My New Favorite Jewelry Making Videos

Quick, what’s the difference between synclastic and anticlastic?  You’ll find the answer to this question and more in Andrea Harvin-Kennington’s   video Shell Forming for Jewelry Making.   She possess an encyclopedic knowledge  of metal forming techniques gleaned from years of education and studio time and is a fabulous teacher.  I found myself absolutely mesmerized  watching her demonstrate how to form metal using hammers and stakes, explaining every step in the process.  She has also developed her own line of micro metal forming tools.  I am definitely going to explore these techniques on my own when I have more time.  Kennington also teaches occasionally.    I have the feeling that a class with her would be well worth the time and money.

I don’t ever see myself making my own mokume gane.  That being said,  I recommend that anyone interested in metal smithing take the time to watch Interweave’s  mokume gane videos with  the engaging and expert Chris Ploof. In addition to his informative commentary on the process, Ploof is bursting with helpful  information on metal,  tools, safety which he shares throughout the videos.  The process of fabricating mokume gane is fascinating to watch  and Ploof’s explanations are illuminating and entertaining.  The Bracelet and Hollow Pendant videos do not delve into the mokume gane fabrication process but they are excellent jewelry making  tutorials by themselves.

My last new favorites are Susan Lenart Kazmer’s enameling videos from Interweave, Explorations in Jewelry Enameling which covers torch and kiln enameling and Further Explorations which focuses on liquid enamels and kiln firing.  OK, I admit it.  I wanted to eat everything she makes.  I love her primitive sense of style and her bold and dramatic use of color.  I’ve been hooked ever since I took a course with her a few years ago.

Kazmer has been accused in the past of being  a bit loosey goosey about studio safety and I am not going to address that here except to say that she covers safety practices and ergonomics in both videos.  And she certainly has put her own spin on enameling with her distinctive sense of design.  She gives  thorough explanations of how she shapes the metal and   prepares it for enameling.  Her “on the fly” style of working might seem deceptively simple, but just watching her work made me want to experiment using her techniques.  That’s one thing I love about her:  she gives her students  the tools to develop their individuality. And she makes it look like so much fun!  Kazmer  covers the basics of torch and kiln enameling. But even though she is  a wonderfully clear and generous teacher,  I do not recommend these videos for rank enameling beginners who want to learn the process,  because there is a lot of information about tools and materials that Kazmer does not cover.   The videos are explorations into enameling techniques and geared toward those who have some knowledge of enameling and want to push their  creative envelopes.

Speaking of creativity and people whose work I admire,  I was lucky enough to meet Nikia Angel, at Beadfest this weekend. She is one of my all-time favorite bead designers ever since I discovered Sparkly Wheels and, as it turned out, a lovely person with fascinating stories to tell.  Nikia has patterns for some of her stunning designs on her Etsy page, here.

Sargent Johnson and Sid Mohammed Diag on the Promenade Deck

In my last post, I wrote about my serendipitous  stumbling onto  Hilaire Hiler’s murals and Prismatarium in the Maritime Museum in San Francisco. And just when I thought the highlight of the trip had passed, another surprise was waiting for us. My husband and I wandered through a doorway that led from the lobby to the promenade deck on the beach to get a look at the ocean.  We didn’t see Sargent Johnson’s fabulous mosaic gracing the side of the building until we turned to go back into the Bathhouse.

Sargent Claude Johnson was an African American  painter, potter, ceramist, print maker, sculptor,  artist  and visionary. Born in Boston, Johnson lived and worked mostly in the California Bay Area, although he had ties to the Harlem Renaissance.    He belonged to the Communist Party for most of his life and he did not complete the Maritime Museum mosaic,  reportedly because he objected to plans to turn part of the building into a restaurant which would be out of reach for most working people.  He disdained such commercialism and thought that art should be for the masses.  Interestingly he was turned down when he first applied for a commission to work on the  Bathhouse which was being built as part of a WPA project.  He was hired after Hiler vouched for him.

Johnson created his stylized and sophisticated “Sea Forms” mosaic on the Promenade Deck  working with  a Moroccan tile cutter named  Sid Mohammed Diag.  The friendly park rangers at the Bathhouse related a few stories about Diag:  Diag could cut Arabic  letters from tile (do you have any idea how hard that is?).  He let his skills speak for him when bureaucrats and visitors to the site  questioned his ability to produce precision tile work. (Which apparently happened regularly.  Diag was a short, dark foreign looking-man)    Diag’s  response would be to take a tile, whip out an intricate shape, hand it to the offender, and continue his work without looking up or saying a word.  

Thanks to the Smithsonian Institute and its New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project, you can read a transcript of an  interview of Johnson recorded in 1964 in which he talks about his career, his art and  his work on the mosaic.  If you want to listen to the interview, try this link.

I love the Sea Forms varied shades of green and blue green and the pops of red and warm brown. You can’t really see it from these pictures but a few of the tiles were glazed in gold luster. The limitations of my photography plus the 60+ years that these tiles have faced the Pacific Ocean make these areas difficult to see on the computer screen.   Even though Johnson has worked with a limited palette and mostly abstract shapes, he succeeds in depicting a beautiful sea fantasy world that is quite different from Hiler’s.

If you are in San Francisco, go to the Maritime Museum and see the work of Hiler, Sergent and other artists who contributed to this little-known National Park treasure.

The Colorful Ways of Hilaire Hiler

Hilaire Hiler was an artist.  No, he was a jazz musician.  No, he was a psychologist.  No,  he was a color theoretician.   In fact, he was all of these things.

Hilaire Hiler was born in Minnesota and died in Paris.  He has a Philadelphia connection having studied at the University of Pennsylvania and briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After living and studying in various cities around the United States, he left for Europe around 1919 and made a living playing jazz in the Montmartre district of Paris.

The old order of the 19th Century had started to crumble by the end of World War I. Life seemed all the more precious for those who had experienced the horrors of the war first hand. People were questioning  the wisdom of old values with their rigid rules of conformity.  World War I had exposed a generation of young people to places and cultures they would never have otherwise seen and it opened them to new possibilities.  What if everything they had learned was wrong?

Paris was a Mecca for creative people in search of nurturing and support for their art.  They  could not find it at home, but the bohemian and eccentric could find community and acceptance in Paris.  African American artists of the time  could live and work in  Paris  without the constant onus of the historically ingrained racism they experienced in America. Many of the expatriates  settled in Montmartre.  Press here to watch a short video of Paris at that time.   Press here to get some idea of what Montmartre was like when Hiler arrived.  Press here for an article.

Hiler had reportedly attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to make his father happy before he clarified what was important to him, embraced his artistic side and left for Paris.   I have read varying accounts of Hiler’s time in Paris:  That he played the piano with a monkey on his shoulder.  That he owned or managed a club.  That he played the saxophone.  Our guides in San Francisco told us and several web sites confirm that he painted a number of murals on the walls of nightclubs in the district.  But none of them remain today because when Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, the Nazis embarked on a program to eradicate what they termed “degenerate” art.  Hiler’s murals were among the many works they destroyed. 

Which means that the only place left to see Hiler’s  murals (recently restored) is the lobby of the  Maritime Museum in San Francisco.   It is reported that when Henry Miller first walked into the lobby and saw the murals, he asked Hiler to teach him how to paint.

Here are some pictures.



In his later years, Hiler’s art became more abstract as you can see from his work on this site but his exploration of color and the infinite possibilities for its expression was always a central focus in his work.

As a jazz musician, Hiler used musical such as tone and harmony to describe color.    “The harmonious relations of structure and order presented in a new way, in the nature of a continuum. Relations of degree, and those of geometric progression of color-form, replace relations of simple analogy—or in turn of contrast, by opposition. As the sequential relations of Structuralism design resemble those of natural growth, it may be termed organic. In this sense, it is like certain kinds of music.” (Hiler, Structuralism, London, Heal & Son, 1955).  From Hiler, Hilaire Biography, download here.

The Prismataruim


 This blog post only scratches the surface of  Hiler, his art and his fascinating life.  If anyone has additional information and would like to share, I invite you to leave a comment.

Serendipidy in San Francisco

I discovered the work of Hilare Hiler and Sargent Johnson by pure serendipity.


I was in San Francisco with my husband. We decided to do the tourist thing and take a tour of Fisherman’s Wharf.  Only I thought the tour started an hour later than it actually did. In a different spot.  So we went to the wrong meeting point an hour after the tour left.  This didn’t seem like a good beginning to our day at the time.

We wandered by  San Francisco Maritime National Park and I saw a Park Ranger who told me was a tour starting soon. National Park tours are free so what did we have to lose?  We got tickets and found we would be the only people on the tour.

Our Ranger  guide was soft spoken,  knowledgeable, and wore rain hat and two pairs of glasses.  San Francisco eccentricity?   She led us through a museum, a art gallery and by the shore  while telling us about the indigenous people of the area, the early settlers and   the history and geography of the waterfront.   We learned that building materials were in short supply in the early days, so some sailors beached their ships and used the wood to build houses.  As a matter of fact, the  Maritime Museum located in the nearby Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building. housed the remains of a hull of a wooden ship what was almost  200 years old.   Would we like to see it?  Why not? We followed her into the building and our adventure began.

The National Park web site mentions that the building was built in 1939 as a WPA project, but it did not prepare us for what the colorful, surreal murals that covered the walls and ceiling of the cavernous lobby. We were not expecting to walk into an undersea dreamland.  We gaped  in astonishment. And that was only the beginning because for the next few hours we spent there, our guide and a fellow ranger for whom the murals were clearly a passion,  engaged us in conversation about Hilaire Hiler’s murals and his Prismatarium in the next room and the tile installations by Sargent Johnson  on the promenade deck.


My next posts will be about Hiler, Johnson and their work in the Bathhouse Building, which deserves much more attention than the US Park Service is giving it.


P.S. We forgot about the ship