In 2009, we were given the unique opportunity to teach a 2-week introductory jewelry class rooted in Radical Jewelry Makeover’s mission at Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC. From the first time they picked up their tools, students were taught specific techniques and design strategies that acknowledged the whole life span of materials. The curriculum looked beyond a material’s current state and beyond what they were being made into in that moment. Students were asked to consider what happens in the future when their jewelry designs become obsolete and undesired. They were asked to design not only how the jewelry looked but also how it would be disassembled by the next generation of jewelers for the next generation of consumers. RJM teaches a cradle-to-cradle design strategy, a very different starting point than conventional curricula.

In an attempt to develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of artisanal mining, Gabriel Craig, one of our teaching assistants at Penland, led eight of the RJM participants to an area where gold had been first discovered in the states in order to pan for gold. After 8 long hours, working with gold-pans, buckets, and a sluice, each jeweler had only found a flake of gold! While everyone was bitten by the gold bug, they also gained an understanding of how difficult it would be to survive or support a family this way.

The exhibition at Penland took place in the school’s Printmaking studio and was visited by hundreds of people over the course of one day.  Students in the class along with professional jewelers from the area created over 100 pieces of jewelry. Generous thanks go out to the Penland community for supporting the project and to everyone’s hard work!