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Atlanta Artworx Takes Old Jewelry and Makes It New

The metalworking studio repurposes jewelry to create new pieces and can teach you how to do the same.

It's the new year. Now is the time closets are cleaned out and pounds are vowed to be shed. Forget that your closet will be back to its usual mess in six months, because for a few glorious weeks, finding that paisley tie or pastel blouse from Bloomingdale's won't be the challenge it once was.

But what's going on with your jewelry cabinet? There are braceletless charms your great aunt gave you for high school graduation. Gold bands so chunky they could knock out an assailant. Clothes are easy to cast away. What about jewelry?

If selling your perfectly good jewelry to a converted Blockbuster store seems wrong, think about having that bygone fashion relic turned into a unique piece you'll actually wear.

Dana Ruth can help you. From her studio space in the back of Marietta's Artisan Resource Center, Ruth can craft any of your jewelry needs from scratch or, say, an old necklace you no longer wear.

"Gold is $1,400 per ounce," Ruth said from her workstation as she plied on a pair of earrings. "Before I was in the business, I had no point of reference of what that meant. So, instead of fabricating something out of new metal, I'm able to repurpose it."

Ruth's Atlanta Art Worx Jewelry Metalsmithing Center has found a whole new sector of business since repurposing became more popular, not coincidentally around the same time the recession began rearing its depressing head. However, not all jewelry sent to Ruth is out of necessity or out of style.

"There's also a factor of cleansing by fire," said Ruth, who also has her own design shop called Dana Ruth Designs. "Things like wedding jewelry from a divorce or jewelry that's not necessary anymore. I can pull the diamonds or melt down the gold and make something else."

As she figures, Ruth began learning metalworking through a community arts center nine years ago. Having always been into crafts as a child, Ruth soon left her cubicle job to pursue a more creative line of work. She put her newfound skill to use and opened Art Worx seven years ago.

"I don't mean this ugly, but so many people nowadays say they make jewelry," Ruth said. "I try to keep the craft alive and am kind of militant about it. It hasn't changed much over the years except that I have power (tools) now. I really try to honor the craft and all the people that have come before. If you want to make earrings, we make them by hand."

And by "we," Ruth may very well mean you. On top of her own jewelry line and business, Ruth offers classes and workshops to the public.

But don't misunderstand Ruth's demeanor from her self-described "militant" attitude. For an entire conversation, whether it revolves around jewelry making or the business side of making jewelry, Ruth bares a smile and is quick to laugh. She enjoys her life in metalworking.

"I want every person that takes one of my classes to leave with something," Ruth said. "They can leave as an educated consumer or leave with a new respect for the craft and the people who make it."

Ruth offers several classes at a time. Her introduction to metalsmithing workshop is a six-hour seminar teaching the basics in jewelry fabrication; students produce a bangle bracelet. Along with the bracelet, students leave with the foundation for Ruth's other classes.

Regular classes, which run once a week for eight weeks, amount to 24 hours of instruction. On top of the class times, students are allowed to use Ruth's space during open studio times to get extra help or finish working on projects. Most classes include several projects relating to the class medium.

"People always ask, 'When do I get to set diamonds?' " Ruth said. "The projects are designed to introduce and teach techniques you need to know when making jewelry. Everything from soldering to melting down gold and silver and rolling it into sheet and wire. You get a working studio experience."

The open studio and support have helped former student Matt Maloney begin a jewelry business of his own. Maloney took Ruth's introduction to jewelry class more than a year ago but still comes to Ruth when he needs help on a project.

"She helped me put in a gold tooth in a skull a while back," said Maloney, who specializes in biker accessories, such as skulls and Maltese crosses. "We learned how to make things like bronze bracelets in class, and I've taken it and applied it to my own projects."

Not every student is going to leave class and start a business, but Ruth, an admitted slow poke at the beginning herself, wants to be there for any students who strive to achieve a new sense of self to go with their new pieces of jewelry.

"Some people aspire to do this on a professional level and come to try it out," Ruth said. "Other people are just amazed by what they learn how to make in class."

When she gets to teach people something they may never have believed they could do or turn something old and forgotten into something new and cherished, Ruth knows the business side of things is worth it.

Now if only we had a way to repurpose those leftover fruitcakes in the kitchen.

Nyal Thomas January 14, 2011 at 02:06 AM
I make a necklace, that helps people take a look, germaniumcrystalnecklace.com and on some of them I to use things well what I call bits and pieces, of things I get from second hand stores, and like the good will, and I like saving things in that way that could just be thrown away?? Nyal

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