which was very executable for a beginner. As for mom and daughter, their love of bling took hold of their sensibilities. They showed me drawings with so many gemstones, Elizabeth Taylor would blush. My stomach sank. They were in for disappointment and I knew it. All of my warnings about keeping it simple were ignored, as were my concerns about using untested gemstones. Despite my renewed efforts to convince them to go the simple route, they were going for it!
One hour later, mom was defiantly struggling to hold a magnifying glass in one hand and set eight heart-shaped gemstones with the other. Daughter had downsized her design from eleven stones to five to none. Frustration finally got the better of her. She scraped the design and folded up shop for the night.
It’s always a delicate balance. I tell my students to “crawl, walk, and then run.” I explain that it’s a process: learn the fundamentals and then enter the marathon. But sometimes students simply need to understand things for themselves. I can push, prod, encourage, explain, warn, explain again, warn again, and strongly advise against a design in the strongest of terms. But at the end of the day, these are adults and (barring safety concerns) sometimes there is no alternative but to allow a student charge down the unwise path and learn a lesson from firsthand experience.
Four weeks later. . .
We are now in the fourth week of class and we’ve come a long way. Everyone is having a great time and their skills and confidence have grown to the point where they can master those challenging pieces. After the frustrating experiences of the first projects, they have also developed an appreciation for taking things one step at a time.
Same of the mysterious gemstones did melt in the kiln, but with a not-too-unfortunate result. Mom set several of the stones in a syringed design. When they melted, they created a plique a jour enameled effect. It was actually a very interesting design and I’ve encouraged her to add more stones to the piece for a deliberate effect.