From the ground up

GVL / Brianna Olson
Freshman Alie Culver

GVL / Brianna Olson Freshman Alie Culver

David Specht

For some time, Renee Zettle-Sterling, associate professor of art and design and president of Society of North American Goldsmiths, has been interested in geology – curious as to the science behind the stones that she and her Intro to Jewelry and Metalsmithing students use in their pieces. This year, she finally set out to understand the process behind the creation of the stones. After meeting with members of the geology department, a collaborative effort between Zettle-Sterling’s class and the geology club was formed. The alliance ultimately resulted in a three-week long exhibit, “Cut, Ground, Formed and Fabricated,” which is currently on display in the Mary Idema Pew Library Exhibition Space.

“The students in the geology club created the cabochons, which are flat backed stones that have been shaped and polished. The jewelry students responded to these stones by designing and fabricating necklaces and bracelets,” Zettle-Sterling said. “For the majority of the students in the class, this is the first time they have used a torch, worked with silver, made a setting for a stone or fabricated with metal. You will see a wide variety of stones and jewelry within the exhibition and a complexity in construction and design that is impressive for the students’ skill level.”

The exhibit runs now through Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. and is open during regular library hours. It is free and open to the public.

The goal of the display is to share the related knowledge with GVSU students, faculty and staff, and for those individuals to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the materials, techniques and ideas used in both fields. For the students who worked to produce the pieces used in the exhibit, the project provided an opportunity for them to gain real-world experience in the field of art and design.

“It taught them how to respond to an object (stone) that they had never seen before or might not have chosen. Responding to something that you would not have picked out or are familiar with is difficult,” Zettle-Sterling said. “It is my hope that they gain a better understanding and appreciation for the materials, techniques and ideas used in both fields. Designing and constructing the pieces of jewelry, responding to the stones made by the geology club, working within a deadline and setting up an exhibition is a great way of gaining professional experience in the field of art and design.”

The opening reception took place on Dec. 2. Thus far, the exhibit has been well received and those involved have heard positive feedback from administration, faculty and students who viewed the pieces.

“They were impressed by the level of creativity, problem solving and execution in the necklaces,” Zettle-Sterling said. “It is impressive work for beginning students who have never soldered or constructed in metal before. This project is their first exposure to this technique, which is not easy. I am so proud of them.”

While the pioneer collaborative effort just recently came to fruition, Zettle-Sterling already has her sight set on future partnerships. Next semester, students in her Intermediate Jewelry and Metalsmithing class – whose focus is metal casting – will be designing and producing the Volunteer Recognition Award pin for the Society of North American Goldsmiths. According to Zettle-Sterling, SNAG’s success is contingent upon the commitment of its volunteers and award is the highest honor SNAG can bestow upon a volunteer.

“I am so excited to see what they come up with and I am also excited to see how they will work together as a team to produce this prestigious award,” Zettle-Sterling said. “This opportunity also benefits GVSU in that it is bringing attention to our students, our program and our school.”

And in the eyes of the associate professor, the whole concept behind the collaboration is applicable to students from any major.

“In the spirit of a liberal arts education, it is valuable to meet students from other disciplines on campus,” she said. “It is a great way for students to broaden their horizons and learn something that they would normally never learn. It also expands the students’ community in a positive way.”

To find out more about the exhibit, visit