September Blog

I suppose that posting a blog while fighting a cold isn’t the wisest move. But the ringing in my ears isn’t too distracting at the moment, so I’ll continue.

I must say that the past month has been exciting. I’ve been teaching much more at the Greater Chicago Artisan Center recently, though Tom and I leave tomorrow for 3 weeks of San Diego, Knoxville and Buffalo. I’ve had out of country students and students who have traveled to be in my class, which is always humbling.

Even so, I’ve been despairing lately at what seems to be the drop in interest in silver clay. Certainly since the silver price explosion of 2011. I’ve spent the better part of 14 years spreading the word about the awesomeness of silver clay and the windows of opportunity it opens for jewelry artists. But in the last couple of years it seems more an uphill battle. And the plethora of choices in base metals has made my job all the more difficult. Not that there’s anything wrong with bronze and copper (and all of their other permutations). And I’m a wholehearted fan of Art Clay copper, which I sincerely believe is the best choice for copper clay out there. But I think there was a time, when the price of silver topped at $43/ounce, that some metal clay artists were jumping like rats out of the sinking silver clay ship. I can understand the reasoning, for sure. But silver has been back down around $20 for a while, now, and I haven’t seen the numbers totally return. Really, I understand the allure, both financially and visually, of bronze and copper. But what happened to our love of silver? Certainly using silver clay is easier than copper or bronze; it joins easier, fires easier and more quickly, is dependable and is valued much more highly. If you’re an artist selling your work, there’s no comparison between what you can ask for fine silver versus base metal clays. And the variety of real gemstones you can fire in copper and bronze is much more limited. So what happened? Have we just lost track of why we fell in love with silver clay in the first place?

Is there still a future for silver clay? Tomorrow we head out for Metal Clay by the Bay conference in Mission Bay, California. I’m supposed to give a short lecture on the future of metal clay. And I really have to think about this. Especially in North America. I think that Europeans (including Brits) are used to spending more for things.  And silver still seems to be the choice for metal clay in Europe. Of course there is Goldie formula, and Prometheus and they can import Metal Clay Adventures and Hadars clays, but silver still seems to reign across the pond. At least for now.

Have we truly adapted so well to the cheaper base metal clays that the ease of using silver clay is a thing of the past? I would hate to think so. Using base metal clays will never be as easy or fast as using silver clay. And the value will never match that of silver. I like the look of bronze, but it and other base metal clays take just as long to use as silver clay, and longer to fire. So, when I’m pricing my work, my time is more efficiently spent in using silver clay.

Which brings up the question? Do we charge for our time? If I you use the formula that charges 2 or 3 times your supplies, do you tack on that per hour rate for your valuable time? So many women don’t. Perhaps we are afraid no one will buy our work, or that our time isn’t worth the price. So, if I have a silver pair of earrings that took me an hour, and a bronze pair of earrings that took me an hour, am I using base metal clay because I can charge less and that doesn’t make me feel guilty or give the impression that I’m inflating my ego? Does charging $35 versus $80 really make women feel more comfortable with themselves? I’d hate to think so.

Back to the question, is there a future for silver clay? My answer is: that all depends. We need to remember that Mitsubishi and Aida Chemical Industries are much bigger than their metal clay divisions. Producing silver clay is kind of like orphan drugs to pharmaceutical companies. If the interest drops too much, how long will they continue to produce silver clay? At what point does the lack of profitability overshadow its uniqueness? Personally, I’m as passionate about Art Clay silver as I was when I saw it at Glass Craft Expo in 2000. But we need to continue to reach new people, to hold classes in silver clay. We need to continue to believe in its place in the medium of jewelry making, which continues to focus on precious metals. When was the last time you saw a piece of bronze jewelry that was made traditionally? Before the advent of base metal clays it was all about achieving validity in the jewelry world for silver clay. We wanted to be taken seriously as artists, and jewelry makers and we were convinced that silver was silver, regardless of how it started. Is all that at risk now? How do we proceed from here in order to reach that goal of respect for silver metal clay and, therefore, for the medium of metal clay in general?.

Come to Metal Clay by the Bay next week and we’ll discuss it there.


2 thoughts on “September Blog

  1. Jackie, Sterling silver is pure classy. It is a precious metal. Sterling is kinda like wearing Rubies, once they see it in a semi-mount, women feel that connection. It is beautiful. They wear it for it’s beauty. That is the way I feel about Sterling silver. You inspired me to make things from Art clay silver and certified Larry and I to teach. I adorn this. Trouble is, and I see in people taking classes, that they are too exspensive to take for the most part. I charge a 4 hour class that includes lunch at (The Shoppes at Otter creek). $85. Most people I have had is 1 to two a class. Let’s face it, money is the issue, at least I think. You know that statistics say that most MEN only make $16-$20 per hour? Raising a family on today’s economy prices. That is tough. Not like when you and I were younger. True?
    More on a personal note, I didn’t sign for one of your classes because I already know how to do that. I ask that you look closely at my Art clay silver Jewelry designs on my Facebook pages. You may have to go scholl down some. These are pieces and techniques I have learned from you and I’d like for you to like them, but I guess now it wouldn’t matter anyway (HEE<HEE), because I just submitted them to Ky. crafted Guild. I"ll be taking actual jewelry to them in Frankfort, Ky. on Sept. 15th. Application and all of it's entities. I do value your input. If they don't surpass or accepted, I guess I'll move on and learn from it. I THINK THEY WILL. The owner, Pauline of THE SHOPPES thinks so to. She has all Kentucky artisans at the store. A great person she is. Thank you, Carolyn Sciarra


  2. Hi Jackie,
    You have many valid point in your blog. I too worry about the future of silver clay. I love the medium, for it’s freedom and instant gratification. However, filling classes in the past few years has been a challenge. $70,80,90, for a class seems to be a problem. Yet, when I see what bead shops are charging for simple classes I have to wonder. I think people are still dubious of metal clay. No one has been more excited or pleased with the product than I, but it is still a hard sell in this market.
    Since I have moved to Virginia I find it even more of a challenge. More than once classes have been cancelled for lack of students. I have even gone ahead with just 2 students hoping to get them excited as well. They are always happy w/.their results, but rarely take another class. There is an exception coming up. I have a class next week with 6 students (full class), and one of them is a repeater, so I have renewed hope, and she has brought a friend!
    Having not tried any of the base metal clays, I can’t comment on them, but since nothing I make in regular copper jewelry sells very well for me, I just never tried the copper clay.
    I still adore silver clay and hope it stays around for a long time, but it’s just like any product a manufacturer makes. When it stops selling, they stop making it. SOOO we must continue to beat the drum for it’s wonderful properties and uses.
    As far as the “silversmiths” being better, I remember when art shows and galleries would not allow photography in as it was not considered an “art” even tho it was a two dimensional work. Almost no 3 dimensional work, other than sculpture, was even considered. That too, has changed. So I just proudly say my work is fine silver and as you say, fine silver is fine silver, an it didn’t taker weeks to make, and it is one of a kind, not one of hundreds cast for any jewelry store that orders it.
    Keep up your crusade and I will do what I can on my end.
    Lynn Larkins


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