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Heart of Gold

Design with your heart and your mind. Visualize the jewelry you want before drawing any design. This is just some of the wisdom offered by goldsmith Mary Ann Scherr at a summer metal jewelry-making course at the Crafts Center.

The course caps at eight students with a long waiting list – and for good reason.

Scherr, 91, is a legend in the design world. Her client list includes the late Duke of Windsor, Liz Claiborne and Chelsea Clinton. Her jewelry and art works are in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Vatican Museum of Art in Rome, the Museum of Art and Design and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Goldsmith Mary Ann Scherr shows a student how to transfer a design to metal.

“She’s amazing,” says Deborah Rodgers, a student and instructor of stained glass. “I can learn so much from her.”

That’s exactly what I set out to do when I sat in on two of her classes recently.

What Students Learn

The goal of the eight-week course is for students to design their own jewelry, starting with a cuff bracelet. Scherr promises to make this ambitious feat possible. “Only you can teach you how to design. I can teach you tricks,” she says.

It’s my first day and initially I feel daunted. Who wants to make a lousy design around Mary Ann Scherr? But as the class progresses confidence grows and all the students create a bracelet.

Scherr guides us through the process with practiced skill and soothing words. First, she advises us to write our initials in block capitals onto tracing paper. Then she has us draw a box around the part we like best.

Scherr prepares the metal for etching.

Next, we prepare the metal. Our choices are either nickel, bronze or new gold. We transfer the design and engrave the lines and forms with a dental tool. Scherr designed this speedy process and technique. “Normally, designing a bracelet takes weeks,” she says.

The following week we visit Scherr’s Raleigh home studio. That’s where we etch our designs in bubbling baths of nitric acid and explore her work and memories.

Scherr’s walls are lined with awards and photos of her beside royalty, designers and slinky TV broadcasters from the 1960s. Her jewelry is on display, too. It’s elegant and memorable, incorporating white gold, abalone shell and Japanese Netsuke masks.

Designing a bracelet feels fabulous — it’s instant gratification. One student says she’s inspired to design a ring for her fiancé.

A Revamped Crafts Center

The jewelry course is one of several offered at the Crafts Center in Thompson Hall, which underwent an extensive renovation between 2007 and 2009. Director George Thomas says classes range from crochet, teapot making and chessboard making to bicycle repair. “People come here to take their mind off of things,” he says. “We’re proud to offer this to our community.”

Scherr’s been teaching the jewelry-making class for years and says the best thing is the students. “I love seeing students develop an interest in metals and designing something they’ve created themselves,” she says.

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  1. dear Richard,
    I wonder if you knew my father Richard Arnesen?
    he also worked for Scherr and McDermott in the 1950s and went on to form his own design firm in Chicago, (graphics and packaging- there again that combination of industrial & product design, etc) but in his post-business years he created assemblages from found objects, working with carpentry, paint, old tools, etc., the influence of the Akron aesthetic ! art/design/craftsmanship philosophy. I remember Mary Ann and her jewelry as a kid. jan a.

  2. Debbi, I’m Richard Weckman, Mary Ann’s father was my fathers brother. Mary Ann and Sam Scherr, back in the late 50s took me under their wing, and in that I had no resume or portfollio, got me into the Akron Art Institute, for a four year course in Industrial Design. They just felt I could become a good designer. After graduation, I worked at Smith Scherr McDermott, one of the ten top studios in the nation. Later I began working for Owens Illinois, a fortune 500 company in Toledo Ohio. I became their design director after about four years on the board.
    Mary and Sam literally were responsible for my professional life, as well as being my mentor’s. They opened up their home to all their students, and it was a wonderful time of complete open minded creativity. There is much more to this story, including the kids, Sydney, Randy, and Scott, all creative in their own way. As well as the familie’s move to New York.
    Mary and Sam, for many years were Art Icon’s, and of course Mary Ann continues to be incredibly artistically active, and touching peoples lives as she did, and still does, mine.

    1. Dear Richard,

      So great hearing from you. I plan to do a follow-up profile on Mary Ann. She is completely fascinating to me and such a warm, talented and highly creative person. Thanks for writing in. – Debbi

    1. Thanks Angela! Next I am eyeing up the glass bead making course. Oh, and I’d love to learn to knit. There’s so much at the Crafts Center. Join me!