- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

Baltimore resident Sara Lynn Broh doesn’t have to worry about having the right piece of jewelry to go with every outfit. If her jewelry box doesn’t have a necklace to match that new dress or gown, she simply creates one herself.

It doesn’t take a professional to make a bracelet, ring or brooch. The local Beadazzled chain offers classes in jewelry making, as do the Art League in Alexandria and Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.

Mrs. Broh has been “beading” for years — creating simple necklaces by connecting colorful beads with silk or fine metal filaments.

When she wanted to move on to knotting, a thornier technique requiring a gentle touch, she asked D.C. jeweler Liz Geltman for help.

Ms. Geltman, who teaches jewelry making out of her Northwest home and owns GeltDesigns, taught Mrs. Broh that knotting isn’t dissimilar to crocheting.

“You’re limited by your budget and your imagination,” Mrs. Broh says.

Ms. Geltman says the craft can be humbling.

“The more you do, the more you realize you don’t know enough,” says Ms. Geltman, who offers personalized training as well as tips for classes of up to 12 students.

“I design the course so they walk out with something finished,” Ms. Geltman says. That could be a simple pair of chandelier earrings or a complicated bracelet.

Her courses include metal smithing, fused glass, kiln forming and wire work.

“They’re shocked at how difficult and tedious it is,” she says of the latter skill, which involves delicate manipulation of needle-nose pliers and other tools.

Ms. Geltman says her students typically are women in the 20-to-50 age bracket who have above-average incomes. That doesn’t mean one has to break the bank to get into the hobby.

“With a few inexpensive hand tools, you can do a lot of work,” she says, adding that wise jewelers-in-training can shop online for bargains or visit bead-supply houses.

Those who prefer not to solder pieces together can get around that by using stapling tools or other types of cold connections.

Beyond the craft’s basics, Ms. Geltman teaches her students about design, color and wearability. The most dazzling pair of homemade earrings may be too heavy to wear, she cautions.

Shana Kroiz, coordinator of the jewelry program at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, says some of her students turn professional, but beginners are welcome. The program is geared for both professional jewelers and hobbyists, says Ms. Kroiz, whose school offers both a certificate program and continuing-studies classes.

“I can teach anyone to make jewelry. Some people will obviously be more talented,” she says. Not everyone will delight in the process, though, she cautions.

“It’s not for the totally impatient,” she says. “Either you have this complete love affair with this, or you think, ‘I can’t believe how much time it took,’ ” she says.

“There’s a huge group taking classes for personal enrichment. They’re not looking to make a career of it or change their professions,” Ms. Kroiz says.

However, one student, a surgeon, did just that, she says.

“She was just taking classes to decompress, and after a year, she retired and started a full-time [jewelry] business,” Ms. Kroiz says.

Beginning students often work with silver, given its inherent beauty and relative affordability. Gold doesn’t allow for many redos unless your last name is Trump.

“Students doing very bold, creative work were scaling back so much,” she says of those switching from silver to gold in her recent classes. “To me, it looked like they regressed. It’s the fear of the cost.”

Prices can vary widely, but silver runs about $7 an ounce, while gold hovers around $440 for the same amount.

Kathi Cohen, registrar of the Art League, which offers classes in conjunction with Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory Art Center, says lessons focus on artistic goals, not commercial ones.

The sessions run the gamut from working with copper and brass to silver and anodized aluminum, Ms. Cohen says.

“The goal is to not duplicate the exact jewelry that’s available everywhere,” she says.

The next round of available Art League classes starts Jan. 3, she says.

Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis is offering instruction in the use of a new jewelry material that’s catching on after spreading from the West Coast.

Precious Metal Clay, or PMC, patented by Mitsubishi in the early 1990s, is made of fine silver particles, organic binder and water.

Carleen Birnes, an instructor at Maryland Hall and co-owner of Bead Bungalow in Annapolis, says the medium is ideal for beginners.

“You can use coffee stirrers to poke out holes and make textures with a fork or a basket,” Ms. Birnes says. “It’s so accessible to so many people, you don’t have to get all this crazy equipment.”

When the clay is shaped and fired in a kiln, the water and organic binder melt away, leaving a solid piece of silver, she says.

A newer version of PMC reduces the firing temperature, which allows ceramic hot pots to be used in place of a kiln. The hot pots are much smaller than kilns and are considerably cheaper ($45).

To some jewelers, PMC doesn’t have the cachet of other types of jewelry and is seen more as a crafter’s medium. Pieces made from it tend to have a more earthy, organic style, Ms. Birnes adds, because it’s easy to add texture to the clay while it’s soft.

It’s not cheap. An ounce of the material costs about $47, she says.

Many artists can’t tell the difference between a traditional silver piece and one made from this newfangled clay, she contends.

“When it’s fired, it approaches the strength of cast metal. You can make rings, which get a lot of wear and tear,” she says.

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