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  • Writer's pictureHolly Gage

Why A Jewelry Mentor-Apprenticeship Might Be Just What You Need!

Updated: Mar 16, 2020

Over the years I've had several Mentor-Apprentice relationships, first as the apprentice, then as the mentor. My first experience was with Tom Castor, a young man who specialized in taking broken antique jewelry and making new modern pieces. I helped on the sales floor, cut my first Malachite on a flat lap, but my main job was polishing delicate Edwardian, Art Nouveau, and Deco style jewelry to a sparkling shine. This experience gave me a realistic, not glamorous, view of the jewelry industry and helped me to decide if this is what I wanted to pursue at age 16.

As I fast forward, the values of my experience stay with me. I've had several apprentices work with me and I have put together what I hope is a helpful guide called. "How to Make a Mentor-Apprenticeship a Win-Win Relationship"

I'd like to introduce you to Laura Milleville. She has been apprenticing with me for the last 2 years. I spotted this quiet young lady at my Carving and Sculpting in Metal Clay retreat. She only had one class under her belt. I don't know what it was about her, maybe the way she had a natural feel for Metal Clay, maybe it was her hunger to learn, but at the end of the retreat, I offered her an apprenticeship. Here is what she has to say about her experience.

Laura Milleville, apprentice for Holly Gage
Laura Milleville

When Holly offered to mentor me, I had just started out on my Metal Clay journey.  I had only taken a beginner’s course, and it was humbling to have someone recognize potential in me that I didn’t yet see myself.  I hoped that an apprenticeship would help not just with my technical skillset, but also teach me about the ins and outs of being a jewelry artist.

Since Holly and I are separated by over 2,000 miles, we have connected via video conferencing and in person.  From Holly, I have learned technical skills such as carving, stone setting, and finishing, as well as aspects of designing individual pieces and lines of jewelry.  In her class Innovative Prong Solutions, I learned how to set irregular stones and other objects.  From the Jorvik Viking Purse class, I learned how to make photopolymer plates, which is something I now use for many of my pieces.   Finally, Designing with Intention was invaluable to me in terms of planning out my work.  Prior to this class, I would sometimes feel that something was “off” about a piece I was designing, but I couldn’t always pinpoint what that was.   I have used these skills to plan outlines of my own. One of these lines features native plants from the Pacific Northwest.  Another is pendants comprised of pods that are based somewhere between fantasy and reality.

From attending Holly’s summer retreat in the role of her apprentice, I learned about teaching and encouraging others in their own pursuits.  Helping other students with their pieces was challenging and rewarding.

If you have taken a class from Holly, you know she is passionate about encouraging the use of Metal Clay as a medium and very generous with her expertise.  An apprenticeship is a valuable way of passing along technical skills and information about the businesses of creating, selling, and teaching Metal Clay jewelry.  It gives the apprentice more access to the teacher and their expertise than can be gained from just taking a class.

My time with Holly has really brought to light the fact that I want to pass along an appreciation of Metal Clay and its possibilities to others, as I have benefited so much from her knowledge and experience.  I am hoping to begin selling my work this year, as I have started to develop different lines of jewelry and become more confident in my design and expression. My pieces and works in progress can be viewed at

Gonna Be In For A While?

How about an online class where you actually interact with your instructor AND other people? It's as close to an in-person workshop as you can get without leaving your house

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Romancing the Stone: Reverse Stone Setting - 4 spots left Tuesday, May 5 - June 2 • 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM EST

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