Metalsmithing & Jewelry

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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.

Maine College of Art - Metalsmithing & Jewelry Design from Maine College of Art on Vimeo.

Shelby Goldsmith, 2013

Goldsmith, 2013
Redbank, New Jersey

Where were you before coming to MECA?
Redbank, New Jersey,

What brought you to MECA?
I used to come up to Maine in the summers with friends up to a cabin. When my dad and I started looking at schools, he found it. When I visited the school the small school environment definitely sold me. The 24/7 access and the size of the school were appealing as well. Also, I liked the availability of studio space. I was excited to be at a place that had great facilities that wasn’t compromised by its size.

What surprises have you encountered with your education here?
One thing that surprised me was all the encouragement I received. I came here for photo but really wanted to switch into metalsmithing. The faculty gave me the confidence and courage to go in another direction. I took 101 and casting and was like, “Yep. I’m going to do this now.” When you change your life path and go do something different, it’s a really big deal. Especially to something that I barely knew anything about and barely had any experience in.

What is the best thing you’ve learned in terms of real world experience while being here?
I think that it’s come from simply watching all of my teachers. It’s really cool with all of their professional practices and lifestyles, knowing that’s where I want to be. As a metalsmith you can strive to simply make utilitarian work to sell, but you really want to see yourself putting your work in galleries and really pushing yourself.

How would you describe your art making style?
My ideas are very conceptual.  The formal craft follows as aspects of the idea. I draw influence from looking at a lot of other work. We create archives in metals that we use for influence. I usually make something three times over before I can make it without messing it up. There’s a lot of reflecting where you think about the process to pinpoint your tendencies and the conditions you work under.

What are some of your other hobbies and interests?
I still have a strong interest in photography, which helps, because in metals you have to photograph your work. You can see a piece in a gallery, but otherwise you usually only see photos of the work. So that’s something I’m interested in -- making pictures of my own metals work -- and just photos in general. There’s a fine line between making art and my hobbies.

What made you choose to major in metalsmithing and jewelry?
In the very end it ended up being the determination it left me with. I was taking a photo class and a metals class at the same time, and it came down to which class I spent the most time in. I spent so much more time in metals than I did in photo. I was just really determined to do something right, even if I wasn’t that great at it at the time. You can’t always just go with what you’re good with. That can’t be what makes up your mind. I felt that sense of determination was a valuable skill to have. In time, I figured out the work I wanted to make conceptually was really well suited with metals because it’s so closely intertwined with the body, which photography can be, but it is inherent  in metalsmithing.

How has MECA helped you network outside of the school?
I think it started happening for me when I started receiving recognition in the school for work well done. I had a board critique while the merit show was up, that one of my teachers organized for my installation. I was able to talk with board members about my work, which was really cool. Working with  MECA faculty member Jeffrey Clancy while he taught at Penland was a really great opportunity as well. It was one of those places where you’re learning from really highly skilled artists in a really casual and informal setting where you’re watching them work and their methods. First Friday is another venue to put yourself out there. In general, the school just provides so many opportunities.

What are your future goals and dreams?
I think since metalsmithing and jewelry is something I’m still working at, it’s hard to place myself among a specific place where I want to be, in a category. As a few general goals and dreams, I would say that I definitely would like to find that niche of where my work fits and belongs. For instance I just got into my first show and I was looking at the catalog on the website. And there was this woman whose workshop I went to at a conference at UMass Dartmouth and I was so impressed by her slideshow. It was really great to see myself in the same catalog as her. I just felt really blown away.

How has MECA helped you form these goals?
I think one contributing factor is the visiting artists we have that come to talk to us. You really learn what  opportunities they had and where they ended up after them. You see those opportunities in your own life and how they may land you in certain places. I think you just learn about what there is that you can do. There’s not just that one thing that you can do after you graduate. It’s inspiring, in a cheesey sort of way, because you kind of see that the sky is the limit when you’re listening to a lecture.


What expectations do you have from MECA in helping you achieve these goals when you're an alumni?
The people that have graduated from MECA is a small number, but the things that these people have done is pretty big. That tight-knit, small volume of people thing is a  cool community where alums want to give you opportunities.


Sharon Portelance

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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

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Metalsmithing & Jewelry Faculty - Sharon Portelance

Seth Gould '09

Gould '09
Harwich, MA

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.

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.

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.

Not very well! But it made me want to get good at it. I was like, okay, I can do this.

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.

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