J. Fred Woell - Winging It pin

text image - N

ot long ago J. Fred Woell self-published Handouts from the 20th Century, a manual of sorts that ranges from philosophical ruminations on art and craft to a recipe for lemon cream sherbet (a speciality of the artist). A gathering of materials distributed to students over the years, the compendium includes the text of Woell's 1997 commencement speech at the Maine College of Art as well as numerous "how to do it yourself" instructions for casting, slide show preparation, photographing jewelry, creating a good resume and other practical skills.

Woell has taught for much of his life. Senior and graduate seminars, two- and three-dimensional design, art education labs, sculpture and metals—these are some of the classes and subjects he has offered since he first stood in front of one-room-schoolhouse classrooms in his native Illinois. In addition to workshops, he has taught at the University of Wisconsin, the Program in Artisanry at Boston University (he ran the metalsmithing department), the Swain School of Design and the State University of New York.

Now in his late sixties, Woell continues to teach. A workshop attached to the Deer Isle, Maine, farmhouse he shares with his wife, artist Pat

Wheeler, accommodated nine students this past winter. They were enrolled primarily to learn casting by the lost wax method and to work with precious metal clay.

Woell has been in on the ground floor of precious metal clay, a metal that models like clay, since fellow jeweler Tim McCreight brought numerous metalsmiths to the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in 1995. Recently, he has been carving the material when it is dry, contrary to the way precious metal clay is usually handled. "Precious metal clay has been quite successful," Woell observes, even if it is, in his words, a material that is "pretty alien to metalsmiths who traditionally have to suffer and have something that resists." He is pleased that the Japanese manufacturer, Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, has managed to lower the shrinkage rate, from twenty-eight to twelve percent. Another version being developed can be fired at lower temperatures, which will allow metalsmiths to incorporate enamels and other elements that can be fugitive at high heats.

Woell is a pioneer when it comes to materials. In the 1960s he made a name for himself through his work with plastic, which was relatively new on the scene as a medium for jewelers. An early domino-like pendant features polyester embedded

  up arrow   next arrow