The sound of hammers was deafening at Clear Creek Academy of Jewelry and Metal Arts over the weekend, when students learned the ancient metal-forming techniques of chasing and repoussé. The workshop featured the guidance of master silversmith Valentin Yotkov, a Bulgarian-born expert in the craft who has trained members of the Tiffany and Co. silverware department.
Chasing and repoussé is a pitch-and-relief metal-working technique. After students hammered a design in relief on a flat, thin piece of metal, they melted the wax holding the metal piece in place so that their metalwork could be detailed from the other side. One final flip allowed the students to put on the finishing touches, and at the end of the process, their pieces had detailed adornments.
Although this weekend's workshop is over, Kathy Pritchett, owner of Clear Creek Academy, hosts numerous classes, including lost cast waxing, forging and forming, silversmithing and open studio. And she often elicits help from experts like Yotkov.
"We try to get people who are professionals to come in and work at our workshops and teach our classes," she says. "Someone who has done this as a profession has a great pool of technical knowledge. Even as a professional, I learn from my students. Students come up with problems that I never thought were possible. And since I did so much repair work, failure is not an option."
Pritchett has a lot of experience herself, which is why she also teaches many of the classes. She's been a jeweler for 37 years, and has owned the Clear Creek Academy since 2004. The name came from its old location, on Clear Creek, but the academy is now located in the heart of the Navajo Art District, by Zip 37 on Navajo Street, where Pritchett works with her apprentice Louisa Berky.
"We love it here," she explains. "It is a much more artistic community than we were at before, so we're enjoying being a part of it."
Having some previous experience would be helpful for one of the more advanced classes, like chasing and repoussé, but there are plenty of beginner-level classes too, Pritchett says, and you don't have to be good at jewelry-making to create something beautiful.
"A lot of the techniques that we show people are very basic jewelry techniques," she notes. "First thing students learn is how to make their own silver ring and how to set a stone, so even a beginner can really learn a wide variety of techniques."
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At the very least, lots of hammering, lighting things on fire, and playing with shiny objects are part of the curriculum -- and you can't go very wrong with that.