Radical Jewelry Makeover was piloted at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in February of 2007. Here’s how it happened: Susie Ganch, who teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, invited Christina Miller to be a visiting artist and to mount a solo exhibition as part of a year-long series of shows she was curating at Richmond’s Quirk Gallery. Through their conversations, they realized their similar interests and the potential to collaborate as well as involve a larger community. Both had been discussing the burden of knowing the types of and quantities of materials being consumed by the jewelry industry as well as trying out practical strategies for what “to do” about it.  

RJM grew out of their shared desire to inform and empower not only students but also consumers. They wanted to offer an opportunity for others to do something positive to change how and what we make and wear. In Richmond, Miller and Ganch engaged donors to participate through giving, artists to participate through making, and the community at large to participate by choosing “remade” jewelry over conventional jewelry for the first time.

This pilot installment set the foundation for the project and its practices that are still in place today. Professionals Susan Kingsley, Susie Ganch, and Christina Miller developed the system for assigning values to donations with the help of Millersville University students Juleann Benkoski and Geena Corradi. Together, the whole process of sorting jewelry was streamlined, the photo documentation of all donations established and more. During the making week demonstrations were shared by all, from die forming to casting—the VCU studio was active all day and all night. 

Virginia Commonwealth University’s metal students became the first RJM jewelers while the Richmond community generously donated over 100 pounds of jewelry to the project.  The 55 students enthusiastically took the challenge to learn about the harmful affects of metal mining, and worked tirelessly with the unwanted materials for five short days to create 200 pieces of new jewelry. The work was mounted at Quirk Gallery during what was to have been Christina’s solo exhibition opportunity. The university enthusiastically supported the project by funding a catalogue and the community as a whole gave Miller and Ganch the encouragement they needed to keep going!