Class fires up a nascent love of jewelry-making

Molten silver hisses and roils under the torch's flame before forming an undulating reflective ball.

Time to pour the red-hot metal into the business end of a wet broom. Holding my breath, I tip the crucible ladle — carefully, for the silversmith's steadying hands are nearby. With a hissing sizzle, my silver's fate is set as it slides down into the upended broom's saturated shafts.

Bob Sharp pulls the broom from the bucket of water and unwinds the wire binding the straw bristles in a tight mass. I may have poured too slowly and too far to the right side, he says.

But the artist and teacher changes his mind after discovering a blackened lump about 2 inches inside the bristles.

"Oh! Look at this!," he says, pulling my prize free with his bare, asbestos-like fingers.

I snatch a quick peek before the irregularly shaped blob plops into the pickle pot.

The acid bath chews away the smoke, soot and fire scale. What emerges is a strange and wonderful shape, drawing oohs and aaahs from my classmates at the Crater Rock Museum.

One week later the striated silver piece adorns my neck on a walk about town.

"Is that a real stalactite you're wearing?" asks a man at a local coffeehouse.

The three-hour "broom-casting" session is the second in a series of Bob's silversmith classes I attend at the museum.

In a three-day workshop, Bob shares his skill and shows us how to turn pieces of solid silver and semi-precious stones into a beautiful ring and a pendant. But not before he pries a brass ring from my protesting hands. Our first project, creating the ring, introduces us to cutting, bending, filing, soldering and polishing skills on an inexpensive metal, he says.

I fall in love with my little brass ring. I want to line it with silver so my finger won't turn green. And decorate it with carved designs.

Bob wonders why I'm so attached to a nickel's worth of brass.

Because it's my firstborn ring, I say.

"Let it go. Make a pendant or another ring," he says.

I set the little ring aside with a promise to return to it someday, and head over to the cabochon trays. Gleaming stones of every color and design wink up at me. Picture jasper. Petrified wood and quartz. Turquoise. Lapis.

Choose me! Choose me!

I select two small pieces. Their cool shades of green are speckled with bright magenta. I learn the red is ruby. The green is zoisite.

The rest of the three days is a blur of cutting, sawing, filing and flaming torches. Bob is everywhere. Answering questions. Generously sharing his decades of knowledge. The class is small, one fellow and a few women, each in various stages of experience. Sometimes Bob calls out a necessary caution.

"Keep those torches directed away from the propane tank. Please, people!"

Yes. Please. I have a healthy respect for fire, especially when flames dance around my hand. No harm done, except to my pride when I yelp in fear like a bee-stung hound.

Bob quickly discovers the oxygen and propane lines on my torch are leaking. He promptly removes it from use.

In the end, we all emerge from the class intact. And we've all created unique handmade jewelry.

I can't wait to take more classes. I'm hooked on the hot stuff. Molten metal, that is. Not Bob. (Not that you're not hot too, Bob. Just sayin'.)

Throughout the classes, Bob speaks with great fondness of Carol, the woman who's been his bride and partner for more than four decades. The lifelong artisans have lived and worked in Medford for more than 20 years. Bob is the master of tools and torch. He even forged his own anvil out of railroad tracks. Carol designs home interiors — and most of the jewelry they sell.

"She's a wonderful artist," he says proudly.

Carol insists she's never soldered silver, nor polished a single stone. But Bob says Carol uses her skill with crochet hooks to turn wire, beads and pearls into lacy three-dimensional jewelry. And her artist's eye to find the right colors and shapes to complement his silverwork.

"I just make what she tells me," he says.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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