Jewelry making is communal crafting for all

Community education student Gail Cassman applies wiring wrap to a gem during an OCC jewelry making class.

Photo by Henry Bate

Patrick Sullivan’s necklace pendant prototype sits quietly atop a velvety gray jewelry tray. Subtle lines of sunflower yellow adorn the deep amber of a solitary oval stone that’s set against a silver wire frame, carefully and intricately twisted into place.

At the next table over, Sullivan quietly mulls over the shoulders of his seven students, offering helpful tips with occasional hands-on correction.

Tucked away in a metalworks classroom in the Arts Center at Orange Coast College, offering shelter from a particularly cold Southern California spring morning, Sullivan directed his sold-out “Introduction to Wire Wrapping and Jewelry Basics” community education class Saturday as its students aimed to recreate the pendant with their own personalized touch and the student’s choice of stone, provided by Sullivan.

“My favorite part of teaching is the success,” Sullivan said. “They (the students) go, ‘oh wow, I can do this!’ and that’s really the neatest part.”

Sullivan, a man with a warm and patient gait, teaches community education classes periodically at OCC along with his wife Christine Sullivan, covering everything from basic soldering to jewelry making and Christine Sullivan’s upcoming silk scarf painting.

Married for 52 years, the couple has been teaching for about 10 of those years. The two began offering classes out of their home when they formed Sullivan Collections, taking over Christine Sullivan’s former company Backalley Studios, and they now teach a weekly class at the Laguna Beach Art-A-Fair in addition to teaching OCC community education classes.

For Patrick Sullivan, teaching his students how to find their way with the wiring is half the fun.

“The wire is so opposable to what we’re used to,” Patrick Sullivan said. “You have to learn how to manipulate it so it doesn’t manipulate you.”

Truly understanding the nature of the wiring and understanding its nuances is not lost on Patrick Sullivan’s students.

“It’s like the wire is alive,” Jane Carlyle, a returning student to Patrick Sullivan’s class, said. “The wire wrapping makes its own design. You don’t have to draw out a design first.”

While the OCC class tuition is $55, the necklace is valued at $85 so as Patrick Sullivan likes to say, his students are getting a great deal.

“He always likes to start the class off with the story of how he saw a $600 Tiffany’s silver bracelet and decided he could make one of his own,” Christine Sullivan said.

In his basic soldering class, his students are granted the opportunity to live out Sullivan’s favorite memory and recreate the very same silver link bracelet.

Although the Sullivans have been teaching variations of the same class long enough to have it down to a science, it doesn’t always go as smoothly as they plan. Sometimes the silver on their trademark jewelry ends up smoother than the classes.

“It’s great when it works and even when it doesn’t work, it’s great,” Patrick Sullivan said.

The class is advertised as being held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. but Patrick Sullivan has stayed well beyond the class hours. He said as long as everyone leaves happy, that’s all that matters.

“I can’t let them just leave when they don’t get it right away. I created the problem,” Patrick Sullivan said.

While Patrick Sullivan directs his students, Christine Sullivan sits just off to the side, tinkering with silver as she works on a project, nearly undetectable save for the excited glances shot her way by students who have come to think of the Sullivans as both friends and teachers.

According to Christine Sullivan, a former student of theirs took the classes because his wife’s arthritis prevented her from taking the class herself. The Sullivans were witness to the moment the man clasped the bracelet, the finished product from the class, around his wife’s wrist.

Carol True, a first-time class attendee at Patrick Sullivan’s Saturday class, is leaving the class both excited and invigorated.

“I can’t wait to purchase some wire and practice at home,” True said.

With the Sullivans’ classes garnering an increasing class retention rate and a maximum capacity of 10 students per class, practice might just be the best option available.

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