Silver and gold: The inspiration behind UO jewelry and metals students’ work

Walking into the University of Oregon jewelry and metals class, the scene is chaotic, but for the students, this space is an inspiration. In the back, a flame is used to mold singular intricate flower petals into one delicate ring. The girl handling the blowtorch is decked in goggles normally associated with science experiments. Tools are strewn everywhere, making it clear that metalsmithing is no simple feat. The room has an industrial feel, but what gives it flair is the glimmering silver and gold of the jewelry neatly organized across each table.

Each student incorporates their own style into their personal workspaces through plants, quotes and even idea sketches that may one day come to life. One has packs of Tazo Tea tucked in the corner of her space, most likely to keep her alert during all of the late nights and early mornings she spends there. Walking around, each person is in their zone: organizing, crafting, sketching, soldering, twisting and cutting.

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The metalsmithing students working on their final exam pieces for this term.

The effort of weeks of working in this studio will be shown at the class’s fourth Annual Sale on Dec. 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Modern in downtown Eugene as part of the First Friday Art Walk. The pieces exhibited will be both “raw concept pieces” as well as finished designs to show the process of creating pieces of art. The proceeds will go to the students, UO’s Jewelry and Metalsmith Department and the American Civil Liberties Union. Before the event, Dressed Up Ducks interviewed some of the students to learn about their work and inspirations.


Name: Diya Wang

Major: Art

Year: Senior

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What are you working on? I am making a necklace with geometric shapes because I think that geometric shapes have some power to them and also have so much possibility with their composition. I am taking oil painting and digital arts classes and usually use these elements in my art. For the first sale, I made earrings, but for this sale, I am going to focus on necklaces. It needs to be more detailed.

Can you see yourself making a career out of this? Yes a career for sure. I want to be a jeweler.


Name: Brie George

Major: Advertising and Art

Year: Senior

Instagram: @brieannakayjewelry

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What types of metal work do you create the most in this class? I like to do little graphic lines with scallops. I like to focus on bold lines, thin shapes, flat lines, those types of things. I am very much a doodler. I will start off with one idea and then lead off of it. My entire journal is covered, and each drawing continues to grow.

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Her sketchbook contains not only potential creations but also inspiration she finds in her everyday life.

Why did you choose to take a metalsmithing class? I came here for the Journalism School and am still a part of that, but I wanted more of an art outlet also. So I took a drawing class, then I started an art minor and then an art major and ended up metalsmithing. I kind of just ended up here, and I can’t leave!

Would you want to sell things in the future? I have started a little Instagram, and I am selling things to my friends, but nothing big yet. I will probably do a Bachelor of Fine Arts, which is a fifth year intensive focus, and then will figure it out. It’ll be fun. I stayed in here until 2:30 last night, so it’s all good!

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Do you have a favorite piece? Right now, probably this piece [a silver cloud-like piece with dangling movable strands]. It’s not set up on its chain yet, but the whole point is that you can move them because I am the type of person who likes to sit in class and play with my necklaces and pens. I have like 30 in my backpack, so this one you can just sit there and play with it.15


Name: Celeah Norris

Year: Junior

Major: Environmental Studies

Minor: Art

Website: www.elementaldna.com

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What are you working on? I’m making shoulder pads. This is new for me. I’m experimenting. They are going to attach to a choker. Otherwise, they won’t stay up. I am drawn to natural materials, so these are bullet shells that I found. I use quarts and also use scrap leather. Usually, I do more natural materials, but this is the first time I have really done it in this class. Otherwise, I do more soldering, but I like to use stuff I have made. I have done things with honeycomb.

Do you make necklaces out of it? I have. I like to use resin so I can preserve it and then put it into pieces. I need to perfect it still because I keep getting some bubbles in it. For my Halloween costume that I made, I was a warrior princess, and I put this hexagon shape with honeycomb in the middle of this crown.

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A few of the materials she is using for her shoulder pads.

How long were you doing metal work before you got into this class? Well I’ve done metal work before this, and I owned my own business that failed. But I had a warehouse earlier this year that I had for about six months, and I had a bunch of art tools and things like that. You should not try to start a business while you are going to school. You should wait until after school because advertising is important! You can’t get everything together and just be like, “come.”

Do you plan on trying again after college? No. I like to do my own thing with art and would like to use that to go to festivals and collaborate with other people, or for political messages, and I see myself wanting to help the environment. My goal is to become sustainable by the time I am 30 and teach other people that.

What does your tattoo represent? It’s the flower of life. It’s the symbol from a bunch of different religions and also ancient temples that had nothing to do with each other. There are some in Turkey and some in Egypt, like the pyramids there. It also has lots of math represented. I did a whole website on it a year or two ago. Basically [it means] that we are all just connected.


Name: Carli Cortopassi

Major: Psychology and Art

Year: Sophomore

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Why did you decide to take this class? I needed an intro class a year ago for my art major, and so I thought, “well I’ve done clay, I’ve done painting, and I’ve done drawing, but I’ve never done metal, and I like to work with my hands,” so I just took it and loved it. I literally loved the intro class, and I decided that I needed to take the next one and the next one. It’s a really addicting process. I really love it here. I got really into it all because people liked what I made, and I liked what I made. It is a lot of fun and very different, so I have just stuck with it.

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Cortopassi fusing a ring together, one of many in her flower series.

How do you see yourself continuing to work with metal ? Honestly, I hope to continue it as a hobby. I want to do art therapy for trauma children. So I’m hoping that will be the main focus of my work and that I can pursue it [metal work] on the side because it’s something that I enjoy doing and enjoy giving to someone else.

Do you take all of your inspirations from nature? Yes, a lot of my stuff is from the outdoors, and a lot of pieces from my other classes are also from nature too.

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 Cortopassi is also making a series of butterfly rings.


Name: Neva Gruver

Major: Art

Minor: Product Design

Year: Senior

Website: https://outskirtsstudios.myportfolio.com/

Instagram: @outskirtsstudios

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How did you get started with welding? I started out at community college, and I was doing a lot of welding sculpture, bronze casting and then was even a welding fabrication major, but I have always been an artist. This is just a perfect combination.

Have you ever considered making a career out of it? Yes, I would like to have my own business at some point. I like to look at the functional side of things as well because I was a political science major for a while. I really like to make stuff that actually works, things that people can interact with and not just stuff that sits there.

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Gruver displays one of her recent pieces, a wolf with varying moon phases.

What do you typically find yourself making? Well I enjoy making sharp, silver stuff. I tend to make a few reoccurring themes like wolves, moons and daggers. I tend to focus on work that is not only visually giving the concept of strength but also work that tends to be an amulet of protection or strength, especially in society today where we tend to overlook that kind of concept in jewelry.


Name: Sam Snowden

Major: Fine Arts with a focus in metal

Year: Senior

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What made you get into your craft? Well, this is kind of uninspiring, but when I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I thought, “Why not? I’ll take a class called intro to jewelry.” I didn’t have any expectations for it, but I kind of fell in love when I started working with metal. There are so many options, and I can relate it to anything. Anything you can do with ceramics, like throwing or making pottery, you can do with metal. Anything you can do with drawing, you can do with metal. There are a lot of practical uses as well.

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Snowden arranges the organic materials he uses for his pieces.

What do you love creating the most? I guess people in this class know me most for casting. In intro, I didn’t really have access to the equipment that you use to cast, like the torches, so it’s kind of neat that I was allowed access to that early on. They didn’t really teach me anything about it. They taught me the basics but they let me learn it by myself.

You were sort of just thrown into casting without any prior knowledge? Yeah! It was a huge help. I got to learn a lot about metal like the material itself and how it reacts with heat and how far you can push it.

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“I recently made this cube, which is really different from what I normally make because this is a fabricated form,” said Snowden.


Name: Haley Duhaime

Major: Art with a focus in metalsmithing

Year: Junior

Instagram: @haleyduhaime

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What do you typically make? I think I would describe my stuff as bohemian minimalism, if that were even a thing. I kind of took this class on a limb, and Anya Kivarkis [UO’s jewelry & metalsmithing coordinator] looked at me before I had even made anything and said, “You’re a metalsmith.” So I said, “Ok, sounds good.” So far, it has really been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Can you see yourself continuing it in the future? Yes, absolutely. I have always been a person who genuinely enjoys things, but this is absolutely my passion. It’s easy to spend 12 to 14 hours here without even noticing.

Do you have a piece that you’re passionate about? Yes, but right now they are just objects [a larger piece involving silver triangles that is pinned up in her “workspace” photograph below]. Sometimes, you make something and the work comes after. So I started making this module – these are all actually formed by the same piece of triangle – and just arranged differently. I am a very process-based person. I actually just make one piece of it and then arrange it.

Samples of Duhaime’s work that she will be selling.

Do you ever sketch things, or are you just very hands on? I try to sketch things, but it’s about as legible as my handwriting. That’s one of the things I really like about metal is that you can craft the object through the actual material. I found that really satisfying and don’t really enjoy sketching that much. I think about the work constantly, though. I’ll be up until 2 A.M. just sketching in my head. My brain is much better at it than my hands.

Did you make the ring that you’re wearing? Sam [Snowden] actually made this! I am a big Sam fan. I love all of his work, and I actually got this at the sale. This is my first piece of contemporary art jewelry, so I wear it very proudly! I don’t ever make stuff for myself.

Do you draw inspiration from anything or anyone? Oh yes, absolutely constantly. Being in this studio is a great influence because you see people being really experimental and you see people having different processes or different surfaces or will teach you different methodologies. I am constantly finding inspiration, and I think that I am where I am now because of the people that I am around.

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Duhaime’s workspace.

Words by Alex Jacobsen, @al_jacobsen  

Photos by Brooke Harman, @brooke_harman

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