Tag Archives: metalsmith

Touching Base from Touchstone


Touchstone Center for Crafts is located in Farmington, Pa.

Recently I was invited to be a presenter at the Touchstone Center for Crafts for an awesome annual event called The Jim Campbell Hammer-In and Alchemists Picnic. Other presenters included the amazing Eric Burris, Rebecca Strzelec and Laurie Brown on the jewelry track and Caitlin Morris, Bob Rupert and Jerry Veneziano on the blacksmithing track. It was a full, rich, rewarding day and the demos were fun, informative and well-worth attending. I had never been to Touchstone, so when organizer Wayne Werner invited me to present, I jumped at the opportunity.

Touchstone Center for Crafts runs a full schedule of workshops, classes and year-round activities, the metals studio is fully equipped, and the setting could not be more serene and peaceful. Forget your cell and computer, abandon the endless beeps, chirps and never-ending electronic intrusions of daily life and just focus on making work — my idea of heaven on earth. Centrally located for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, DC, Maryland and upstate New York or Ohio residents, it’s worth the drive out the PA Turnpike to attend a class there. And do not miss the food either, because they really, really feed you well and make every effort to meet any dietary restriction or preference!


The Blacksmith shop is one of the best I have ever been to — here are some of many twisted iron samples.

Because I have been screaming busy for several months preparing some grant applications, doing digital housekeeping, creating new work and curriculum work and doing lots of freelance writing and teaching, it was great to just get away from my computer for a weekend, eat food prepared by a talented cook, see other members of the metals tribe, listen to nature and chill out. I did not realize how much I sorely needed a break until after Saturday’s lunch, when my full stomach and tired hit me like a ton of bricks…

Next year, I am planning on attending the Picnic for the fun of it. Or, maybe teaching a workshop there leading into it, or following after. Either way, I intend to be there or be square in 2018.

My favorite part of the weekend was the mokume gane demo by talented Eric Burris (he has workshop openings, I am totally going) who has invented an affordable, ingenious small-scale mokume gane kit that works with an acetylene/air torch in your average home studio. Can somebody say awesome? What a brilliant idea, and what an amazing artist.


Eric’s amazing setup allows you to create mokume gane in the average home studio.

The metals studio is fully equipped with benches, torches and flex shafts, and situated on the hill down from the blacksmith shop. There is also a secret mosaic studio, spring houses, a kitchen and flower garden, a hot glass studio, the main hall and gallery, dorms and camping facilities, so you can go rough or not. There are bonfires and sand casting at night, plus myriad other ways for metalheads to entertain themselves.

Basically, I can’t recommend Touchstone and the Alchemist Picnic enough. If you live in the region, you owe it to yourself to attend a workshop there, visit the center, or at least join.

So, check out my photos and links, and if you are in the Mid-Atlantic region, make it a point to go to the 2018 Alchemist Picnic next year — I’ll be seeing you there!



Embrace the Unexpected

When I was rather unexpectedly laid off from the day job at the magazine at the end of August, I decided to look on the upside of things — all of a sudden I have lots of time on my hands to spend in my studio without being mentally distracted by the daily demands of a job. Sure, there is anxiety associated with being unemployed, but if you treat the job hunt part of your day like a temp job and just blitz through the finding leads, sending out and following up on stuff to efficiently get it over with, all of a sudden you have hours and hours of unencumbered time at your disposal. It’s actually really awesome. I’ve been sleeping like a rock, eating so healthy it’s scary, suddenly have lots of energy, and strangely, no more acid reflux. I haven’t left the house for weeks except to take a daily walk around my local lake, or to visit the mailbox or work in my garden.

All this positive force means I’ve been making work like a fiend, sending out class proposals, applying for residencies, shaking up some freelance work and teaching workshops, organizing my paperwork, cleaning up my digital assets, mastering some code, getting the book idea that’s been dancing in my head for about 8 months committed to a worddoc, and generally investing 100% of my creative energy into ProjectHelen instead of ProjectElsewhere. Hate to sound selfish, but ProjectHelen is so rewarding because there are actually tangible rewards when you invest in yourself. I could really get used to this…

Anyway, quick word of reassurance — I promise will still be writing about Tools and Bench Tips here on a regular basis. My last formal column will run in the November 2016 issue. For the past few weeks, I gave myself permission for an essential and very healing mental break after what went down at the magazine. I just had to allow the trauma to sink in and process itself down and out of me. I am happy to say I am cool with it now, doo-doo happens and, it was a great gig while I had it. Oh, and good luck…

So. Over, next. If you follow me on FB or Instagram, you’ll see I’ve been toying with some video, taking loads of step shots, and creating some new classes for Tucson and BeadFest, plus some other places I hope to reveal soon. Keep an eye on my class descriptions for updates. And now, I can be here more often, too.

Change, they say, is as good as a rest. Um, yep!


Backstage Pass: Ploof, Cahoon and Warg video sessions

Despite a temporary delay (due to crushing print deadlines) I have finally sorted out my notes and photos from recent studio visits in New England with metalsmith/jewelry artist (and life) partners Chris Ploof and Ann Cahoon, and the incomparable Pauline Warg, enamelist extraordinaire. It was a busy week, with IWP Video Production staffers from Colorado meeting up with me and the fantastic artist talent here on the east coast. I had forgotten just how gorgeous New England is, and I was delighted to spend some time meeting these three talented artists and assisting Garrett and Nick with the backstage and editing support during the filming of three IWP videos.

For the Massachusetts leg of our journey, we shot at the Chris Ploof/Ann Cahoon studio in Leomister. I haven’t been to Massachusetts since I took a workshop at Metalwerx in 2009 (with Michael Boyd) and both Chris and Ann are instructors there as well. Chris specializes in Mokume Gane and Damascus, and is the metalsmith’s metalsmith. He can form, forge, cast, solder, fabricate, make tools and also runs a thriving and busy production/manufacturing facility and business.

Watching him create a mokume gane billet and then pattern it on video was a treat for me, because I have never seen that process live. Chris is a real pro and living proof of the work hard/stay humble ethic common to many New Englanders. Chances are if you own a weighted Delrin forming mallet, it was manufactured in the Ploof facility, right alongside his incredible luxury metal rings and other jewelry objects. You can see his gorgeous work and learn about Chris here: http://www.chrisploof.com/

The other half of this life and work partner duo, Ann Cahoon, spent the afternoon demonstrating a variety of stone settings on camera, and her exacting nature and high level of quality control is another contributing factor to the success of their business. Ann is a consummate professional, and I admire her for the difficulty she conquers every day as a stone setter: one of the most unforgiving tasks jewelry makers perform in pursuit of their craft. I truly do not know how she did it on camera with such composure and professionalism. Learn more about Ann here:  http://www.metalwerx.com/staff/57

Both Ann and Chris are hard-working and modest. It was a long day of filming and they both not only shot their own material for the video, but got other important work done in the studio while their partner was on camera. Both artists were in the midst of preparing a body of work for the Vegas shows, and interrupted that important production process for our filming sessions. I feel so much gratitude to both of them for allowing us into the studio during such a busy period. I picked up some great ideas for my own studio while I was there, and filled two-thirds of my notebook with information on tools, mokume gane, stone setting, sources, and all kinds of studio information which they happily shared with me. Then, after packing up, a hasty good-bye, and the promise to spend time with them in the future, it was off to I-95 and on the road to the rugged and glorious state of Maine.

Pauline Warg is a tremendous teacher, with a full-fledged shop and education storefront in Scarborough, Maine. Her video will cover Torch Fired Enamels, and she is an accomplished pro. I was so honored to spend the day with her and her husband, and I discovered at lunch that she studied with Philip Morton (author of Contemporary Jewelry, A Studio Handbook) — one of the giants of education in our craft. Pauline herself  is the author of Making Metal Beads, and she teaches and lectures regularly at crafts centers all over the country. It was a tremendous delight to spend the day there, and I totally covet her amazing neon-color welding goggles! I took another third of a notebook of notes down, bought some enamel supplies I have been looking for, and the hunt is on for those welding goggles, btw…

To learn more about Pauline and her work, visit http://wargetc.com/


Here is a shot of the rocks near Two Lights, just southeast of Portland. It was a misty morning, and I could barely see the lighthouses. I apologized profusely for all the sand my shoes dragged into the rental car…

At the end of my time in New England, I had a few precious hours left to explore along the rugged coast (just 4 miles from my hotel!) on the way up to the airport, and I got to indulge my inner nature geek. I filled my phone camera with shots taken along the rocky shore, and managed to find and explore three state parks and two wildlife areas in less than 6 hours.

I was delighted that I finally got to see the infamous misty Maine coast and was reminded so much of my beloved island of Espanola in Galapagos. The Maine shore is visually similar to those islands, with rugged rock cliffs, huge waves, fascinating plants and the never-ending song of the sea. Maine was the only state along the entire east coast I hadn’t been to, and I have wanted to go there since I was a child.


2-inch PVC pipe protects those mandrels, and ductwork strapping holds them secure. Awe. Some.

As I clamored over those rocks and listened to the lighthouse horns, I vowed I would return to Maine (with my favorite Galapaganian) and spend some time again on those shores. I had to keep looking at my watch to not lose track of time, because the coast (anywhere) is my favorite place on earth. I got damp and dirty, but I managed to pull out one remaining clean set of clothes to change in the airport bathroom and fix my bad hair day before heading home. After one last bowl of delicious chowder, I was on my way to the gate, and back at home by dinner.

Life is good.

Today’s tip: Is courtesy of Chris Ploof. Check out (above, right) how he stores his many ring mandrels, keeps them handy, grabbable, and clearly labeled, just behind his bench. I intend to make a Depot run this week and use this brilliant solution. It both protects the tools, and puts them in easy reach — what more can you ask for? Thank you Chris!