Wire Jewelry: About Wire Smithing

I was interviewed yesterday on Blog Talk Radio from Whaley Studios located in San Diego. We started out with the usual questions about my background and how I got interested in making wire jewelry. To make a long story short, I started out metalsmithing by taking a series of courses and clearly remember thinking to myself, "there's nothing new that I can do here". I was a bit overwhelmed by all the techniques involved in metalsmithing, knowing that it would take me many years to gain expertise. Much as I admired all the gorgeous art jewelry that I saw, I also had a hard time relating to actually making anything like it. I'd watch other students spend days and days on their jewelry pieces thinking that it was unlikely that they'd ever get their money back for all that time.

Certainly some of those initial impressions were naive on my part, later realizing that seasoned metalsmiths learn how to work efficiently. In any event, the point here is that I found it kind of tough to relate to working with sheet metal and setting stones, etc. My instructor, a very talented enamelist, Susan Lewis, was sensitive to that and suggested that I take a three day workshop with a famous metalsmith who worked with wire. Her name is Mary Lee Hu and her wire jewelry, many twined in gold, is astoundingly graceful, elegant and sophisticated. I fell in love with her work and did, indeed, take her workshop.

Over the three days that I was in that workshop, Mary Lee presented a wide variety of techniques for working with wire for jewelry making. I was both amazed and overwhelmed with all the possibilities. We spent much of the time during those three days practicing a number of public domain wire jewelry techniques as well as learning some of the techniques that Mary Lee originated.

This was the beginning of my love affair with wire jewelry making.


All of that's to underscore something that I've been thinking about for awhile now: why is it that if you have a primary interest in how to make your own jewelry, your own wire jewelry, that you can't find anyplace in this country to learn the full range of wire jewelry making techniques? If metalsmithing primarily teaches how to work with sheet metal then why isn't there any credibility to something called "wire smithing" which would be primarily working with wire for jewelry making? Now, I admit that it's typical when you follow a full metalsmithing course to get some wire training. I got chain maille and viking knit included in my metalsmithing sequence. But why stop there? I, like most wire jewelry designers, have traveled the country in search of workshops that target wire jewelry making.

It really wasn't until I started writing wire how-to book reviews that I realized how many different methods and techniques there were that were involved in wire jewelry making, much as was taught and emphasized in the workshop with Mary Lee Hu. There's chain maille, wire crochet and knit, braiding, textile techniques, basketry techniques, wire wrapping along with other newly conceived wire techniques. Many of these can be combined very effectively with other traditional metalsmithing methods and techniques. So why can't it have it's own category known as "wire smithing"?

Part of this thinking has been driven by people constantly saying to me, "I love your work but it's not like other wire wrapping that I see". Almost everyone who sees my work says something like that to me, seriously. That usually makes me cringe since I see wire wrapping as the easiest of all the wire smithing techniques and many of my pieces are far more complex and woven. 

In any event, the point here is that there's is a wide range of skills that can be learned from the study of wire jewelry making that I believe a new category called "wire smithing" deserves validation and credibility. I would love to hear your comments about this.