When did you first know you were an artist?
Pretty much from the day I was born to artist parents. I got a bracelet from Peters Valley when I was 14, took my first class in 1975 and began jewelry making when I was 15. I was hooked! I took a two-week intensive when I was still in high school – and went home, got a bench pin, a file and a torch – and I went back every summer.
Favorite medium(s) you use to make art?
Sterling silver. I love silver but I also work with copper, brass, bronze and other metals. Jewelry sells, but I also like to do functional pieces, like servers and candelabras.
What are the most interesting new trends in your field? Is your work changing as a result?
New materials and processes are constantly appearing but I’m old school so no CAD for me! I’m not good at drawing or computer generated work. I like to hammer, file and get my hands dirty.
Talk about your creative process – how/where/when do you get most of your ideas?
I love function. My ideas come from the use of the object. Dance, movement, architecture, art deco and nouveau all inspire me. I was a dance minor in school with a major in gold/silver. Making jewelry is so sedentary and intense, and I’m trying to emulate dance and movement, the fluidity of it, the gestural qualities of movement, when making pieces. I don’t want people to see the parts and think about how they’re joined together: I want the transition between one part and another to be seamless.
Do you also teach or are you strictly a creative artist? Who was your most influential mentor and why?
I teach a lot! Kurt Matzdorf was an amazing old school silversmith. I transferred to SUNY New Paltz because they had the top program in the U.S. for jewelry making and Kurt started the program. I’m very hands-on as a result. Kurt passed in 2008, but I acquired some of his equipment when I was opening my school in 2016.
What are you working on now?
I’m mostly working on my school – Hudson Valley Silverworks. I teach all ages – normally adults, but kids are really fun to teach and I’m very excited about the kids’ camp I’m starting this summer. I offer weekly classes (a new session is starting in June) and weekend workshops. Now I have other teachers too – one will be teaching casting and wax working; the other teaches goldsmithing and stone setting – and I’m teaching independent study intensives, which feels really good! Workshops, like the one on chain making, are good for people who can’t commit to a weekly schedule.
It’s been a long road, starting the school. It took five months to develop a business plan and get a loan, but it’s awesome timing and the location at the Shirt Factory is too. I live in Saugerties and maintain my own studio there because I like to work alone.
How has being in Kingston enhanced or inspired your work? What do you like best about living in Kingston and being involved with MAD?
Opening my school at the Shirt Factory less than a year ago was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The art scene is bursting in Kingston and the connections I’ve made thru MAD have greatly enhanced my exposure, like this!
Anything else we should know?
On May 6, this 1st Saturday, ten Kingston jewelers will be showing their work at my studio in the Shirt Factory. I really want it to become a hub of activity for local jewelers and silversmiths. We’re pulling out all the stops to display ten people’s work in the space and it’s really fun!
For more information, please visit raychelwengenroth.com.
– Debra Bresnan