JEFF GEORGANTES has a MFA in Jewelry/Metals from CSU, Fullerton and a BA in Art and a MA in Sculpture, both from CSU, Humboldt. He taught Art at College of the Redwoods, Eureka, CA, for fifteen years and has taught numerous visiting artist workshops across the USA. He helped develop and coordinate the Jewelry/Metals program at the Mendocino Art Center from the early 1990s until 2005 when he started his position as head of the Jewelry/Metals program at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. His work can be seen in Alan Revere's book, The Art of Jewelry.
THE LONGER VERSION…. I’m one of those odd balls who figured out their life’s path as a teenager. Like a lot of kids, I was kind of a lost youth. All my friends were good at something - science, sports, music, crime. It didn’t seem like I was good at anything, except for maybe hanging out and I’m not sure I was really very good at that either. I was lucky enough to go to Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California in the 70’s that had Crafts as part of their Shop program. When I made my first blob-like cast silver ring, it was kind of better than most of the other blob-like silver rings that my teenage classmates created. I made another and another. Before I knew it I was obsessed. Dale Winegar, wherever you are. I owe you a lot! He was a great high school art teacher, who saw potential in me and nurtured it.
I was also very lucky to have attended a college that had an outstanding Jewelry program. My professor, David Laplantz, at Humboldt State University in Arcata California, took over where Dale Winegar left off. David was/is an exceptional teacher, who helped me find my voice in metal, expand my technical abilities by about a 1000% and guide me to learn what it means to be a professional. David also encouraged me to learn from other instructors. Every summer, as an undergrad, I made pilgrimages in my ’66 Volkswagon bus across America to Haystack, SummerVail, Penland and Arrowmont. Usually I got scholarships, worked for the school and spent whole summers studying with some of the best Jewelry/Metals teachers that the world had to offer. I was very lucky to have made connections in those early days that have lasted for almost 40 years. Jim Cotter, Gary Knoffke, Lane Coulter, and Elliott Pujol, all became my heroes. They were like the metalsmithing “Rat Pack” of their generation, showing an irreverent sense of reverence with materials and concepts that have guided my aesthetic to this day. I got to meet and work with them and many others during those early summer metalsmithing adventures.
After my time as an undergrad, I wanted to spend a little bit of time exploring on my own before grad school. That little bit of time ended up being 12 years. Life took over and I found myself working full-time in jewelry stores in Eureka, California as a custom goldsmith. Where college was like flying free, working in jewelry stores was like boot camp. It was a tough transition at first, but I stuck with it and learned how to be a pretty good wax carver, diamond setter and how to fix most any piece of jewelry. Becoming good at jewelry repair is probably the best technical exercise there is in jewelry making. It teaches a person to see how something was made and on some level learn the thought process of the maker. Then with just visual clues, you recreate what they did, hopefully so well that you can’t tell the difference from the original and the repair.
At some point, I fell into a job teaching jewelrymaking at a small college, named College of the Redwoods. I learned pretty quickly that I loved teaching and before long it became co-career. I went back to Humboldt State and got a Master’s in Sculpture. That allowed me to teach any art class at College of the Redwoods and I became a half-time art teacher, teaching Foundation Skills classes, Sculpture and Jewelry/Metals. I quit working in jewelry stores and immersed myself in becoming a self-employed artist selling my work at craft fairs, tradeshows and galleries. I also started a long lasting partnership with Skyhorse Saddles doing silverwork for their amazing custom saddles and tack. skyhorsesaddles.com It was super fun to work in that collaborative relationship, exploring a side of metalsmithing that virtually none of my art metal colleagues were doing. Plus, I learned a lot about horses and eventually got a horse of my own and a couple of Skyhorse saddles as well.
About this same time, 1990ish, I started a relationship with the Mendocino Art Center; teaching jewelry workshops and helping get their jewelry making program off the ground. mendocinoartcenter.org My partner at the Mendocino Art Center, Susan Wood and I turned the Jewelry program from just an idea into a vibrant program. We did all this with hardly any money, but with a lot of human investment. I’ve never had a relationship like that before or ever again. There wasn’t a hint of romance between Susan and I, but we learned to work together in ways I’ve never experienced. We made all decisions by consensus. Somehow we pulled it off for about 15 years until sadly she died after a valiant fight against cancer and I moved to the East Coast. A number of people have died my life, but Susan is probably the one I miss the most. Fortunately, our dream of creating an ongoing jewelry/metals program at the Mendocino Art Center has lived beyond Susan and I. The program is now run by Nancy Gardner, an awesome jewelry artist. The Mendocino Art Center jewelry studio is named after Susan, which I’m very happy about.
By now I’m in my late-40’s and I’ve lived in the same small fishing town of Trinidad, California for close to 30 years. I’ve got a great little house and studio about a 10 minute walk to the beach. I live 20 miles away from Redwood National Park and the tallest trees in the world. I've got lots of friends who have known me since I was a teenager. My studio career is solid and my half-time teaching job is as secure as those things ever get. I travel all over America teaching workshops as much as I want to book them. But… I can’t help feeling that I have peaked and I wasn’t ready for that. I decided to correct something that should have been done long ago and to get a MFA in Jewelry/Metals. I explored colleges all over the world, but decided that the best fit for me was in a small program in Southern California at CSU, Fullerton with Christina Smith. I had met Chris once before at a workshop that she taught at Humboldt State. We both remembered each other and felt like we had something to offer each other. I loved getting that degree. It was so much fun and I learned a lot.
After graduating in 2005, I applied for full-time jewelry/metals teaching jobs across the USA. I think there were just five jobs that year. I was a finalist for two of them and a month after getting my MFA, I ended getting what I think was the best of the bunch – head of the Jewelry/Metals program at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. hop.dartmouth.edu/Online/jewelry
Working at Dartmouth in the Donald Claflin Jewelry Studio has been an incredible experience. The program I run is not a traditional college art program. It’s part of the Student Workshops, which is a non-credit, co-curricular arts enrichment program, in Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts. The Student Workshops started as part of the School for American Craftsmen after WW II to help returning veterans re-enter society. The School for American Craftsmen eventually moved to the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Student Workshops were born at Dartmouth. The Student Workshops have programs in Clay, Jewelry/Metals and Wood. While we do offer workshop-style classes, the primary focus of the program is Open Studio. The program is incredibly popular. We’re open to the entire student population, so we reach every area of the college. We get med students blowing off steam and reenergizing themselves, engineering students designing race car parts and human artificial joints, art students doing class assignments and of course every other major imaginable making their jewelry dreams come true. As crazy as it is, most every term 2-3 Dartmouth student couples make their wedding and engagement rings in the Claflin Studio. Each year the Jewelry Studio alone gets between 700-950 Dartmouth students utilizing it’s facilities. It’s an honor to work with so many great kids, with such incredible minds and ideals and who are literally going to be the future leaders of the world. It’s taught me to get good at a subset of teaching that requires its own special focus - mentoring. It’s about as fun and fulfilling of a job that I could ever imagine.
Of course, this means that now I’m a New Englander. I’ve traded my life by the beach and redwood trees for 8 acres of forest in a very tall and quirky a-frame house. My new home is about 6 miles to Dartmouth. I ride my bike to work as much as possible weather-wise and take the long way home whenever I can. When people hear that I’m from California, they usually talk about New England winters. The truth is I don’t find the cold and snow to be a big deal. Every year it feels like an adventure. The part that drives me crazy are the bugs. They’re mean and there are a lot of them. But somehow I’ve learned to coexist with them and spend as much time outside as I can make happen.
As I look over this very long life story, probably the thing I’m most proud of is that since first graduating from college way back in 1979, I’ve only worked as an artist. There has been lots of struggle and sacrifice, but somehow I’ve pulled it off. I recently went to a conference at Haystack in Deer Isle, Maine. Someone asked me what I do for a living. I thought about my career and didn’t really know how to shrink it down to a succinct sentence, except to say, “Just living the dream.”