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Project Open Door Students Explore Jewelry Making

Project Open Door Students Explore Jewelry Making

RISD’s Jewelry + Metalsmithing department collaborates with Project Open Door to offer young artists the first on-campus studio of its kind.

Students and work at benches in a RISD jewelry and metalsmithing studio

Students hard at work in a RISD Jewelry + Metalsmithing studio.

This semester, 12 high school students participating in the Project Open Door (POD) Saturday Portfolio Program facilitated by RISD’s Teaching + Learning in Art + Design department are spending their weekends sawing, sanding, hammering and torching metal in the college’s Jewelry + Metalsmithing (J+M) studio spaces. Over 10 weeks, students will craft charm bracelets, bezel-set stone rings, custom pins and more. The course, taught by faculty member Seth Papac, is the program’s first semester-long studio course in collaboration with a RISD academic department.

“We have a really beautiful space for POD classes, but the fact that this course takes place in a J+M studio offers a unique opportunity to our students,” says POD Interim Director Lauren Allen. “High schoolers not only see where the ‘cool college kids’ work, but they get to sit at professional benches and use top-quality tools. It really gives them the true RISD experience.”

Faculty member Seth Papac shows a student examples of textured metals
Faculty member Seth Papac shows a student examples of textured metals.

RISD’s POD program offers teenagers from under-resourced communities in Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket the opportunity to enroll in art and design programming through the college for free. Seniors in the program receive college-access mentoring including college visits, a trip to National Portfolio Day and help with college applications. 

“I’m applying to schools that have art therapy programs. I want to be able to help people the way art has helped me.”

POD student Sierra E.

“I have always loved art, and POD has definitely helped me expand my practice,” says high school senior Sierra E. while they hammer down a brass plate and run it through a rolling mill. “I’m applying to schools that have art therapy programs. I want to be able to help people the way art has helped me.”

Papac shows POD student Sierra E. how to flatten down brass before feeding it into the rolling mill
Papac shows POD student Sierra E. how to hammer down brass before feeding it into the rolling mill.

The first collaboration between POD and J+M took place in the spring with two daylong workshops. After the successful intro, Allen, Papac, Department Head Tracy Steepy and others put together the new 10-week course. “It’s exciting for me to think that high school students could really get jewelry making experience before coming to RISD as undergrads,” says Papac. “They will have already learned the foundational skills here, and that normally doesn’t happen. Learning this in high school usually isn’t possible due to the expense of running a studio.”

Delci C. cuts out patterns that she will use to texture metals for a custom pin
Delci C. cuts out patterns that she will use to texture metals for a custom pin.

“I’ve taken ceramics, toy making and weaving, but this class is my favorite so far,” says junior Delci C., who enrolled in POD over the summer. “The process is really cool. You get to see the end result, and I love knowing all of the hard work that went into it.” Delci hopes to attend art school after graduating and is using the POD program to figure out what art form she likes best.

“Jewelry making is different from other forms of art; it requires a certain level of dexterity and physicality.”

Faculty member Seth Papac

In his class, Papac is teaching students everything from a system of cold connecting called riveting to roller printing, a method used for printing textures onto metal. After their weeks of diligent work, the students will bring home five handcrafted pieces of jewelry. “Jewelry making is different from other forms of art; it requires a certain level of dexterity and physicality,” Papac explains. “Along with learning tools and techniques, jewelry making requires specific posture and physical mechanics that coincide with a demanding level of attention and focus.”

Examples of textured metals and custom pins made by Seth Papac
Examples of textured metals and custom pins made by Seth Papac.

Teaching Assistant Brenda Li MFA 23 JM finds working with POD students to be a unique experience. “When I was a TA for [faculty member] Carolanne Patterson last semester, the students were already familiar with art and jewelry making,” Says Li. “In this class, students are learning foundational skills. Today I am mostly helping with sawing and sanding.” After graduating from RISD, Li plans to work for a small jewelry store and learn more about running a business.

Tools from the J+M studio

“These kinds of collaborations could provide unique access for teens and open up more career opportunities in the future.”

POD Interim Director Lauren Allen

“This is a great model for future collaborations with other departments,” says Allen. “POD staff and J+M faculty have built the curriculum together with the goal of giving students a rare opportunity. These kinds of collaborations could provide unique access for teens and open up more career opportunities in the future.”

—Isabel Roberts 

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