I Get By With A Little Help... - Artist Jeff Fulkerson

Artist Jeff Fulkerson

I Get By With A Little Help…

One of the most gratifying moments I’ve ever had while teaching occurred a couple of years ago at Bead Fest Philly.  I was teaching a ring class where you had to solder silver balls on you piece.  Silver balls are notorious for not cooperating. They seem to have a mind of their own and a deceptive personality. (Definitely Axis II) 

I’m going along with the flow of the class when a woman comes up to me trying to hold back the tears.  What’s wrong? I asked.  She said she’d melted her ring.  (Side note: Now understand, taking a class has different meaning for different people.  Some people have to scrimp and save to take a class.  To others the cost isn’t even noticed.  And it’s not just the cost of the class.  You have travel costs and time, you have lodging, meals, transportation, materials, tools, etc. That can make a class that the catalog shows as $150 total more than twice that. I feel that student expense as a big responsibility to deliver for each student.) We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog:

Where was I? Oh yes, crying.  So I asked to see her ring.  Well, it wasn’t completely melted, it was only MOSTLY melted. (Apologies to the Princess Bride)  I told her we could resurrect it.  I helped her saw it out, pound on it a little; re-shape it, and TA-DA!  The ring didn’t look exactly like the class example, but it looked good, and was certainly wearable.

Well.  I’ve never had a more grateful student.  She was the happiest person in Pennsylvania that day. To her, it was a HUGE deal. I’ve had some proud students, but she took the cake. The fact that I spent the time to help her fix her ring made me a hero that day. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I knew it was to her.

As I reflect back on that, a few thoughts come to mind.  First, I was able to ‘fix’ her ring because I’d messed up so many projects before.  This was nothing new to me and I knew right away what to do and how to do it. The expert isn’t the person who never fails, the expert is the person who learns from his/her mistakes and keeps coming back for more.

Second, while this was an easy, simple ring to me, I knew it wasn’t to her. It obviously represented so much more.  Allow me to speculate.  First, so many students come into a beginning class and have failed before, usually at soldering, and many times, this is going to be their last attempt.  “If I fail this time, I’m done.”  How many times have I heard that? So this doesn’t just represent a bad experience, it means total jewelry making failure. And many people equate that to “I’m a failure.” That’s a pretty heavy burden for anyone to carry. Then add on the accumulated guilt of wasting all that money and time and energy, and it can be a huge disappointment. And so many of us artists have been told that doing art is a waste of time anyway, and we carry THAT with us. (“Why can’t you get a REAL job?”)

Granted, none of this may have been true in this particular case, but I’ll bet good money some of these factors were at play.  All that to say, as a teacher, I feel the burden of helping my students succeed not only on their project, but also in their feelings towards art and towards themselves.  Maybe I’m taking in too much territory, but I believe that art can have a huge positive impact on students’ lives, and as the teacher, it’s my responsibility to do all I can to help students have the success they are seeking. In jewelry making as in life, we all need a little help sometimes.  To paraphrase the Beatles, “we’ll get by with a little help from our friends.”  Jeff Fulkerson M.A.