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.