Artisans and Craftspersons

Jewellery Designer - Halifax

Georgia Vandewater is 22 (almost 23) years old and is currently the Artist in Residence for the Halifax Grammar School. In exchange for work space, she teaches some high school art classes, works with some of the students actually making jewellery and creates her own pieces. She was a student at the Halifax Grammar School and graduated in 1997. She spent just over four years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) and is currently working towards starting a master's degree in jewellery and metalsmithing.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become a jeweller? How did you become a jeweller?
I knew very early in high school that I wanted to make art, to be an artist, and become involved in an art community. I had originally thought about painting and/or photography, but it was my high school art teacher who mentioned one day that she could see me making jewellery. I began to realize that I was good with my hands and was attracted to the ability to get my hands in and around an object; in essence, to really get my hands dirty. Now I see and use jewellery as
an art form, one which has a duality: it is a form in and of itself (like a small sculpture) and it is adornment for the human form, the human body.

Stephanie: What do you like about what you do?
Metalworking is where I create, how I express myself and my aesthetic. It is an outlet for me. Jewellery is an art form that I feel is underappreciated or misunderstood. It is often seen as "just a craft". However, I am able to use all the same processes of thought, design, expression, etc. that I would use to create a painting. It is a challenge. And ultimately it is an amazing experience to be able to make pieces that bring beauty and pleasure to individuals.

Also, I am able to work with really cool machines like lathes, drill presses, milling machines, torches, band saws, casting equipment, sand blasters, anodizing and really neat little hand or "bench" tools. And of course there is something very satisfying making an object out of metal.

Stephanie: What is your least favorite part of your job?
Long, long hours! And it takes a lot of dedication, perseverance, patience and just plain practice to be technically competent and develop innovative designs. It is also not one of the best paying jobs in the beginning. There are a lot of start up costs if you want to go into business for yourself. If you don't want to do that, however, you could work designing jewellery for a company or for an established jeweller.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a jeweller?
Go for it! There are so many aspects of jewellery, so many techniques you can learn and specialize in if you wish. And there is a whole world out there for art and metalsmithing. But be ready to put in time and energy. It is not something you can take long breaks from, especially in the beginning. You have to keep at it. And patience! You need lots of patience.

I want to add that there are other interesting aspects to metalsmithing as well. You could make eyewear, or hollowware (things like bowls, tea pots, salt and pepper shakers, wine goblets, flatware, candlesticks, vases etc., but made of metal, although that does not have to be the only material), both of which I have made. The skills could also help you with product design, making things like lamps, or furniture, or even sculpture. It relates to many things.

Stephanie: Do you need to go through post-secondary education to do what you do? What kind of education did you get?
I went to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and graduated with a BFA (bachelor of fine arts) with a major in jewellery design and metalsmithing. It is a four-year program; the first year is a foundation year and in the next three years students can begin to, then ultimately specialize in, the area of their choice. I decided to take four and a half years to complete my degree so that I could go on exchange to the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design in Birmingham, England for a semester, and so that I could have a solo show of my work at the Anna Leonowens Gallery before I graduated.

However, you do not have to have a fine arts degree, nor do you have to have a bachelor's degree to make jewellery. There are numerous community colleges or universities which offer certificates or other training.

I am planning to do my master's, but I am still deciding as to what school will most suit my needs. The reality is that it will not be in Canada because NSCAD is one of the only schools in Canada that grants a master's degree in this particular field and I feel it is important that I have experience at another school in another environment. I am currently looking to the U.S. or the U.K. for this.

Stephanie: What is your favourite metal to work with, and why?
I work mostly with stainless steel in combination with plastics, or at times sterling silver or gold. I try to create unique pieces. I particularly like using stainless steel and plastic because it challenges traditional views of preciousness, of what jewellery is and what it "should" be made of.

I actually rarely use stones, unless I am working on a commission and a customer would like some.

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