Currently, I’m in the middle of teaching an Eastern Repousse and Chasing workshop for Silvera Jewelry School. Like Metalwerx and Rio Grande, Silvera is fast becoming one of my favorite places to teach, even though I’ve never been there. I might not be teaching with my feet up, but to help each student I’m still running around the room, this time with my eyes instead of my legs. Yes, this class is on Zoom.
I gave serious consideration to teaching online a couple of years ago and looked into the tech options. I earmarked it as a possible project as soon as I had time…which was never…until 2020 made it a necessary reality. Now I plan to teach online only at least for the next few years. I miss dinner with students and seeing friends at teaching studios and guilds, but you can probably guess that I do not miss the travel. At. All.
If I’m pushed to name my favorite technique, it would be Eastern repousse. Whenever I’m working in the technique, I feel connected to my ancient Egyptian, smithing ancestors. After all, it was Tutankhamun’s Eastern repousse, mummy mask that made me want to become a metalsmith when I was only five years old.
All metalsmthing is magic, but the ability to sculpt flat sheet into any form imaginable and with only one small hammer and a handful of tools is nothing short of amazing. Any shape, any terrain, any texture, figurative, narrative, or abstract design, it’s all optional. The technique dates back thousands of years, yet I’m convinced there are so many more, as yet unrealized possibilities of how it can be utilized. I really love helping others to discover what some of those possibilities may be.
Thirty years ago, there wasn’t a ton of studio jewelry being made from repousse, and even less made with Eastern repousse. I loved working on a small scale and created more earrings and necklaces than I can remember. In this century I evolved the cuff bracelets after debating with students about needing to work them in the round. Eventually I realized that if the process works for cuffs, it would work for rings. In 2016 I began the long process of expanding the scale the opposite direction and designed copper Eastern repousse pocket doors taller than me.
I love the process itself, the way the metal responds to the heaviness or the subtly of every strike, and all the ways I can plan, change my mind, or experiment with the final relief structures. With the pocket doors, I loved the way I could increase the scale from my usual tiny to the mammoth size required and still reliably predict exactly how the metal would move.
Repousse is a conversation with the metal, one in which the metal does most of the talking, and the artist does most of the listening, and one in which the metal always has the last word.