RIC art students gain positions, awards in jewelry industry

Jewelry making has come a long way from bones and animal teeth hung on a string. Today precious metals and gemstones are mined and precision cut. Emphasis is on artistry, self-expression and function, and RIC’s art department is producing some of the finest jewelry artisans.

Cynthia Lech ’11

Tina Menard ’11
Recently two RIC grads, Tina Menard ’11 and Cynthia Lech ’11, were hired as bench jewelers by the famed Tiffany & Co. as the result of a tour initiated by Assistant Professor Dianne Reilly of the RIC Art Department.

“I invited a representative of Tiffany & Co. to visit my jewelry and metalsmithing class,” Reilly said. “They have high standards as far as craftsmanship and quality. They liked what they saw, and, in turn, invited our students to tour their metal fabrication facility in Rhode Island. Two of our students later applied for and were given positions there.”

Along with working for premier jewelers, RIC art students are earning awards for their creations.

Every year for the past four years, Reilly’s students have consistently placed in the annual Student Jewelry Design Awards, sponsored by the New England Chapter of the International Precious Metals Institute (IPMI).

“Stitches of Sterling,” made by Julian De La Garza, RIC art student.

“Silver,” made by Katherine Patalano, RIC art student.
This year two of her students won honorable mentions: Julian De La Garza for a ring called “Stitches of Sterling,” and Katherine Patalano for a necklace and earrings titled “Silver.” These students were among over 40 entrants from New England colleges who showcased their talent, design and technical skills.

Reilly praised IPMI for investing in education and encouraging young designers.

“If one of our students wins an award, IPMI gives a donation to the college,” she said. “I then use the donation to purchase materials for students entering next year’s competition.”

The event also includes a jewelry auction. IPMI members (professionals who work with precious metals) bid on the students’ jewelry, sell the jewelry, and put the money from the sale back into IPMI and next year’s awards event.

“By selling the work, IPMI is able to donate to colleges like RIC and to offer cash prizes to next year’s winners,” said Reilly.

Only a month after winning an honorable mention, De La Garza was hired as a jewelry model maker’s apprentice at Gem Craft in Cranston.

Assistant Professor Dianne Reilly of RIC's Art Department.
Reilly believes it’s the talent as well as the techniques being taught at RIC that are attracting the attention of jewelry manufacturers, such as Tiffany & Co. and Gem Craft.

Reilly, who graduated from RIC with a BS in art education in 1991 and a masters degree from RIC in jewelry/metals in 1993, went on to create a line of jewelry for nine years before earning her MFA in 2003 from UMass-Dartmouth and coming to teach at the college.

“There’s a certain degree of quality you know you will find here at RIC,” Reilly said. “Every year we have student reviews. When students put up their work, and you see it, you know what kind of teaching is going on here. Our students are putting passion into their work and our faculty is committed to bringing out the best in them.”