Hand forged and handmade, a look into the world’s oldest art form

Lissette Vargas

A hand torch is just one of the many tools used by contemporary jewelry and metal artists.  (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
A hand torch is just one of the many tools used by contemporary jewelry and metal artists. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)

It starts off as a flat copper disk. A steady stream of blue and purple fire bursts out of the blowtorch in her hand, melting the solid metal she holds up with tongs. With a heavy hammer she pounds the disk that is slowly forming into a bowl.

Dale Beevers, 39, is on her first day on the job at The Crucible’s Fall Open House on Sept. 13. About two years ago she took a moment to reflect back on her life, she looked around and realized she was not completely happy. Beevers ditched her job in the corporate world to enroll in the Jewelry and Metal Arts program at The Academy of Art. She had been interested in the field since her undergraduate degree in anthropology where she was exposed to wearable forms of art. “It was an immediate fit, it felt like coming home,” she says about the smooth transition.

The program offers industrial art students the opportunity to make a career out of their love for wearable art, as listed on their website. Careers in the discipline include: digital jewelry designer, jewelry instructor, technical designer, and 3D jewelry designer.

After getting her Master’s of fine art degree in Jewelry, Beevers decided to teach at The Crucible in West Oakland and follow the old tradition of metalsmithing where apprentices continue to teach the trade. After volunteering in the ceramics department for two years she has now moved up to a teaching assistant position.

Demonstrating the art of metalsmithing to onlookers, she pounds the metal bowl in a circular motion over and over again, waiting until it reaches perfection. “[The metal is] malleable, it’s easy to get out of shape,” she explains as she continues to strike away.

Beevers’ current body of work incorporates wood and more natural materials, creating mixed media art. Her craft style reflects narrative story telling. Her favorite piece she has created is a sterling silver bracelet that represents female identity and expression. The piece was created by taking selfies of happy moments with her and her daughter, then enameling the images onto the bracelet.

Tricia Weiner is the other woman leading demonstrations in the metalsmithing studio. She teaches casting at The Crucible. Her specialty lies in cast iron wings were she transforms metal into textured butterfly wings inspired by nature. The small delicate bumblebee wings made of bronze and sterling silver hang from a sparking chain across the chest and form a unique and elegant piece of wearable art.

Each wing, sold on her website T.Becker Jewelry and by retailers in the bay area like Presh Collective, is one of kind. Some of the wings are set with hand-cut gemstones or made from a variety of metals to ensure uniqueness in every set of wings.

Weiner’s love for metalsmithing began in college while she was attending a fine arts school in New York. She vividly remembers a metalsmithing teacher say to her, “You don’t realize your love and passion for the art until you see the metal move.” At the time, she didn’t know what that meant, but it all came clear when she formed her first bowl. “When [the flat disk] took the shape of a bowl, I was ecstatic,” she recalls. And ever since that moment, she has had to have her hands in metal in some shape or form.

After her art training she began working in jewelry shops where she continued her training and was taught perfectionism. Now she refines a design at least three times before completion, ensuring each selling piece is perfect. Although the handmade technique can be grueling, she feels that mass producing jewelry takes the specialness away from the pieces. She takes pride in having her hands work in on each and every piece in her collection.

Unique hand-crafted fine jewelry is a continuing rising trend in the bay area. The art is taught in various independent schools where you can learn to create your own jewelry.

Try your hand at jewelry making at the following locations:

The Crucible – 1260 7th St. West Oakland

Jewelry Three-Hour Taster $135

 

Sharon Art Studio – 300 Bowling Green Dr. San Francisco

Basic Jewelry and Metal Arts $208

 

Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts – 785 Market St. San Francisco

Jewelry Making 101 $225