SF Bay Area

Recognition With a Personal Touch

Students’ hard work is rewarded at JEM’s annual Spring Awards with trophies made specially by the instructors

By Nina Tabios

The Academy of Art University’s School of Jewelry & Metal Arts (JEM) likes to hand out awards and they like to do it in style. At the department’s annual Spring Awards, select student winners don’t just take home a certificate, they also walk away with a personalized trophy handmade by one of their instructors.

Held on May 15, students (some still wearing their work aprons) filed into the conference room on the second floor of 410 Bush to see which of them would take home one of the 16 trophies laid out on the table. To win an award, students had to submit work to be voted upon by their classmates, faculty and even a few outside Academy affiliates, such as Elizabeth Shypertt, who is on the Board of Directors for the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) and Steve Frei, a representative from Otto Frei, a jewelry supply manufacturer.

The collective awards reflected the diverse and unique styles of each instructor. Some were delicate and highly detailed, while others bold and abstract. It was symbolic not just of the instructors’ professional skill but also their generosity of time and knowledge to their students.

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Kailin He, an M.A. student who graduated this semester, won the Faculty Choice award. Her trophy was made by JEM alumna turned instructor, Killean Evans. The award piece was two gears with a lever attached to the back. When the gears turned, a tiny arm with a hammer pounded the welded anvil on the trophy’s base.

He said having the instructors make the awards is “really precious”: “I’ll treasure it more because it is coming from people that I respect so much in this facility and this university,” she said. “It just creates a special kind of touch that’s really heartwarming because it’s coming from people that actually spend time outside of their schedule to make this for the students.”

Each student winner announced was met with rounds of applause, cheers and hugs. Once all awards were handed out, they all gathered to examine the trophy, admiring the instructor’s craftsmanship and the hard work it took to earn one.

One of the most unique trophies was the Technician Choice award, given to Kuo Wei “Willium” Tseng, from JEM’s A.A. program. The piece was literally a tiny workroom—complete with a chalkboard, tool board, first aid kid and a little metalsmith working on a work table. Tseng shared that he was hoping to win this particular sculpture.

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“It’s a bit overwhelming to win this because it’s my first time entering into the Spring Awards and I actually won something,” Tseng said. “This one means a lot to me because this is actually how I made my pieces, in this kind of space. It reminds me of how I worked in a space just like this to create the piece that won me this trophy.”

Sydney Brown, who made Xinyu “Yuki” Peng’s 2nd Place B.F.A. trophy made a copper “medal of honor,” housed in a gold-framed glass display box. She said the instructors make each trophy come from a personal place, something to commemorate the relationship they have with each student.

“When I was a student, it would have meant a huge amount to me to get something that one of my instructors had made,” Brown said. “I think it makes like this really intimate connection that is already there emotionally but then you get to take home this physical representation of all the work that you’ve done from somebody that you care about.”

“I often talk about how we’re a small enough department and we spend so much time together, it’s like a family,” said JEM Director Charlene Modena. “Everybody knows what everybody else is doing, everybody knows about everybody else’s life pretty much. And so this whole participation, I think, adds to all of that.”

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