When I was teaching art in an inner city high school, fabricating a
sterling silver ring from the students' own original designs was one
of the most successful assignments. I give credit for this
assignment to Ms. Fabian Wolfe, the teacher I student taught with. I
was fortunate to be on hand to be hired for her position when she
retired just as I finished college.
The silver rings were displayed on black mat board for two weeks in a
small secure lighted case with student names in the hall near the
principle's office not far from the school's athletic trophy cases.
Other teachers told me they could not believe that these particular
students had accomplished such beautiful work.
The beauty and and intrinsic value of silver has meaning to all of
us. It seems to have obvious meaning to a student who is unable to
get meaning or significance out of most other school assignments.
Like Ms. Wolfe before me, I required pages of preliminary sketches.
They then had to create layers of variations using tracing paper to
refine their best ideas before transferring the designs to silver.
Like Ms. Wolfe, I used a magnifier and was a very picky inspector
requiring high standards of finishing at the end. Because of the
cost and beauty of the materials, it was natural for the silver and
gem stones to receive our utmost respect.
In my mind, learning the creative process of coming up with an
original design, developing it, and refining it, is the most
important part of what these students learned. In their minds, the
precious material and a high status product is the motivation to put
up with stiff requirements. In the end they learn the value of
creating new ideas, they learn the value of refining ideas, and they
learn that with care and persistence they can produce something of
value. They have to learn to saw, to hard solder, to set a stone, to
file away mistakes, to polish away scratches, to blacken it with
oxidation and then bring out the final depth and beauty of the design
and the material.
They are motivated to learn what is truly beneficial to succeed in
life because of their natural desire for this beautiful outward
symbol of success. The public display of their success, both in the
display case and on their own ring finger, becomes a life long
reminder and motivation to continue creative thinking habits and
careful work habits.