Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
Metal Art and Technology I was not my first choice, but I needed another studio class toward my degree and it fit into my schedule. I distinctly remember the moment my first saw blade snapped in two; my face turned to a determined frown. Ours is a tumultuous relationship, metals’ and mine: the pain of a melted bezel strip, the joy of a perfect rivet. Metals have never allowed me to sit back and coast along, and it’s this constant engagement that has kept me so consistently passionate about my art.
Under the instruction and unwavering dedication of my professor at Penn State, James Thurman, I learned fabrication and casting with strong emphasis on a conceptual understanding of art and the process of making. A semester abroad in Barcelona in 2007 inspired the work for my senior exhibition, Reclaiming the Souvenir, and after graduating in 2008 I went back to Spain to live for a year where my investigation of Spanish society caused me to reexamine my own upbringing in the American suburbs. My thoughts and observations during that time continue to inform my current work.
When I returned from Spain in 2009 I began working at Virginia Tech in graduate admissions where I gained a thorough understanding of the inner workings of the university. It wasn’t long before I knew that a cubicle was not the place I wanted to spend my time, and the fact that I was surrounded by graduate students all day sparked my initial interest in going back to school. That spark grew timidly at first: I thought about going to a local university so that I could live with my parents to save money. I would keep my job and be a part-time student, majoring in sculpture because that was the closest thing I could find to metals and jewelry in the area. I was scared to put too much on the line, to risk too much, for a career that seemed so unreliable and difficult to attain. To begin with I wasn’t very confident in my undergraduate work; it didn’t seem to live up to the glowing objects I saw in Metalsmith and on all the university websites. Not to mention I hadn’t the slightest idea of where to start.
I was casually toying with the idea while talking to a coworker one day when he mentioned that he chatted every morning with a Starbucks barista who was an MFA student in painting at a local university. I went out on a limb and asked him to meet with me; he kindly agreed. He asked to look at my undergraduate work, which I presented with much hesitation and nervous explanation as to why it might not live up to his standards. I was surprised when he chuckled and said, “The way you just talked about this, I thought you had strung a few beads on a piece of wire. This is great work!” I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly my first obstacle was gone: I did have the kind of work that could get me into grad school.
A few days later I called my undergraduate professor, James, and told him that I was considering applying to a graduate program. Of course he was ecstatic and immediately offered himself as a resource. I picked his brain on programs, portfolios, financial aid and more. He took away the mystique of it all and gradually it became something I could wrap my head around. Within a week I decided that if I was going to do it, I was really going to go for it. I started looking at schools across the country with programs in metals and jewelry and committed myself to take a leap of faith into my dream career.
Aside from researching potential programs, my first priority was updating and improving my portfolio as well as my technical skills. In the summer and fall of 2010 I enrolled in evening and weekend classes at The Art League School and Creative Metalworks School of Design, two local jewelry schools. Additional classes in surface design and weaving introduced new materials, techniques and concepts into my work. It quickly became obvious that I couldn’t maintain my full-time job and be able to put the necessary time into my portfolio, so in October I left my stable university position, dependable salary and health insurance behind, moved back home with my parents, and put hour after hour into creating 11 new pieces for my portfolio by the time my applications were due in the beginning of January 2011.
I applied to three schools: University of North Texas, Virginia Commonwealth University and Kent State University. It was nerve racking going to my interviews. Having been out of school for two and a half years at that point, I didn’t have the reassurance of my professors and classmates talking me through each piece in my portfolio. There was no assignment, no peer review, no critique. It was my ideas freshly molded into their physical form with minimal outside input. I had to do my own editing. And though I had my various resources throughout the process, at the end of the day it was me, sitting across from a faculty member with my work laid out on the table, trying to explain why I made what I made. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. But after my last interview I realized that no matter what happened, I had accomplished so much already.
I can’t explain the feeling you have when you risk it all- your job, your future, your independence- and it pays off. The days I got phone calls from University of North Texas and Kent State accepting me into their programs might go up there with some of the best days of my life. And though that was just the beginning, I had a newfound confidence that if I could get that far on my own, then I could make a career in the field I’m passionate for on my own. Trust me- there’s no better feeling.
So now that you know my story, I hereby commence my blog in an effort to help others have this same amazing experience. Enjoy.
Below: Portable soldering station I made in a Radio Flyer to avoid ventilation issues; Makeshift work bench in my basement; Three in-progress pieces I later completed for my MFA portfolio
As someone who has been on the fence about whether to continue on to an MFA program (I've already been out of school for 2 years, and have since gotten married and had a baby), I'm thrilled to join this discussion. Any advice that can make the process seem less intimidating is definitely appreciated!