Gallery Space

Boiling Springs Artisan Produces Array of Metal Clay Jewelry Pieces

About 17 years ago, when one of her necklaces broke, Joan Rhodes sought the necessary piece to repair it. “Back then, about the only local retailer that stocked such items was Joann Fabrics,” says the Boiling Springs woman. “While searching for what I needed, I noticed the array of pretty beads in the store, and that’s when I began to develop an interest in, initially, beading and wire wrapping.”

Shortly thereafter, a silver-smithing class at Mechanicsburg’s Art Center School and Galleries introduced Rhodes to the essential skill of soldering. Then, in 2004, she saw in an art magazine an advertisement for metal clay.

“I purchased a kit, which included an instruction booklet, the metal clay, a small torch and a collection of tools,” she says. “Two years later, I earned certification in metal clay from Rio Grande PMC Certification Program in Baltimore. Rio Grande is the ‘Cadillac’ of jewelry-supply companies.”

Metal clay is an amalgam of micro-fine recycled metal (silver, copper, bronze, e.g.), water and an organic binder. Because of its pliable nature, it can be molded into the desired form. “It’s more like sculpting, instead of the conventional jewelry-making processes,” says Rhodes.

And, like ceramic clay, it readily accepts tactile surface decoration through such methods as embossing and scribing. It is generally fired in a small kiln, which serves to extract the water and binder, leaving only the pure metal.

Rhodes fires her silver pieces at 1650˚F for two hours. After cooling, they can be completed in a number of ways.

“I’m not a shiny person,” she quips, “so I hand polish and finish my pieces. I like a matte finish because I think that you can better see the surface textures.”

Rhodes will frequently apply a patina of liver of sulfur, which slightly darkens the metal surface.

For color, she employs Guilder’s paste, mostly on her bronze pieces after they have been fired. Similar in appearance to shoe polish, this versatile product comes in a variety of colors. It serves to highlight fine surface detail, which characterizes much of Rhodes’ work. A final coat of lacquer adds protection and durability.

The artist’s studio is a former bedroom above the garage at her residence. The cozy nook is filled with requisite supplies, tools and the products of Rhodes’ talent. Precious natural stone is often incorporated into her pieces. But so is ordinary bottle and windshield glass. All of it is used to good effect.

A tumbler and lapidary equipment allow her to smooth the edges of stones, which can then be further drilled or bezel set. A Dremel crafts drill, band saw and standard drill press help to accomplish some of those ends.

Rhodes’ creative inventory includes rings, brooches, earrings, bracelets and pendants. They are available at The Village Artisans Gallery in Boiling Springs, Carlisle’s East Street Artisans and the shop (dubbed History on High) at the Cumberland Valley Visitors Center, also in Carlisle.

Rhodes will display her work on June 4 at the Boiling Springs’ annual Foundry Day event, Hannah’s Loved Ones (March of Dimes benefit) on November 26 at the Carlisle Expo Center and the Mechanicsburg Art Center School and Galleries Holiday Show, slated for December 3 and 4.

For more information, visit, or contact the artist at