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A Bright Metalworking Future

Online JEM student Casey McGovern’s positive attitude and dedication to her craft has already brought her opportunity and inspiration

By Nina Tabios

Casey McGovern’s obsession with jewelry began at 12 years old. A wire jewelry-making kit, a Christmas gift from her mom, became the gateway into the Academy of Art University online student’s lifelong fascination with the metal arts. “At the time, I don’t remember exactly what was so exciting about it,” McGovern recalled during a recent phone call from her home in Leadville, Colorado. “I just knew that I really liked it.”

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School of Jewelry & Metal Arts online student Casey McGovern. Photo courtesy of Casey McGovern.

Nowadays, the soon-to-be School of Jewelry & Metal Arts (JEM) B.F.A. graduate can precisely tell you all about enameling, granulation, dyforms, chasing, repoussé and then some of the seemingly endless jewelry processes and procedures. Since she was 18 years old, McGovern has been absorbing knowledge from university classes, studios, and workshops. More recently, the stay-at-home mom of two is also learning directly from the gold standard resource of the metal arts community: Harold O’Connor.

“Harold’s résumé is literally about 16 pages long. He’s been involved in the metal arts community for over 50 years,” McGovern remarked. She met O’Connor at several conferences as members of the Colorado Metalsmithing Association, or CoMA. When she needed to find an internship for her B.F.A. program, McGovern instantly thought of him.

“I sent him an email and he was excited to have another apprentice,” she added, who drives one hour south every Tuesday to work in O’Connor’s studio. “He hasn’t had one in 25 years.”

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School of Jewelry & Metal Arts online student Casey McGovern and her mentor, the esteemed Harold O’Connor. Photo courtesy of Casey McGovern.

“It has been a pleasure working with Casey these last few months in my studio,” O’Connor said in an email. “I find her quality of workmanship high and open to new ideas and skills different than what she has done in the past. Her design concepts are ‘fresh’ and she is open to perfecting her metalworking skills. Casey’s future in metalwork looks very bright.”

Formally trained in the European tradition, O’Connor is often lauded as “a jeweler’s jeweler” in metal arts publications and exhibitions. His own decades-long career included showing works in public and private exhibitions, conducting over 200 workshops across the globe and five published books, such as “The Jeweler’s Bench Reference” and “Flexible Shaft Machine Jewelry Techniques” (“If there’s a book that’s been published about jewelry, his work is most likely in it,” McGovern said).

Lindsey Eason, one of McGovern’s online instructors, was “so proud for her” after learning her student would be apprenticing with the esteemed jeweler. McGovern already had a swell of experience before coming to JEM and Eason spoke highly of McGovern’s technique, skill, and talent for design, which she described as “an illustrator’s point-of-view transformed into these beautiful 3-D works.” Linking up with O’Connor adds a “real-world, making-it-as-an-artist perspective” for the young designer’s already proven tenacity and commitment to the craft.

“She definitely had a great attitude to take on any challenge at hand,” Eason said. “These are some pretty fun techniques to learn, but they can also be quite challenging techniques that take a lot of focus and a lot of practice. She didn’t hesitate with any of them, which is a pretty important quality for a jeweler and a metalsmith.”

“There’s a level of precision that takes practice but is also necessary to a certain level,” Eason added. “I know that she’s very busy at home. She has two young kids and this is a very time-consuming trade to take on and you have to be very dedicated to produce things at the level that Casey does.”

In between her weekly sessions with O’Connor and taking care of her one-year-old son Ryland and four-year-old daughter Kyah, finishing homework and midterm projects can be taxing. There isn’t much of a jewelry or metal arts community in Leadville and the elevation (10,152 feet) makes winter feel year-round. Yet, McGovern said her little Colorado town is a huge inspiration for her art.

“Without this snow I live in pretty much eight months out of the year, we wouldn’t have these beautiful flowers,” she said. “A lot of the times, that was how I approached wood, metal, and stone and how each metal fits with one another. Each section of the piece depends on the other to complete it.”

With Ryland cooing in the background, McGovern speaks to how her jewelry and metalwork is dependent on everything else around it: Leadville, for the flowers; O’Connor for the creative wisdom; her Academy instructors for educational guidance.

“The Academy definitely helps keep me excited,” she added. “It encourages me to incorporate multiple techniques into my work and it’s made me really take a constructive look and say what does my work really need, where should I be going with my artistic direction. “If it wasn’t for the Academy, it [wouldn’t be] possible for me to do what I want and do what I love and I’m really grateful for that.”

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