Forging Ahead
(J.M. Giordano)

The calamitous May 5 thunderstorms that resulted in the well-publicized collapse of a block of 26th Street also flooded the home of the Baltimore Jewelry Center at the Meadow Mill in Woodberry.

“We had water up to here,” says Beth Pohlman, a founder and instructor at the Center, holding her hand about a foot high over a large band saw. “May Day was one of the worst days of my life!” The greasiness of the equipment—a wire drawing machine, a hydraulic press machine, a casting kiln, and so on—offers a picture of what flooding must have looked like in this downright industrial space. 

Pohlman can laugh now, given that most of the equipment survived, though the flood was only one of the travails that the center has undergone in recent months. Until this year, the Baltimore Jewelry Center was known as the MICA Jewelry Center, a satellite program of the school's Continuing Studies department. In the spring of 2014, the curriculum was cut. This came about as MICA largely scrapped its Continuing Studies offerings, but also reflects the diminishing presence of jewelry making in the school's programming since the 1980s, when it was a full studio major. The longtime instructors of the program, including Pohlman, Shana Kroiz, Kirsten Rook, and April Wood, knew their craft was too important to lose, and—already relegated off campus at the Meadow Mill studio—decided to launch the Baltimore Jewelry Center as a nonprofit. Ironically, they hope this move might help them reach younger artists, including those at MICA, whom they were not reaching before. “Our mean age now is probably between 35 and 55, and a lot of them have backgrounds as professionals and hobby jewelers; many have had experience with metalworking," says Shane Prada, secretary of the board, program coordinator, and a former student of the Jewelry Center. 

Their first term of courses this summer includes classes for new and experienced artists at all skill levels, and already they've drawn enrollment from students of many ages and backgrounds in art. They've raised more than $150,000 in grants and donations to fund the venture and will be featured in Artscape this year, prefiguring an even bigger move to a new space on North Avenue.

The Baltimore Jewelry Center will be taking up residence in the historic Centre Theatre building, which is itself a hidden gem—an Art Deco showpiece now obscured behind a screen of trees and disrepair. The theater building, which Jubilee Baltimore is redeveloping at 10 E. North Ave., will house a new Joe Squared restaurant and joint film programming from both Johns Hopkins University and MICA, placing the Jewelry Center once again in the university's shadow.

“[MICA]'s been very supportive of what we're doing," says Prada. "We want to stay connected with them however we can.” Prada says that MICA allowed the Jewelry Center to keep the equipment when they moved to the Meadow Mill studio.

The move to Station North, set for July of next year, will place the center in the company of like-minded groups. “The Baltimore Design School is amazing, and I know MICA has been pretty involved with where they've gone, and of course the Baltimore Print Studios, right next to D Center of course, and the Station North Tool Library. We're excited to be a part of that,” Pohlman says.

Last month, the jewelers put on a gallery show at D Center Baltimore on North Avenue, illuminating the diversity of their practice with an exhibition including both tiny, technically astounding works and much larger pieces that evoked jewelry in their materials but were distinctly sculptural in scale. So much of the work, like the collaborative pieces of Joyce J. Scott and instructor Shana Kroiz, did not look like jewelry by any basic definition, but were more like writhing sculptures of organic forms massaged out of metals and glass. “We had a variety, there were people off the street, MICA students, and lots of people who have been affiliated with us, lots of faculty,” Prada says. “It was great to see some of our new students there too, so they could see what they could be making.”

But the Jewelry Center also stresses the accessibility of its craft. “What I love about [jewelry making], and what made me passionate about it, is that I'm engaging with a type of making that not many people do,” says Prada, who came to the MICA Jewelry Center as a student with no prior background in art or metals. “Our summer term actually includes about 35 percent new students, and a lot of them are 30 or younger, so it's exciting to be involving more young people. And in the fall, we're planning to offer some courses for teens and young artists.”