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Abroad in England: My Metalsmithing Degree

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to spend three months in England studying jewelry and returned home with my degree in three-dimensional metalsmithing (my new skills include blacksmithing, raising hollow forms, box-making, chasing, repousse, engraving, mokume gane, and enameling).  It was an incomparable experience, and I’ve shared some of it below!

LONDON: 6 weeksIMGP5924

Me as Sherlock, complete with Watson, in 221B Baker Street

I lived just above the Whitechapel Tube Station in the old Working Lads Institute (the actual building where Jack the Ripper’s inquests were held).  For six weeks, I took chasing & repousse classes at the Sir John Cass School of Art; in my off time, when I wasn’t singing with my London medieval choir, I explored the great city.  I saw museums, markets, castles, manors, and above all, a ceaseless tide of history that beat around me like a living wave.  I became enraptured with the Arts & Crafts movement, especially William Morris, and followed my heart to pay homage to J.R.R. Tolkien in Oxford, where I sang by his grave in the rain.  I met with the jewelry department at the Victoria & Albert Museum to talk about my work, and spent an enchanting evening with Alphonse Mucha’s grandson John in his Bloomsbury flat.  I traced the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes up Baker Street and walked through J. K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.  I had high tea at the Ritz and saw a 41 gun salute to the Queen in Hyde Park, but ultimately, the city proved too urban for me, and I was ready to continue my adventure.
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SACRED ENGLAND: 7 days

IMGP7319   The sacred Chalice Wells in Glastonbury

I traveled onwards to Glastonbury, home to the haunting Saint Michael’s Tower on the tor and the ancient Abbey where King Arthur and Gweneviere were buried.  This is where the mythological kingdom of Avalon originates, where the Holy Grail is said to be hidden, and where Joseph of Arimathea plunged his staff into the hill, only to have it burst into bloom.  With my amazing guide Manon Tromp, we walked through the sacred orchards of Avalon and opened the door to the fairy kingdom with a ceremony on the great tor.  She told me the giant crows that fly around the ruined tower embody the high priestesses of Avalon, called the nine Morgens.  We drummed and chanted inside the West Kennet Long Barrow, where time seemed to roll back to an age of forgotten kings.
I continued my journey with Lisehanne, a charming woman from the Netherlands, who took me to the Cornish seaside to visit Tintagel, where King Arthur was conceived, and Merlin’s Cave, where the wind blew fiercely and I fell into a hidden underground pool!  We walked past the wild ponies to roam on the moors of Dartmoor and into Whistman’s Woods, where legend has it that the whist hounds of the devil roam at night (and Arthur Conan Doyle found the basis for his Hound of the Baskervilles).  Though we didn’t find a giant hound, I found the landscape I now love best in the world: an ethereal place that spoke straight to my soul.  We waded through the pools of Saint Nectan’s Glen, a huge waterfall that has bored straight through a rock over hundreds of years, proving the sheer power of persistence.  With my soul thus renewed from the grime of London, I was ready to move on.

IMG_7507The stunning moors of Dartmoor
IMGP7547Saint Nectan’s Glen

WEST DEAN MANOR: 5 weeks

IMG_7959West Dean Manor in all its glory

I entered into the next phase of my studies at West Dean College, an incredible art school located in West Dean Manor in the Sussex Downs National Park.  It was like attending an intense jewelry apprenticeship in Downton Abbey.  Fat sheep roamed the hills, an enormous fire roared in the Great Oak Hall, and I toiled by the flaming forge, wielding sledge hammers and hot iron.  I learned to shape metal on a truly grander scale than ever before: raising a cup from a flat sheet of copper, welding massive rods of steel together, and making my own tools.  I also enhanced my construction skills by making finely hinged boxes and forging spoons.  I learned the art of engraving, as well as soldering with a true blow torch (where you actually blow into a tube to provide the oxygen)!  After five weeks of classes from 9am to 10pm, I emerged exhausted but inspired, and I am so excited to bring my new skills – and many new experiences – back home to my jewelry and life.
IMG_8809Tiny floral earrings awaiting their black pearls
IMG_8813Four brooches made by blacksmithing
IMG_7730Using a sledge hammer in the forge with redhot iron
IMG_8814Heraldic lion from engraving class
IMG_8815The Tiny Great Cup of West Sussex, made in an epic four straight days of raising and planishing
IMG_8808Spoon forged from just a 3-inch rod of copper, copper box with brass ring, and silver Art Deco box with hinged lid and snapping clasp