Students twisted wire with pliers, used a jeweler’s saw to cut designs from sheets of copper and brass, pounded metal with hammers to add texture and learned to solder two pieces of metal together with a torch.
This was Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design, a fine arts elective that debuted at Byram Hills High School in the fall and will continue next year.
The introductory course taught students the principles of design using metal as they learned to create small-scale sculpture and jewelry. Students learned how to smooth the rough edges of the metal with files and sandpaper, how to rivet and use a drill to create cold connections and decorative holes, and to polish their pieces to a high shine.
With assignments that called upon students to make a piece with movement and to create a modern interpretation of a historical artwork, the inaugural class made all sorts of objects. There were round boxes, picture frames, earrings, necklaces and rings, wall hangings and key chains.
Art teacher Jayne Karlin, an experienced jewelry maker who taught the class, was impressed with the strength of the students’ work, especially since they had to learn to use the equipment and the techniques before they could start creating.
“I was really, really pleased,” she said. “I had great students who were very serious and wanted to learn.”
The class offers students a new way to express themselves artistically in a medium that can be two or three dimensional and helps teach them patience. Working with metal is very time consuming and it is hard to manipulate.
“This teaches them there are steps and procedures and there is something positive in taking your time and thinking through a problem,” she said. “It can’t be done quickly.”
Learning to use the hand tools can also help students later in life.
“If you’re a homeowner, you need to know these things,” Ms. Karlin said. “These are real-world skills that have to do with everyday life. If you have to fix something, what kind of hammer or plier are you going to use?”
Senior Sofia Garcia called Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design one of her favorite classes and she enjoyed the freedom students had to make what they wanted.
“Now I do consider myself to be a little more creative because we had a lot of leeway in the projects,” she said.
Working with metal was both relaxing and a good way to relieve stress, she said, and required focus.
“It’s kind of a way to get out your anger,” she said. “We’re hitting metal the entire class and also you have to be focused. You can’t be spacing out. You have to get your work done. It’s engaging.”
Finishing a project was the sweetest reward.
“Completing a piece is the best thing because of the fact that it’s so much hard work and you have to be so focused,” said Sofia, who often wears the jewelry she made.
Proudly taking home a project to show her family “made me feel great,” she said.
Principal Christopher Walsh says the course is the perfect example of the ‘A’ in STEAM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics education.
“Students are using so many design skills and their products are true assessments of their learning,” he said. “I wish we could offer more classes like it. We are extremely lucky to have a teacher like Jayne Karlin who is always looking to expand our offerings and bring them in line with real-world applications.”
Sofia learned the real-world lesson of just how difficult it can be to make something by hand.
“You don’t realize how hard jewelry making really is until you do it,” she said. “It’s so easy to buy jewelry at the store. Making it is so different. It’s a great feeling having a completed piece done.”