Talking with Alan Revere
Today I talk with Alan Revere, the founder and director of Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts.
Mr. Revere shares his thoughts and expertise on the craft of metalsmithing plus what went into producing his new book, Professional Jewelry Making.
Also today I talk about a few of my favorite new craft books and mobile apps.
Transcription of Interview with Alan Revere
Alison Lee: Alright. I am, of course, I'm always excited when I have someone fun to talk to. And I've already been laughing talking to my next guest before we officially start our conversation. But today I'm talking to Alan Revere who's the founder and director of the Revere Academy in San Francisco. He is a master goldsmith and award-winning jewelry design with all kinds of degrees and all kinds of stuff. Plus, he is lots of fun. Alan, thank you so much for coming on today.
Alan Revere: Thanks Alison. Thanks for inviting me.
Alison: So, let's talk about you school because I always love it when people take on grand projects as I'm going to start a school. How does that? Did it start by I'm going to teach one class one night and then a school came out of that? Or did you just start with a thought of, you know what? I'm going to open a school now?
Alan: Well, that's a good question. You know it’s been a long time. We just celebrated our 33rd anniversary.
Alan: Thank you. So, I’ve had some time to think about this. You know I guess the truth is I've always taught things. As a youngster I've taught swimming and diving and then after I went to school in Germany, believe it or not, I sketched out a school on a piece of paper while I was a student.
Alison: See I knew it.
Alan: I sketched out some rooms and it kind of came to fruition. If you plant the seed, you know you cultivate it, it can happen.
Alison: And you saw it way back when?
Alan: I guess I did you know. When I came back to the United States, I worked for a few years and immediately started teaching a little bit. And then that grew into more teaching. So yeah, I guess I did think I had a grand plan of a 33-year-old school with thousands of students, but I knew the direction I was going at an early age.
Alison: But it was an organic process, how the school sort of.
Alan: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, the school started. When I came back from Germany, I worked in the jewelry industry here and then I quickly found out that there was not much instruction around in the Bay Area and people started coming to me who were already working in the jewelry industry and they wanted instruction. Because I had learned some really cool stuff in Germany. So, I started teaching privately in my own studio after about being here for about a year and I started teaching at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Taught there for five years and then I rented a studio in San Francisco in 1979, a small room in a jewelry building, and started teaching and it just grew and grew, and we've grown eight times physically. We now have a prime location on the ninth floor of this beautiful historic jewelry building in downtown San Francisco.
Alison: And congratulations. Thirty-Three years, that's fun.
Alan: Yeah. Who would have thought that?
Alison: Who would have thought that? But now when someone came, no I would think that actually. But when someone came to you back then and they wanted to learn privately from you is because you had some techniques they saw in your pieces and they were I want to learn that?
Alan: Well, yes. I think that was it. There was a lot of interest at that time. This was in the 70's. There was a resurgence of interest in crafts. The hippie generation, the baby boomers wanted something to do with their hands that were significant, that was not involved with money and so crafts and the arts became very popular. Jewelry was very popular, much more popular than now because the price of metal plus there was a boom and baby boomers wanted more. They wanted their marks of success and to support their own, so I was the recipient of large amounts of money by make jewelry for people. I had a company of 10 people manufacturing my designs and I was showing at crafts fairs around the country and selling to hundreds of jewelry stores at the time. And so that was going on at the same time as the school was evolving.
Alison: Right. You know what you just said I started thinking. That time period of crafts and how that has to emerge. What do you think about today's craft time period? Like how is it different? Do you see that happening again that way? Because I was getting all sort of nostalgic when you said that.
Alan: You know there is something similar going on now.
Alison: How so?
Alan: Well, there was a period of time in the 70's you know that I rode the wave up and many of my friends through the crafts fairs and then to galleries and museums and like that. And it was kind of a new resurgence of techniques and I see that happening now?
Alison: You do? Ok.
Alan: Yes. I do. I see, its different. It's different people maybe making different stuff but it's the same motivation, the same passion.
Alison: You think so? And do you think it's still as prominent with the male populous because who was I talking to? Oh, Bruce Metcalf and his wonderful book on 'The Age of Craft' and all that. But just it's not as popular with the male.
Alan: Well, I certainly have observed, and I can attest to the fact that our student profile has changed.
Alison: It has? Ok.
Alan: Thirty years ago, we were training many young men to enter the jewelry field as a profession, and I would say 89% of our students were male. Most of our teachers were male. Now It's flipped around completely at 80 or 90 percent are women, and we don't get that many men. Because not many men are entering this as a career. Times have changed. There is a lot of factors. For one, women are liberated and there is nothing holding them back from things that in the past might seemed like obstacles.
Alison: Yes. I sort of see that same thing. I mean it’s just sort of interesting to watch that whole transition to what has changed from certainly the 60's that way and it makes sense. And you were of course classically trained. We are not talking about making jewelry in the way that is the classic goldsmith training.
Alan: Well, I was lucky. After college, I thought I was going to go to law school, and I was saving up enough money to go to law school by driving a taxi in New York and somebody gave me a ride to Woodstock where there was a huge festival going on.
Alison: Wait a minute. Someone wanted a ride to Woodstock?
Alan: Somebody gave me a ride to Woodstock, and I went to Woodstock after driving my taxi for the summer and it was the summer of 1969. And it was at Woodstock that I took a sharp left turn. No, law school? Uh Uh, I don't think so.
Alison: I love it.
Alan: I wanted to be an artist. There was art in my blood and passion in my veins and law didn’t see like that right thing to do. So, I got in a Volkswagen bus and drove to Mexico.
Alison: Of course, you did. Wait, I think I know this movie.
Alan: Yes. It's played. And I wound up in San Miguel where I went and got a Master of Fine Art's degree in crafts and during that time, I was introduced to jewelry making by Enrique Lopez who was a tinsmith. And I had a great time. It was a wonderful time for me to explore my creativity in metal and to get started.
Alison: Wow. That was a quick switch.
Alan: Yes. And it was very easy and a lot of fun to mention. It was a great time to be in Mexico.
Alison: Yes. And once you made that switch you said you never went back. You never thought?
Alison: Yes, that was it. You knew.
Alan: All my friends that are lawyers now I just think, gosh you know I wish you had gone to Woodstock too.
Alison: I love that. That is so, the other fallout parts of Woodstock, it's very interesting to hear that. That's very interesting.
Alan: It was definitely a pivotal moment for me, and I think for my generation.
Alan: I think it was very typical of my generation. After Mexico, at the end of my time in Mexico, I met Herald O Conner who's a very prominent metalsmith and he had just been in Germany and he gave me private lessons. He was really my first very serious teacher; I give homage to him today. He's in Colorado working right now at the bench I'm sure. And he told me about Pforzheim. So, I went to Pforzheim where I did receive a very classical training, my class schedule was 45 hours of class time a week. We had class on Saturday’s, and I studied things think engraving, design, goldsmithing, stone setting, production techniques in a town that had been dominated by jewelers for 200 years and they were literally thousands of jewelry companies, several schools. So, it was total emersion.
Alison: Oh, I love total emersion. It's always fun to get involved that way. And then you set up your academy in the same feeling of that in Germany correct? With the classical training for all those areas you just mentioned?
Alan: To whatever extent possible. In a different culture in a different time, yes. That was a full program. I think each semester was 18 weeks but that won't work here. So, our program is three to eight classes. We have a lot of three-day classes. So, somebody from anywhere in the country can leave work on a Thursday afternoon, get on an airplane, be there Friday morning and go home Sunday night and get back to work.
Alison: Oh, that's a great idea.
Alan: So, it's much easier in short segments unless you are really young and you have a lot of time, it doesn’t work for most people.
Alison: Right. Right. What's the thing that's the hardest for people mentally to get through in a class that's classical? Is there one particular area that is only for the hardcore, they can handle it?
Alan: You know as you are saying that I'm thinking. I never thought of it that way. I think engraving. It requires such high motor control, and the tool has to be just perfect and we teach that. I teach that during our stone setting classes and during the [inaudible]. But it’s a lot of fun engraving because it enables you to do things like sign your name. Put all kinds of monograms and patterns and things like that.
Alison: Oh, I think it's worth trying all the different things, but you quickly know. I know I studied granulation and I did it. And when I was done, I know I wasn't going to do it again.
Alan: Yes. Well, you know everything is for a different kind of personality. Granulation requires extreme patients and very fine, moving those little granules, bringing them from one place to another.
Alison: I'm sweating as you are saying it. And I did it and I was good and then I was just done. It was that you really had to go to that place so. it isn’t for everyone.
Alan: But it's nice to know that technique and know how it works and then it becomes part of your vocabulary.
Alison: Yes. Absolutely.
Alan: And you can perhaps even you know, use that technique in a different way since you know how it works.
Alison: I agree but I also agree with people are not. When I went to Kulicke Academy, you had to take everything just like you were saying, and I don’t think that flies today. Exactly what you were saying. I mean you know. I don’t think we have as much patience as people used to have.
Alan: Well, that's a good question. Who drives instruction the teacher or the student?
Alison: Well, you, hopefully people would show up. I think that is a good question. What do you think?
Alan: Well from my perspective, I'm helping as the instructor because when I'm in a class and the student thinks that the instruction isn’t right or they want to do something different or there is something contrary, it doesn’t go very well. So, for my perspective as a long-time student and as an instructor, I defer to the teacher, whatever they have to offer.
Alison: Yes, I agree with you. I totally agree. You are there to learn their expertise. And you told me, we are going to talk about your book in one second, but you told me that you are taking classes yourself now.
Alan: I always take classes. I think that it's the commitment that I made to myself long ago that I would forever be a student in actuality not just wandering through life thinking that I'm a student.
Alan: I need the stimulation.
Alan: I need to feel fresh; I need to get new juice.
Alison: Yes, I'm with you.
Alan: And I've taken classes in all kinds of things. It's that some of them are fringing on the arts but jewelers don't know much about color generally. We've two colors, you've got gold and silver and some [inaudible]. So, I took a class on color so I can understand color.
Alison: And color theory you mean?
Alan: Yes, color theory. It was a long academic class. It was great.
Alison: Yes. It is, that's pretty fun. And where do you? Go ahead. And you recently what?
Alan: I recently took a class at Esalen, Esalen Institute.
Alison: Oh right. That's right. Oh, you said, that right? That fabulous place. What did you take there?
Alison: Oh, you did [makes sound].
Alan: Blacksmithing at Esalen. Esalen is known as kind of a spiritual center. It's the most beautiful place in the country that I've ever seen. It's off the coast of California and I did this great workshop. Actually, the workshop was ok, but I got a lot out of it. It engaged me. I turned and I started banging on metal and twisting metal and doing things I've never done before on a bigger scale with bigger metal. It was great.
Alison: And then you got to go into the hot tubs at night.
Alan: [Laughing] That's right. Soak it off, right?
Alison: I have to say I'm sort of surprised knowing, having stayed Esalen billion years ago that blacksmithing would be something that they would teach there.
Alan: I know.
Alison: It just seems contrary to the whole environment.
Alan: I know but then you know every night, we'd bang metal every day and then all night we do ecstatic dancing and meditation and things like that. So, it was very wonderful.
Alison: I have to put a link on the site so people who are listening. Esalen is just on edge of Big Sir and it's an amazing facility that basically hangs of the cliff going over into the Pacific Ocean and there are hot tubs at night that literally you are hanging over there and it's pretty amazing to do that.
Alan: Yes. They offer a bunch of art classes. I did a drawing class there too and they have painting and sculpture. So, people don't realize that but it’s a great place to just hang out.
Alison: It's a wonderful place. Did you go to Nepenthe’s? Did you go to the bar?
Alan: Of course. You have to. And the phoenix shop.
Alison: Oh, now I am really getting homesick there. I love that. That's one of my favorite places.
Alan: Well, it’s the most spectacular place that I've seen in the United States.
Alison: Oh, that's good to hear. I love it too there. First time I ever ended up at the bar at Nepenthe I thought, this is California. I think I was probably, and it was like, this is California.
Alan: Yes. It really is. It really is.
Alison: It's pretty spectacular. Alright let me get out of my daydreaming, California dreaming. But back to, what I want to talk about is your book, 'Professional Jewelry: Making A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Jewelry Techniques'. And it weighs how many pounds?
Alan: I think four.
Alison: Yes, at least.
Alan: Four pounds. It's good for working out in the mornings, you know.
Alison: It is. It’s one of those books that you used to carry around going to college in your backpack that's pretty weighty. But besides that, it is fabulous. I've told you this, I enjoy it. It's beautiful. I know it’s done by Tim McCreight’s publishing company as well who always does beautiful books to boot. And it is, I'm going to brag about first a little bit, how much I've enjoyed it. It is got projects that are exquisite and instructions to follow. And I think that I know I told you I've picked out a project that I'm going to try. But I know you have it set up I believe for becoming like start at the beginning and at the end you'll know what you are doing in metal.
Alan: Well, the book is laid out very logically and Tim did a great job. It was a really good book before. Now it's really beautiful, good book.
Alison: He knows how to do it doesn’t he?
Alan: He does. I mean he's wonderful to work with. What I like about the book, a few things. The table of contents is visual. It's a visual table of contents with thumbnails of all the projects so you can quickly see.
Alison: Right. That's it. I'm looking at it right now. Yes, of course. That's a brilliant idea for us, visual people.
Alan: And so, if you follow allowing one, two three. You see the projects get more difficult. And each project is slightly more difficult based on the skillset or used to the project before. So, its sequential. It's a program designed for somebody who conceivable be on their own, in the wilderness and just follow step by step each project one after the other.
Alison: Oh, thank god. I've picked project 12 and not 35 is all that I can say.
Alan: Well, you know. Each one has something interesting about it. So, 12 is about forging. It's about the forged ring and each one ties into an old tool too. So, at the beginning of each chapter, there is a photograph of an old toll and current version of that tool is used in the project.
Alison: How much do you love tools?
Alan: I really love tools, a lot. You know.
Alison: Yes, it is. It's part of the romance and the love of the whole thing don't you think?
Alan: Yes. You have to love your tools. I mean if you create, if you love your tools, you will love the things that you create with them. And if you love the things that you create then you have to love your tools.
Alison: Very good point. And you know what Tim really did teach me, is that you can change your tools. Just because you bought it that way, you can make your own or you can change it. It doesn’t mean that you have to keep it exactly, you know which of course is a no-brainer. But when he said that I'm like permission to change your tools to however you want it.
Alan: You know, I'm an old tool changer from way back. I change everything, you know. And the people around me, it drives them crazy. But I have to make things mine, whether it's taking the varnish off of a handle because I want to feel the wood or stripping the rubber off of a pair of plyers because I want to feel the metal.
Alan: Or adapting sanding, filing, it’s just part of making a connection to this tool. So yes, you have the right the privilege and the obligation to both maintain your tools but also you know adapt them.
Alison: Everyone listening, so you just got permission to change your tools. I mean of course, it makes sense, but I really didn’t think about it until Tim said it and I was like, oh right. It's my tool now. And he also said, you know that's how you make your unique work is by the unique tool. Otherwise, you are using the same tools as everyone else. And I was like, oh you are so smart.
Alan: That's interesting. That's like saying well if you are using a pencil and you are not writing anything original because other people have used pencils before. I'm not sure.
Alison: Oh well, I don't know about that. I don't think we can carry it that far. But I did like what he said that it made it more unique. You made the tool unique.
Alan: Oh, definitely. If you are making your own tools and you leave the mark of those tools, yes.
Alison: Exactly. So, this was a labor of love, your book but you finished it. You got through it. And you are thrilled with it?
Alan: Yes. It's over. it's done. It's years and years of work. Well, it started out as articles for JCK Magazine in the early 80's.
Alison: Wait what was that called now? That magazine. Is that Jewelry?
Alan: it's still called JCK.
Alison: Ok. JCK, right.
Alan: Jeweler’s Circular Keystone The oldest jewelry magazine in the country. And this was originally written as short segments as each article was a project. It was published one by one and it evolved. But the reason I think I'm looking through the book it's the photography.
Alison: Oh yes, yes. It's great.
Alan: That’s what I look at. Very blouse photography is just spectacular.
Alison: No, its excellent. It pulls you right in.
Alan: Yes, and the close ups. You know I've looked at a lot of Jewelry books. I have a lot of Jewelry books and what I like about this book is that it's real and it's not just sketches and it’s not somebody's idea of what they might want to do. You know everything is documented and you can see it, and you can see all the flaws, you can see all the irregularities.
Alison: But we know it will work if we follow the instructions, correct?
Alison: So, with the, how do you see like with the price of gold the way it's gone, how has that affected? Well, the price of metal period but especially gold. How has that affected how people design and work? How do you see that?
Alan: Well, you know, I've thought about this because I'm just old enough that when I started gold was still at a low price.
Alison: But what was the lowest price you remember?
Alan: Thirty-seven dollars.
Alison: Oh. My girlfriend and I were working the other day and we went into this and the lowest we could remember was 300.
Alan: Yes. When I started it was 37 dollars. Within a year, gold was freed up. It started to climb up right away.
Alison: Thirty-seven dollars an ounce.
Alan: When it hit $60 an ounce, the man who I was working with threw up his hands and he said, that's it. Nobody is going to by gold jewelry anymore at $60 an ounce.
Alison: I don’t even look anymore today. What it is today, is it like $1500 today or something?
Alan: It's about 1660 right now. And silver by the way, I checked was a $1.75 an ounce when I started now it’s around 33. So that's changed things, that has changed things and it's a shame. And anybody who knows these metals and loves working with them its saddening because these are just my materials just like paint or crayons. And now they are so expensive, you know as careful as we used to be, we have to be 16 times more careful about scrap right now.
Alison: Yes. And not so many people are going to see what it’s like to work with gold. We did a demo here the another night for very beginner students who are just learning, very beginning. And someone was actually doing gold melting and so they all got to watch. I said enjoy this because this is a treat to watch what's going on.
Alan: Yes. Yes, it is.
Alison: Not everyone is going to get to see it. But how has it affected things creatively, what do you see that's happened?
Alan: Well, I think creatively is not affected by the price of gold luckily and people are finding new ways to be creative. You know there are two materials, precious metal clay enables people to experiment with silver in an easier way. I think we are seeing less gold jewelry, but you know gold will always be there. I think it'll be used more as accents and for settings, silver will become more prominent, I think we are seeing that. And other materials too.
Alison: Well, do you see copper being used more?
Alan: Sure, absolutely but it’s not quite the same jewelry. A woman is not going to wear copper with diamonds to the opera.
Alison: You never know.
Alan: True, you're right. Everything is changing.
Alan: All the time so I should say never.
Alison: No because I love that copper and the different things are coming out that way and steel and all that. Because you are right, you find something else you can do.
Alison: So, it's a very good thing. So now, what's up next for you?
Alan: Well, let's see. I'm just finishing up a project. I'm working on my ice project. I'm part of a group, the American Jewelry Design Council and every year we pick a theme and this year's them is ice and I'm working on what I think is a very cool piece.
Alison: It's a ring?
Alan: Well, you know it started out as a ring but it's now a ring or a pendant.
Alan: It's basically a variation on ice thongs. Those kind of clamping, gripping, scissor like things and what I've got is a large hydrocars that's courts that has water trapped inside.
Alison: Oh, that makes me swoon.
Alan: And it’s got a bubble and it's got sand and as you turn the stone you see all this movement that's been trapped there and has been frozen there so that's what.
Alison: Oh, I love that. I actually love stones more than anything. Stones like to me just freak me out. Yes, it's just a wonderful thing. So now you are going to use that. Well, that makes sense. That sort of sounds like ice what you are talking about.
Alan: Yes. Water that has been frozen in time.
Alison: How big a piece is it?
Alan: It's big. It’s about, almost an inch. Three quarters of an inch.
Alan: Big chunk of it.
Alison: Love. So, you are working on that. That could take quite a bit of time and then do you have anything in your when we talked about as you saw with your school, any visions still going on, any little drawings you are thinking still next in line.
Alan: Well, we are always looking at new classes and we are thinking of ways to expand and meet the ever-changing market. We are going to be having a class next year with. We are getting ready for our master's symposium next year with Michael Good, Michael Zoebel will be coming. We have a whole slew of high end, very competent, world class master that are going to be coming.
Alison: I know Michael Good's work. I love his work. I don't know the other person you just said. So, I should look them up.
Alan: Yes. Michael Zoebel. Z o e b e l. He is a Swiss master goldsmith who studied with me in Pforzheim and makes beautiful jewelry by fusing and melting and incorporating stones in kind of a crude way. You need to see it. Beautiful stuff.
Alison: I love that kind of work.
Alan: Yes. The world of jewelry is so big. You know everything from wire wrapping to gems and that's what I love about it.
Alison: Me too. It's endless and then it’s all organic and you have stones to play with and the whole mess is just all a good a time I say.
Alison: There is nothing to complain about. Well, I'm excited to try one of your projects in your book. Let me tell everyone the name of that again so they can check it out plus the link will be on the craft cast site. It's Professional Jewelry Making, is the way to look it up by Mr. Alan Revere. You will definitely enjoy it. It's one of those new books to add to your bible. I always say, Tim's book The Complete Goldsmith, of course is a must have and I think this belongs right next to it as a great way to learn all about metalsmithing in the most classical traditional way. So, you for coming on and chatting with me.
Alan: Well, it's been a pleasure Alison.
Alison: It's always fun to talk.
Alan: Really. You ask the greatest questions.
Alison: I'm just nosy, that's all it is.
Alan: Work's for me
Alison: Thank you so much.
Alison: Bye Bye.