With this ring...Fascinated by the process of making jewelry, Todd Hawkinson never swerved from his path as that passion blossomed into a career as jeweler, historian and teacher.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
Fascinated by the process of making jewelry, Todd Hawkinson never swerved from his path as that passion blossomed into a career as jeweler, historian and teacher.
“I’ve always been infatuated with jewelry,” said Hawkinson, jewelry instructor at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical. He recalled going to a pawnshop with his mother to buy a ring when he was a fifth-grader.
He learned to make his own jewelry as a ninth-grader, when his art teacher offered a class.
“We made silver rings,” he said. He still has some of those early projects. “My mother thinks that was my best work, even today.”
After that class, he said, “I just took off.”
With the help of equipment provided by an uncle who was a dentist, Hawkinson began studying on his own, learning processes and creating his own pieces as he sought out jewelers from whom to learn more.
From 1974-75 he attended the University of Minnesota, but he switched to what was the Minneapolis Area Vocational-Technical Institute because it offered a jewelry-making program. After graduating in 1977 he worked as an apprentice and a self-employed jeweler.
Four years later master jeweler Ray Grobe, the program’s instructor and mentor, retired and Hawkinson was offered the job. “I wasn’t ready for it,” he said.
But when it was offered again in 1986, a friend said to him, “Why don’t you try it? You might like it.”
“I never planned to be a teacher but I liked it,” he said. Teaching others to make jewelry turned out to be as enjoyable as making it himself.
The program moved in 2010 to Red Wing’s Southeast Tech campus, which he described as “a very supportive environment.” Hawkinson and his wife live on the east side of St. Paul, just blocks from where he grew up, and he drives down for classes.
The schedule allows him to continue creating his own pieces as T.R. Hawkinson, maker of vintage-inspired jewelry that he sells at art fairs.
“I’m a jewelry historian,” he explained, “and I’m also like a detective” in his pursuit of turn of the 19th Century tools and techniques for his collection.
“Jewelers at this time were inspired to create pieces of enduring beauty,” Hawkinson wrote in his artist statement. “From 1880 to 1910 Victorian, Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts and Edwardian designs were the vogue in the jewelry world.”
Hawkinson likes to study the vintage pieces and figure out how and when they were constructed.
Styles changed dramatically, he noted. Queen Victorian was in mourning and wore black. After she died in 1901, her son Edward and his wife ushered in a new fashion with lots of white pieces, including pearls and diamonds. The Arts & Crafts movement developed in England in response to the Art Nouveau movement.
However, Hawkinson noted, the technology of making jewelry has not changed all that much. A jeweler still starts with a drawing and creates a prototype before moving into production. Die-struck designs still are popular.
Likewise, some of the tools from that era were made of steel and remain in good shape. In fact, he said, “You can use the original tools to make jewelry” today.
Hawkinson is in Duluth at an art show this weekend, but is turning his attention now to fall classes at Southeast Tech.
He will be showing his jewelry at the Red Wing Arts Association Fall Festival of the Arts Oct. 13-14 and at the Anderson Center Holiday Celebration of the Arts in December. He anticipates developing a working partnership with the Anderson Center in the years to come.
Learn to make your own ring
Giving the gift of a ring is always special.
Todd Hawkinson is offering people a chance to make that gift exceptional by creating that ring themselves.
Hawkinson, who is jewelry program instructor at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical, will guide students through the process of creating a sterling silver band ring for themselves or for someone else.
Participants will tackle every step of the process — sketching and carving a design, making the ring using the lost wax centrifugal or spin-casting process, and polishing it — in a series of four classes that will meet from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 18-19 and 25-26 in the jewelry lab at Southeast Tech.
“I’m going to keep it real simple, but the potential to make something really ornate is there also,” he said.
“I think people are curious” about how jewelry is created, Hawkinson said.
He will demonstrate each step in the process, then students will participate in completing those steps so that each ring is a keepsake with significance to the jewelry maker. “My classes are all hands-on,” he explained.
All materials and supplies are included in the $120 course fee. No experience is required.
Hawkinson said the ring project is complete in itself, but it also could be a “foundation class” for anyone interested in studying jewelry manufacturing and repair.
The program at Southeast Technical is a hands-on learning opportunity in which students acquire skills in constructing jewelry prototypes, making and cutting molds, soldering and casting precious metals, and setting stones. Intricate tools are used, and students learn to repair anything from gold chains to diamond rings.
Unique in the Upper Midwest, the jewelry manufacturing and repair program dates back to World War II, when it was taught at Minneapolis Vocational High School, Hawkinson said.
He continues to believe in the need for vocational training. After learning the processes step by step, he said, graduates are prepared to work as entry-level apprentice jewelers and eventually become “bench jewelers.”
To see what it’s like to make jewelry, Hawkinson said, check out the YouTube video on the college’s Website (www.southeastmn.edu) listing for academic programs/jewelry manufacturing. It shows the process of making a ring, from start to finish.