What’s to Become of Silver Clay?

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?


10 thoughts on “What’s to Become of Silver Clay?

  1. Jackie, I am very interested in retaining the integrity of this great medium. I really enjoy working with silver clay and am certified thru PMC Connection and teach when asked or have students. Perhaps, Rio Grande needs to reconsider the division of metal clay in the Saul Bell awards. I will help where and if I can. I certainly hope the silver clay medium will not be discontinued
    Do I have your permission to republish your post? Marilyn Davenport at Bits of Clay.

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  2. Jackie, thank you for such a well thought out article. I almost have too much to say about this and probably shouldn’t go there, it’s late and I’ve had a few beers, but I will.

    First let me say I am a PMC user, I guess it’s whatever you start with and are use to. I am also PMC certified and have been a Saul Bell finalist 3 times and have also been a Niche award winner, etc. so feel I have some experience in the subject.

    As far as no more certification via RIO I’m assuming that’s a more of a financial decision. I full enjoyed my certification thou, I thought I didn’t need it, just did it for the discounts – but low and behold I did learn a lot and was so happy I took the course!

    First off I have not been working in metal clay as much as I use to, I love the medium so much, but even thou silver prices dropped significantly silver metal clay seemed to stay at the same prices as when silver was 40+/-. it is just so expensive. I know there are newer product out that are a little less, but I haven’t tried them yet, but none the less it pisses me off that the price really never came down after the silver market hit the high mark. I’ve messed around with some of the base metal clays, but for me I really want to work in the silver clay.

    I haven’t entered the Saul Bell in years, but was reconsidering it. It’s a wonderful competition that really is an a challenge and an honor to compete in. I’m am thrilled to have been a finalist 3 times, they really did a nice job with the awards, promoting, etc. I only enter when I feel I have a piece that is really worthy and I am a bit hard on myself with that and why I haven’t taken part that last few years. Anyways just wanted to give some history to continue…From my past with this event and closely looking at all the entries in each category and seeing the various judges over the years – I can tell you (and I don’t want to be a bitch here or seem like I’m knocking metal clay – I am not!) that it will be very, very difficult for any metal clay artist, no mater how good to go up against a traditional metal smith in the silver category – it is one of the most competitive categories in the completion, add to that the judges, who over the years have been mostly old school gold smiths, etc. so I don’t think we don’t have a hope in hell.

    I’m very dismayed at their decision to remove this category, though I believe and have argued many a time the worth and value of metal clay, most traditional metal smiths will never except it, our work in metal clay can far surpass many works in traditional methods, but it will be a long time before it is fully excepted along side more traditional work. I know we have argued for years that it is equal, but again it is not seen that way by (for lack of a better words) old school/traditional metal smiths.

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  3. Jackie, I for one will continue to maintain my personal rules when it comes to certifying anyone as an Art Clay certifying instructor. I think maybe that there may be many people teaching classes that are not certified instructors of PMC, Art Clay or anything. Ive noticed many new clays, including silver, on the market. Are the Japanese patents expired? What does all of this mean for us who have been certified to teach and to give certifications? Thanks

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  4. I will continue to support Art Clay Silver as a Sr. Certifying Instructor
    Jackie, thank you for your over all assessment. I am dedicated to promoting this medium. We all have to be dedicated to this medium and perpetuate the talented artists that work to make this medium excel to the greatness it deserves.

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  5. So many good points, Jackie. Metal Clay is a unique medium, but with so many types, brands and methodologies, it’s going to be more confusing for a while. I’ve never regretted getting cross-certified in PMC and Art Clay Silver and using the various clays in combination with sheet metals has been a glorious path. Thanks for continuing to promote and teach this unique media.

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  6. I have wondered about some of things points too. Another thing I have notice, (I’m a librarian by profession) is that there are very few new books on metal clay coming out. We have all these great new brands/types of clay that open all sorts of new possibilities, but no new books. A few years ago there was an explosion of new titles. What happened? Are the publishers not interested or are the artists busy with their projects? Trudy, do you have any insights on this?
    Thanks for your support of metal clay and for sharing your great art.


  7. My thoughts on the SBA change can be read on your first FB post concerning this. I think it is a good one and I also appreciate your thoughts here, Jackie! Also, I think that it’s impossible that the industry at large can monitor the expertise of the users! It hasn’t worked so far. Put any other jewelry ( or art medium) in that formula and it won’t work. For instance I suppose Fimo polymer clay has no power to monitor how their product is used. Only suggestions. You are right. I do think there is a sea change in the works for metal clay


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