AR 371/372 IndependentAR_371_372_Independent_Study.html
AR 319 MetalsmithingAR_319_Metalsmithing.html
AR 320 Jewelry & Metals IIAR_320_J%26MII.html
AR 219 Jewelry & Metals IAR_219_J%26MI.html


David Alan PetersonHome.html

Reflections on Teaching

I can no longer see the line which divides my teaching and my creative work.  Discoveries, hard-won in my own work, filter with ease into my teaching, and what I learn from teaching routinely enriches my own studio practice.  On more than one occasion a simple technical demonstration for a class has erupted, quite unexpectedly, into something of very real consequence within my own body of work.  No teaching strategy that I am aware of is as profoundly effective as simply being a productive artist in full view of our students; working diligently, taking creative risks, managing set-backs, and reveling in the exercise of a vivid imagination. 

Teaching in a discipline which is highly technical and tool-intensive carries certain obligations.  Instruction can never be exclusively verbal.  Words, in fact, are often of no value whatsoever.  Direct observation, consistent, clear and thorough demonstrations; these are the teaching tools most relied upon in my discipline.  The human attention span being what it is, lectures and demonstrations must be concise, logically organized, and visually engaging to be effective.  Even then, glazed eyes forecast the inevitable; the demonstration will likely need to be repeated again (and again?) in the coming days.  Fortunately, I love to work in the studio, to get my hands dirty, so this is no onerous task for me.  Consistent oversight of students, especially outside of scheduled class sessions, is another absolute necessity.  The risk of personal injury looms large in a studio such as this.  Processes must often be performed in exacting sequences to have any hope of succeeding.  Hence, student questions and requests for help cannot be deferred.  If they are to learn, I have to be there for them.  There was a time when I resented these frequent interruptions to my own work, my own time outside of teaching, but my outlook has changed in recent years.  Perhaps this is just my own coming of age.

I take my teaching very seriously, but I believe that “learning” remains the obligation of the student.  Knowledge cannot be painlessly implanted, nor is it delivered by a celestial muse; it must be won through personal desire and honest effort.  My teaching philosophy is predicated on this.  My assignments demand that students ruthlessly interrogate their ideas, develop and refine their compositions, research their proposed methods and materials, and apply tenacity to the task of building a skill base for making their own work.  If I do any of this work for them, they will likely learn nothing.

There is no teaching method as permanently effective as failure.  When a student attempts something difficult and succeeds, it is (in that moment) a wonderful thing.  But favorable outcomes are rarely as instructive as failures.  To redress, to re-evaluate and re-engage, offers the greatest promise of lasting, intimate understanding. 

Jewelry & Metals Curriculum

Jewelry & Metals is one of ten studio areas in the Department of Art.  The studio, located on the second floor of the Saisselin Art Building, comprises approximately 2000 square feet of work space, with individual and group workstations, tools, and equipment designed to accommodate classes of up to eighteen (18) students.  Enrollments, annually, average approximately eighty (80) students, with an additional ten (10) at the advanced/independent study level. The studio is, arguably, one of the most comprehensive facilities of its kind at any liberal arts college in the nation, and is the equal of many found at major universities and professional art schools.

The Jewelry & Metals curriculum is designed to compliment the other curricula within the Department of Art (and, for that matter, the college at large), seeking to integrate the broader learning goals of the studio artist while preserving and foregrounding the unique technical and aesthetic traditions of decorative metalworking.  The learning goals for coursework in Jewelry & Metals (see pdf, below) emphasize creative problem solving, first and foremost, followed by the knowledge and application of traditional working methods (including fabrication, casting and smithing), and the study of formal aesthetic theory (composition and context).  Three (3) discrete courses comprise the core of the Jewelry & Metals curriculum:

AR 219, Jewelry & Metals I: an introductory course in the design and fabrication of small metal objects, emphasizing creative problem solving (incl. research, ideation, and critical assessment), and basic skill knowledge and application.  Students are encouraged to think broadly and critically, to assess and manage risks, and to develop deliberateness and precision in both thought and practice.

AR 319, Metalsmithing:  a course which builds upon ideas and skills engaged in AR 219, while introducing more advanced methods of forming metal (suitable for larger, more sculpturally developed objects).  Students study traditional working methods and investigate material properties (i.e. plasticity and ductility in non-ferrous alloys) through forging, raising, and related techniques.  Design and aesthetic inquiry focus predominantly on integrated proportion: planar contour, mass/volume, and surface texture/patination.  Students also engage applied design history (specifically: holloware, decorative metalwork and industrial design) to inform their own investigations of form and function.

AR 320, Jewelry & Metals II: a course which builds upon ideas and skills engaged in AR 219, while introducing a range of casting methods (lost wax, sand/foundry, etc.) uniquely suited to small-scale, precision work.  Students explore a broad range of wax modelling and carving techniques, mold-making, alternative investment processes, and discrete skills associated with traditional goldsmithing such as stone setting and engraving.  As casting processes are particularly well suited to an examination of structural intricacy and textural contrast, most assignments direct students toward developing a personal vocabulary of forms, textures, and surface embellishments.

     Advanced Coursework: Students wishing to continue work at an advanced and/or independent level enroll in AR 365/366 (Advanced Studio Problems), AR 371/372 (Independent Study), or AR 299/399 (Professional Internship in Studio Art).   Students in AR 365/366 and 371/372 develop an individual course plan in consultation with their instructor.  Often (but not always) this work supports their capstone/thesis exhibition.   Off-campus study opportunities, including  internships, have included design and technical research at Ed Levin Jewelry (a nationally acclaimed producer of fine, limited-production art jewelry, Cambridge, NY, custom design and production work at Dennis DeJonghe Jewelers (Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY, and studio internships and coursework at Penland School of Craft (  Skidmore graduates in Jewelry & Metals are routinely accepted into the nation’s most prestigious Master of Fine Arts programs, including The Cranbrook Academy of Art, The School of American Craft (RIT), University of Kansas, SUNY @ New Paltz, and Arizona State University. Recent alumni are working today as independent studio metalsmiths, independent studio sculptors, production jewelry designers, and college professors.

The links located above will display student work, syllabi, and sample assignments for each course in the Jewelry & Metals sequence.

The pdf files (below) contain supplemental information on assessment goals, curricular structure, and related topics (only for those with unparalleled stamina).

Area Report