Jewelry studio proves to be an accessible hidden gem on campus

by Helen Liu | 1/9/20 2:00am

Nestled in the basement of the Hopkins Center for the Arts is the Donald Claflin Jewelry Studio (affectionately referred to as the “J-Shop” by frequent studio-goers), a cozy enclave with dozens of shelves filled with countless multicolored tools, beads and wires. With its vast assortment of materials and friendly, knowledgeable staff, the studio is a resource for crafting anything from creative academic projects to gifts for friends and family.

The jewelry studio is a noncredit arts enrichment program for students at Dartmouth to learn about craftsmanship and design from studio staff. Similarly, students can also drop in to woodworking and ceramics workshops in the Hop. There are no requirements for being involved at these studios ­­­­­­­— the idea being that students can explore their creativity whenever they have the time.

“The program was originally conceived as a way for Dartmouth students to explore their creative side without having to worry about the constraints of grades,” said Jeff Georgantes, the director of the studio. 

Beginning a project is simple; students can walk into the studio, whether or not they have a plan for what they want to make. Staff members are typically available to assist beginners with basic jewelry making projects. The window display outside the workshop exhibits creations that students and staff have made in the studio, ranging from recycled bottle-cap earrings to engraved rings. 

Students can manipulate beads, stones and wire with pliers, saws and soldering equipment. The staff works with students to create whatever you have in mind.

If students need technical guidance or creative advice, they are encouraged to ask student teaching assistants, who often help studio-goers brainstorm and plan projects. These assistants are all fellow students who have spent a lot of time in the studio, so they are both experienced and approachable.

“We’re very open,” said Jess Zhang ’21, a current student teaching assistant at the studio. Zhang’s responsibilities as a student teaching assistant include helping students with projects, setting up and cleaning up the studio and helping with workshops. 

“Someone who’s never had any art experience can still come in and make something,” Zhang said.

According to Georgantes, the Jewelry Studio has grown to become similar to a club over time; the students that frequently come in create a welcoming and supportive community among themselves.

“The only requirement to join is that you’re a Dartmouth student and you walked in the door,” Georgantes said.

The jewelry studio also invites a guest artist every term to share their passion and expertise in particular areas of jewelry-making with students. Last term, there was a free stonesetting workshop led by guest artist Tim Lazure, a professor at East Carolina University. Students who attended the workshop learned the skill of tube setting, and at the end of the lesson each student had completed setting a stone on a ring of their own.

This term’s guest is Mike Zagielski of Foredom, a Connecticut-based technology company whose tools are widely used in jewelry studios across the country. His visit will give the students and staff at the studio access to many useful tools and gadgets that aren’t usually available there, from flex shafts to micro motors. The workshop is being held Jan. 12 from 1 to 3 p.m.

Visitors initially intimidated by the studio’s extensive metalworking equipment tend to find later on that many of the skills involved in making jewelry are easier than they expected at first.

“The first thing I made was a ring, and it was just super easy to go in and do,” said Chris Sherman ’23. “Everyone was super nice, so I just kept going. It just kind of sucks you in.”

Sherman said the studio fosters a relaxing, low-pressure and welcoming environment.

“Ultimately, it’s the people that you go to see time and time again,” Sherman said.

For many accessory-loving students, making jewelry at the studio is also an affordable alternative to buying it elsewhere. According to Georgantes, a membership costs $12 a term, $32 for a school year and $3 to $15 per project depending on the materials used. Items created in the studio are fully customizable and students can establish a personal sense of style in their work. Since he began visiting the studio, Sherman has created several rings and, most recently, a chain necklace.

Zhang is also working on several projects of her own, utilizing skills like stonesetting, sawing and enameling to create various earrings, necklaces and other accessories.

The jewelry studio also serves as a place where students can take a break from their stressful academic lives and relax through a creative outlet, according to Sherman.

“It’s therapeutic and it’s also a way for me to stay productive while I’m not doing schoolwork,” Sherman said. “It’s a great opportunity to relax but still be creating something.”

Besides drop-ins and artist workshops, the jewelry studio also offers classes, including this term’s featured program, “Cast a Creature,” where students can learn how to cast a wax figure in bronze.

Many students consider the studio one of Dartmouth’s hidden gems, and Zhang recommends that all Dartmouth students visit it at least once during their time here.

“Actually, we have a bunch of seniors who come in in the spring and say, ‘Wow, I really wish I’d come to this place sooner,’” Zhang said.