Raleigh has top pharmaceutical companies. It has top tech companies. It has top universities. It also has world-class jewelry makers.
Betty McKim is an expert in metal design, and her work has been featured in galleries throughout the state. Cynthia Deis has created jewelry for catalogs including J.Jill, Anthropologie and The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Mary Ann Scherr has sold her work to Andy Warhol, Liz Claiborne, Perry Ellis and Chelsea Clinton.
And that is just to name just three. There are many more, and they all share their experience and talent by teaching those eager to learn.
“Jewelry-making might just be the perfect craft hobby because in a relatively short amount of time, almost anyone can become proficient enough to make something that looks good enough to wear, or even give as a gift,” Deis said. “If you can tie your shoes, you can make a necklace.”
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Deis is co-owner of Ornamentea, a Raleigh shop that sells fine beads and jewelry-making supplies and offers classes in a wide variety of techniques, including metalsmithing, beading, etching, forging and enameling.
Scherr advises people who are interested in jewelry making to take a basic class.
“You may decide you never want to do this again,” she said. But “if you find something that interests you, you can then take it further on your own.”
Scherr teaches a course at The Crafts Center at N.C. State University called “Metal Jewelry: Discover your personal style.” She also teaches a similar class in her studio.
And across the street from N.C. State at the Pullen Arts Center, Betty McKim runs a very popular metals program that is part of Raleigh Parks and Recreation.
Enamel like magic
Renee Goodwin of Raleigh was introduced to beadwork by friends and discovered Ornamentea’s class offerings when she was shopping for materials. The medical writer estimates she has taken 15 to 20 classes since 2007. She likes Ornamentea for its wide range of classes and its knowledgeable and helpful staff.
Goodwin says her favorite projects have used the technique of enameling. Enameling involves coating metal with a powder and then heating it with either a blowtorch or a kiln. “It is really cool watching the colors appear,” Goodwin said.
Recently Goodwin and Tina Moll, a college English tutor from Franklinton, took a class that combined sawing and enameling to create a koi fish pendant.
Moll said she couldn’t wait to get done with the sawing so she could get to the enameling. “That day I broke five saw blades.”
Like Goodwin, Moll loves watching the seemingly magical process of turning a powder coating into a smooth, colorful finish.
Passion becomes career
That kind of passion can blossom into a career. Scherr, whose pieces are in permanent collections everywhere from the Vatican Museum of Contemporary Art to The Smithsonian Institution, began her jewelry design career almost by accident. It was 62 years ago, just after her first child was born, and she was going crazy from the lack of creative stimulation.
“I searched about for solutions that would give me pleasure beyond a baby and the smothering apartment walls,” Scherr said. “The only class that suited my available hours was a jewelry class.”
It was a metals class, and after just two sessions, she was hooked.
“The metal sheet was an open alluring canvas of possibilities,” she said.
Even today, her goal is to produce a unique piece every day.
As N.C. State Craft Center director George Thomas likes to say, the possibilities are endless. “It is amazing what you can create with a one-inch square of metal.”