Living Room Session: Ethical Making and We Wield The Hammer - Sustainable Jewelry Education

fairmined jewelry jewelry education living room sessions responsible sourcing Nov 01, 2022

Our October Living Room session posed the questions:
Who has access to jewelry education?
What are students learning and what should they be learning?
How are innovative instructors striving for sustainable solutions within entrenched systems?

Our goal is for the discussion sparked at this Living Room session to be the beginning and convening of an action focused group, a catalyst that will get the ball rolling in creating guidance for educators who want their jewelry and metalsmithing programs to set the next generation of jewelry makers on a path to sustainable practices. This session was planned in collaboration with the Ethical Metalsmiths Education Committee (EMEC) and the Scotland born, Ethical Making Pledge. The conversation will continue during the EMEC’s International State of Practice webinar by all who would like to take part. (Details about the International State of Practice are pending).

For this session, we welcomed speakers who are actively participating in sustainable jewelry education. We began with a presentation from Dr. Karen Westland about the Ethical Making Pledge created by the Scottish Goldsmiths Trust and signed by all of the jewelry and silversmithing colleges and institutions in Scotland. As a case study of the pledge being implemented into course curriculum, Lisa McGovern, course leader at the City of Glasgow College shared how the college has been able to respond to the pledge points. And we heard from Karen Smith, who shared with us her experiences in creating the education program for her organization, We Wield The Hammer.

Ethical Making Pledge
Karen Westland gave the audience an overview of the projects supported by the Scottish Goldsmith’s Trust, including the Ethical Making Programme which itself is made up of three parts: the Ethical Making Pledge, the Ethical Making Resource, and the Scottish Goldsmiths Trust annual Symposium. The Ethical Making Pledge is a collaborative initiative for jewelry and metalsmithing educational institutions to embed learning about ethical making practices into their curricula. The pledge has been signed by all seven of the art colleges in Scotland and has expanded to include institutions across the rest of the UK as well as institutions that aren’t higher education.

Signing on to the pledge means a commitment to working towards the following points:
1. Sharing the Ethical Making Pledge with staff and students in the department.
2. Nominating two student ambassadors each year, who will take part in biannual information sessions with us and who will support the adoption of ethical making practices within the department.
3. Working towards the transition to ethical metal sourcing in the department with our support.
4. Incorporating ethical making into the curriculum with the goal of writing ethical making awareness into curriculum requirements.
5. Working towards incorporating ethical making practices into workshop methods and providing students with the skill sets necessary to build their own ethical practice.
6. Collaborating with us to sustain and build the Pledge for future years.

Course leaders track their progress through an annual survey, which celebrates their efforts as well as identifies areas for further improvement. The student ambassadors also provide feedback from their own perspectives. This collaboration with the student ambassadors aims to help students develop the skills necessary to navigate the complex supply chain issues of the jewelry industry.

Karen also shared an example of how students have been exploring more sustainable materials, including bio resins, through an exhibition from the Sustainability in Action Group at the Glasgow School of Art. Student Ambassadors also wanted to work on a sustainability related project which was more accessible on a budget, which led to a collaboration with Ethical Metalsmiths for the Radical Jewelry Makeover - Scotland. Students and staff from across six of the Scottish colleges took part in the project, transforming old and unwanted jewelry into new designs. With students learning about ethical making practices from the outset of their jewelry journey, the hope is that they continue to carry that forward into their future businesses.

The Ethical Making Pledge is not limited to the United Kingdom and could be a useful tool to help unify sustainability related activity across educational institutions.

City of Glasgow College
For an example of how the Pledge has been implemented in a school and how it has changed the curriculum and methods at the school, we heard from Lisa McGovern, Curriculum Head for Craft and Design at City of Glasgow College, Scotland. She first shared that the pledge encouraged the school to turn the ethos that already existed there into concrete actions, by creating a guideline and helping to focus. Some practical steps they have taken are: using Fairmined silver or Fairtrade gold when possible and recycled metals otherwise, switching to less toxic chemicals and showing students how to dispose of them properly, using plant based resins for prototyping, and banning new plastic material (students can use off cuts from the model making department, for example). These practical changes have been built up over time since 2018.

On top of the practical changes, the program also focuses on raising public awareness of environmental sustainability issues in jewelry through annual events like a Christmas fair where jewelry available for purchase is made with in house recycled or otherwise recycled silver. The college also exhibits art and jewelry pieces that follow creative briefs meant to make a statement about ethical making practices. Putting on exhibitions in public gallery spaces increases student engagement as they are excited to get their work in front of more people and it also increases overall awareness of jewelry related issues in the public.

Another new addition at the City of Glasgow College is the addition of a general carbon literacy module, which can be applied to any discipline within the school. For second year students, there is now a unit on developing entrepreneurial skills. This helps bridge the gap between school and the “real world” by teaching students how to develop business plans while considering the impacts of their materials sourcing decisions.

We Wield The Hammer
Karen Smith sees her organization We Wield the Hammer (WWTH), as meeting a tenant of the Ethical Making Pledge. But beyond that, she invites us all to consider how narrowly defined Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are. Increasing diversity within the jewelry industry needs to expand to include roles in all aspects of the trade from leadership to design, to manufacturing, to education, sales, and more. And the question of “What should students be learning?” should also include mentorship through different parts of the career path, especially for students who did not have access to top goldsmithing programs.

Her desire to learn traditional jewelry making skills and a connection to a master goldsmith in Senegal, led Karen to an apprenticeship there. (Her organization is now named in response to the view that, “women don’t wield the hammer” in Senegal) During her apprenticeship, she noticed that her break with that tradition was picked up on by a young girl, who watched her work every day. In the same way that goldsmithing skills are passed down only through men in Senegal, in the United States, these skills are most often passed down through entrenched systems of folks with more privilege.

“The transmission [of skills] goes from father to son to son… in lots of places around the world, that's how it happens. The work is transmitted from one person to another and they are the chosen, whether that be because they are family, whether that be because they are men. Whatever it is, they're the chosen ones. And we have that system here. So the chosen ones are the ones who can afford to go to jewelry school. The chosen ones are the ones who even know that jewelry school exists.” -Karen Smith

Karen started WWTH after her apprenticeship to pay it forward and create more opportunities for women and girls of African descent. She invited the audience to also consider how they can expand their work in the industry to create pathways for the next group of up and coming jewelers. Mentorships are key here and should include all aspects of the jewelry business on top of bench jeweler skills.

As We Wield The Hammer continues to grow, Karen’s plans are to purchase a studio space in North Carolina. Another thing that is in the works in the meantime is gathering a Board of Directors for the organization. If you’d like to support We Wield the Hammer, you can send a donation through their website and spread the word about their work.

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