Arts: Jewler teaches her trade
We loves it. We wants it. We wants the precious
John “jaQ” Andrews
Carol Babineau isn’t exactly an alchemist, but she does turn clay into gold and silver.
To be fair, it’s not just any clay, but a mixture of the precious metals with water and organic binders. When it’s fired in a kiln, the binders burn away, leaving 99.9 percent pure silver or 22K gold. The exact formulation comes in a few patented varieties, under the brand names Art Clay from Aida Chemical Industries and Precious Metal Clay (PMC) developed by Mitsubishi.
Babineau shares studio space with Carla Eaton at River Art Studios, 99 Factory St. Ext., Nashua. During a brief interview, half a dozen other people who rent space in the mill building passed through, exchanging materials and equipment.
“We all want to do what everyone else is doing,” Babineau said. “It’s very creative here. We have a great time.”
The conglomeration of artists leads to a great deal of collaboration. Babineau routinely incorporates Eaton’s glasswork into her jewelry, as well as colored glass powder enamels and precious or semiprecious stones.
Babineau doesn’t just make jewelry herself. A few days a week, she offers classes to anyone interested in creating their own earrings, pendants, broaches or other items. The classes range from introductory “Make and take” sessions to all-day and two-part offerings for sculpting more advanced pieces, as well as certifications. She described the medium as “forgiving,” so even a beginner can be comfortable. The clay is pliable enough for rubber stamps to make patterns; it can also be carved and textured.
Firing the formed clay takes very little time, compared to clay pottery or glass. Including kiln warm-up time, a piece of jewelry can be ready in less than 45 minutes, according to Babineau. Art Clay’s manufacturer is even more optimistic: at a warmed-up temperature of 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit, five minutes can be enough. Longer kiln firing leads to a more durable final product, though, so Babineau recommends being on the safe side, especially for something like a ring.
“It takes a lot of abuse. It’s on your hand,” she said, smacking her fingers on a table. “Bang bang bang!”
Babineau said she’s been an artist all her life, but her work has recently seen a surge of attention. It’s been featured in the magazine Art Jewelry five times since the beginning of 2005, and twice in Beads & Button. She became a certified Art Clay Senior Instructor three years ago — the only one in New England, she said — and is PMC Levels I & II certified as well. She’s also a member of the League of NH Craftsmen, Dunstable Artisans and Enamel Guild Northeast.