How do they do that? I had that thought years ago while looking at some hand-crafted jewelry at one of the open studios in an East Austin Studio Tour. It was a stone of some kind set in a sterling silver pendant. I thought that it must not be terribly difficult to do, there was jewelry like that everywhere. But how was it done? Later I learned that the stone was called a cabochon, and it was bezel-set.
When I started taking jewelry making classes at Austin Community College one of the required projects in the beginner class was to bezel set a stone. You measure the length of the bezel wire by bending it around the stone. Then you use a torch to silver-solder the ends of the bezel together, solder it to a backing plate and set the stone in it. That is much easier said than done.
The silver has to be prepared correctly or the solder won’t run, the amount of heat and type of solder has to be correct or it doesn’t work. You could easily end with a lump of molten silver. But with proper instruction and some practice I learned to make a simple bezel-set pendant, a nice craft project but little or no artistry.
Countless things can be done with a bezel-set stone. Simple techniques, like changing the color and shape of the stone or the size and shape of the backing plate can completely change the look of the piece. Fold-forming, melting and hand sawing silver can produce endless variations. My goal is to add artistry, to make every piece a little different from what I have made before.
So, what is art and how does a person become an artist? There are as many definitions of art as there are people defining it and I’m not sure that a person can learn to be an artist. I think that an artist has to be born. Is my work art or craft? If you are reading this, you have seen my work. You be the judge.
My definition of art is something that affects me intellectually and emotionally. Does it make me think? Does it somehow make me feel good, or make me feel anything? When I make a piece, I try to make it at least interesting and, at best, artistic. Like most of us, I am my biggest critic. As the cartoon character Pogo famously said, “I have met the enemy and he is us.” I think that most of my work is good, it is something to look at and some of it I greatly enjoy wearing. I hope that you, the reader, feel the same.