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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.