A couple of interesting things have happened in the last couple of months that bear some discussion. The first, is that both Rio Grande and PMC Connection have ceased to schedule PMC certifications. The “official” reason I was given was that it had just became too unwieldy and expensive to maintain. Apparently Mitsubishi didn’t want to go in this direction, so you may find that this is just a US/Canadian decision. If anyone has further information to add, I’d love to hear it. I know that the way that Rio Grande had handled certifications was far different from Art Clay World USA’s. There was more organization and financial debt on Rio’s part than the instructor’s. Comparatively, the instructor had to do very little other than teach. Conversely, in Art Clay World USA’s program, the Senior Instructor is free to schedule or not, certify or not, and the process puts all the onus on the instructor. Every Senior or Master instructor in Art Clay who certifies takes a great deal of responsibility onto themselves. Perhaps those who poo-poo certification don’t realize the complicated process of certification set up by Aida Chemical Industries and modified only slightly for the US/Canadian students.
Keeping track of all the students, their data, completion of projects, signed forms and photos of their pieces is daunting. We (meaning Art Clay World USA HQ) demand quite a “chain of custody” in certification. We want to make sure that not only does the Senior or Master instructor follow the curriculum strictly, but that the student monitors the instructor as well to make sure the program they are given is followed. When talking about Senior Certification, there is an additional juried component that the student needs to complete before being declared a Senior Instructor. That is comprised of 3 original projects: a ring (size 7 with an imbedded gemstone), a pendant (must include a bezel and stone), and a brooch (which must have open syringework and properly attached brooch finding). There are other, more stringent requirements, but these are sent to us to review and oftimes it takes 2 or 3 attempts to get the work to the quality we demand of our Senior Instructors.
There are several questions that come to mind when pondering Rio Grande and PMC Connections decisions. First, is Mitsubishi no longer interested in the quality of work that is produced by new members of the metal clay community? How will the industry-at-large monitor the expertise, or lack thereof, of newbies and users of PMC to come? Will they be satisfied by the word-of-mouth exchange of instruction? How will their standards be maintained?
In other hand-crafted media, such as iron smiths or blade smiths (even some jewelry makers) there continues to be an apprentice/master or journeyman/master relationship, with the mentor having the responsibility to pass down her expertise which SHE learned from HER mentor. Will PMC users in the US and Canada just hope that the people who are teaching classes know what they are doing and giving right information? After all, I’m still hearing about the “white coating” on the fired silver that gets brushed off.
We are at a crossroads in metal clay, with more bronze and now silver metal clays being introduced monthly. And because silver is the most expensive, it needs the closest monitoring when instructing new users. We can’t afford to have too many people avoid using silver clay altogether because they can’t find an instructor who uses their brand or, worse, use it on their own, are unhappy with the results, and abandon it altogether. Of course, Art Clay World USA continues and will continue to focus on passing on that knowledge imparted to us by Aida Chemical Industries. We have to. And, despite the naysayers, it has nothing to do with money. I know the certifying instructors. And almost without exception, they are dedicated artists and teachers and are sincerely interested in making sure that those that use Art Clay Silver are using it correctly. The instructors are willing to share their expertise and when those certified enter our system, they are given a discount as a reward and the ability to more easily express themselves creatively. They also have access to us at HQ during open hours to ask questions, help solve product issues and just talk through any technical points they have. We support our instructors and are proud of them. I think that’s important, and I’m said that PMC users won’t have certification available to them in the United States.
The second announcement was made by Rio Grande, which administers the Saul Bell Awards annually. They have officially eliminated the metal clay category. I spoke to Kevin Whitmore of Rio Grande and he said, “We were happy to have that category for years, and I believe it helped give credibility to this new category of jewelry making. But it is also true that silver (and gold) clay is not all that new any longer… So it was decided that we would retire this special category. Of course we hope that metal clay artists will continue to enter the contest. We have a silver category, and I fully believe that the best work in silver clay is capable of winning the overall Silver category. I hope a silver clay artist does win. It would be validation, both of us have had plenty of naysayers give us their opinions over the years…”
I totally agree with Kevin that the best work in silver clay can challenge any traditionally constructed silver work. But I was still surprised. Actually, I don’t know how I feel about this. Ambivalent doesn’t really describe it. I know that, artistically, we can go head-to-head with other forms of silver working. But is the validation really there? Are we ready to join the mainstream of metal working, and will the mainstream really allow us equal entry? After all, Civil Rights Acts hit the books in 1964 and we are obviously still struggling with that issue as a nation.
In this blog, I have no answers, just questions. I wonder if we are at a crossroads, and the decisions we make next will decide the future of metal clay and especially silver clay. Let’s face it, neither Mitsubishi or Aida Chemical Industries would suffer disasterous consequences if silver clay ceased to be manufactured by either. But we NEED silver clay, in addition to all the base metals, to continue to give artists the ability to rival traditional silver smithing and jewelry making. To give silver clay continued VALIDATION. So, what are YOU going to do to guarantee the continuity of our medium? What part are YOU going to play in the future of silver clay to insure that it continues well into the next century?