Natural Beauty at Peters Valley

The first thing that strikes one when entering the Peters Valley area is the incredible natural beauty of the setting. This place is a true bucolic gem set on the site of the tiny deserted village of Bevans and former farmland in New Jersey’s Sussex County. There are bear and deer and all manner of small furry local creatures wandering about, including a group of small-eared rabbits that seem to be a natural mutation, because there are also regular rabbits living along side them. I roomed in a rehabilitated 19th century farmhouse on the grounds that had many stories to tell.

Peters Valley is a craft education center that was started in 1970. There are numerous courses from which to choose in the areas of fine metalworking, fiber arts, blacksmithing, ceramics, photography, woodworking and two dimensional design.

I chose to enroll in Basic Jewelry with Frederick Marshall. I have enjoyed beading for more than twenty years and more recently have become involved with energy balancing jewelry employing semiprecious crystals, shell, polished stones and wood. I also worked briefly on Manhattan’s 47th Street for a wonderful jeweler who makes the most beautiful gold antique reproductions. This class focused on copper and silver jewelry with touches of bronze and brass. These are considered the non-ferrous metals (not iron or steel).

Rick Marshall and two students making jewelry

Rick Marshall, our able instructor, assisted by genial Kristin, imparted huge quantities of practical and artistic information to our group of 10 students. He is knowledgeable, humorous and earthy, an all-around regular guy and an easy person with whom to converse. He has a serious job to do because silver and coppersmithing requires the use of very high temperatures, acetylene torches, and potentially dangerous equipment. There is so much to know and digest, I could easily see someone taking this course more than once. Indeed there were two repeaters in the class. The workshop was well appointed with workbenches and tools for everyone to use, along with lots of equipment. That brings me to the only potential downside of this course. If you want to continue doing this at home you must set up an acetylene torch and purchase a significant amount of tools, and possibly, machines such as a flex-shaft.

One fascinating technique we learned was cuttlebone casting. You hand-carve the bone of a cuttlefish to make a one of a kind silver or copper casting. Many people will recognize cuttlebone as the white object fastened to birdcages with which the birds sharpen their beaks! In short, we soldered, rolled, filed, tempered and drilled metal for more than eight hours a day and we loved it. I also had the opportunity to see the blacksmithing class in progress under the tutelege of Jim Wyckoff, and that was very impressive.

What I came home with

I came home with seven items, some of which are unfinished. I am in the process of adding crystal beads and chains, so check back at this post later to see a finished product.

Silver, labradorite and hematite.

Silver, labradorite and hematite.

Here is the silver cuttle bone casting I did, worked into a necklace of labradorite and hematite.

This is a large pendant I made from a practice piece of copper into which I had put some interesting folds. I added a silver and copper “head” and later a mostly quartz (several other crystals mixed in) fringe at the bottom and a long necklace of quartz crystal. It is a rough primitive looking piece.

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