My Very First Metalsmithing Piece

In the summer of 1994, I took several Silversmithing classes at the Taos Institute of Art, In Taos, NM. (which I believe is no longer running) I took classes with renowned artists Phil Poirier, and Marilynn Nicholson. And sadly, had a class with Harold O’Connor, but that one got cancelled 🙁
So My beginnings officially come in an educational setting. Prior to that I was wire wrapping crystals for many years, and stringing gemstone beads, etc.
Me, learning to solder, 1994, Marilynn’s studio.
I admit, I was awfully ambitious. 🙂
The bracelet pictured here , honest; was my project; at the end of two weeks with Marilynn. The ring shown was made sometime during that time frame, but I just can’t remember when. probably first. The design started with getting the stone, from Marilynn’s personal stash of amazing cabs. And then I modelled it after my first tattoo design – which at that point was only a concept on paper 🙂
Being the perfectionist I am though, I no longer have either piece, as I ripped them both apart for scrap. Criminal, I know. But as much as I loved the bracelet, it was awfully big for a cuff, and I don’t think I ever wore it. (lesson in design, and functionality) Not that I have an issue with big, but it wasn’t comfortable. Too loose. The ring I no doubt wore for years? But, well, when you can make better things…. you do, right? So all that is left is these photos. From the time before digital. They were maybe once better images, but time is fading them.
Bracelet, Silver and copper, with malachite, and malachite-azurite, 1994, AndesCruz
So having said that…. it was asked… What does this mean to me? Well, when I went to New Mexico to spend a summer taking art classes ( I also took a traditional pottery workshop, and black and white photography;) it was a summer of discovery. I went to take 8 weeks of classes. A couple months after a ‘forced’ Retirement from competitive skiing. I say forced, because I had a knee surgery the previous fall, and did one full season of competition after. The season was a continued effort of pain, and struggle. So, even though it was my life, hope and dream… it no longer was enjoyable, and fun. So I made a very , very difficult and unfathomable choice at age 20….to change directions. Something I never expected to do. To leave my first true love- Freestyle Skiing. And with that…. I had no idea which direction I was pointed. I was empty, and alone, and to be honest, quite sad. It didn’t seem very fair.
But… I had always been an artist, and thought, well…. I have to start somewhere, so why not explore it? See if I can anchor myself again. Find a new passion….And I knew , in a way, that ones does, with the metals, that I would find a new calling. I was right. Working with metals and tools, and silver, and stones….. I don’t think the first day passed when I knew this was it, what I needed to do. Wanted to do… So although I very much enjoyed the pottery, and photography; I have been tied to metal since my first moment.
So, the summer in NM was big. It meant huge things. I found a direction and purpose again. And had a small bit of training and skills to take into the world… As the anchor for what would become the new me.
The classes I took that summer were one week intensives. 40 weeks of hands on with amazing artists in all artistic endeavors. The first 2 I took were beginning, and beginning advanced Jewellery with Marilynn Nicholson. So basic skills. But up to and including roller mill printing, and crazy bezel setting. The next two weeks worth of classes were much more advanced, with Goldsmith Phil Poirier. And though I learned a lot from Marilynn, and adored her as a teacher and person; it is Phil, who changed the direction and path of my existence in metal. The man is the most brilliant, amazing teacher I have ever experienced. Knowledgeable, vast in skill sets, a wonderful person, and absolutely a fantastic teacher. I was lucky that summer – as What I didn’t know then, that I do now – is a lot of metalsmiths teach. Have amazing skills; but are pathetic teachers. Brilliant artists, no teaching skills. You could say my expectations were shaped in those 4 weeks. And in general, I have been sorely disappointed with the classes I have taken since then, as a result.
What I did leave with was a solid skill set, and enough knowledge to forge ahead. Stars in my eyes. 🙂 And the reality of wondering how do I make it work? The craft scene wasn’t back then what it is now. And then ( as I am sure it still is;) the SouthWest was a very special place fostering artistic skill, creativity, and prosperity. Most other places I have been, fell very short. But now we have the Internet, and an amazing online global community for which I personally am so grateful 🙂
So I looked it up, because I really don’t remember, but the price of silver at the time was about 5.60$ an ounce.
So having reflected on things in my experience in the last 15 or so years since that summer…. One thing that strongly sticks with me is the Studio of Phil’s. The man is a master goldsmith. He also is a master lapidarist – able to facet a diamond ( and has the tools to do so as well) He casts. He (then) took studio quality photos of his work with a large format camera. He had one of the original hydraulic presses – which he developed over the years with Bonny Doon – and now owns; he has blacksmithing and welding tools. He has a CNC machine and CAD-CAM set up. he had a mini lathe….. counts in his friends and peers people like Charles Lewton-Brain. And what I am getting at here, is he explored and researched and tried new things. He had a Quiver of skill set, not just one. The man is a metal genius, taking each skill to a master’s level. And yet, still learns new things all the time, still explores new techniques, still presses the boundaries of “what is” in metal. And mostly, talks about it. Shares his knowledge, skills, and ideas. Teaches. A leading example in the community, then, and now. I remember being on the Orchid forum in 1996 with Phil, from his studio. Who even owned computers then?