We had a great trip! It was so inspiring and the team benefited so much from the hands on, immersive experience. It made me realize even more how precious the champleve enameling technique is and that we have to continue to protect, nurture and train artisans that utilize the technique. We decided to set up a scholarship fund for ten students to attend one-week enameling courses at the Folk school. To help fund the scholarships that we have already committed to, we will be offering a limited edition set of ten Transformation medallions in a sea foam blue that was inspired by the color that I was working with over the weekend.
I have always collected vintage enamel pieces: Victorian enamel jewelry, turn of the century spoons..mid-century copper plates. When we began Foundrae, we used enamel in the very first collection. Little did I know how difficult it is to find talented crafts people that have the skill to do our pieces. Many workshops & jewelers offer “epoxy enamel”. In this case, the word "enamel" is loosely used to designate a glossy color topcoat that is made from chemical resins that chemically react when combined and air-dried to form a shiny hard coating on the surface and can be applied to any base metal. Foundrae jewelry is made by a technique called champlevé enamel: natural occurring, raw minerals such as silica (the major constituent of sand) and soda ash are ground to a fine powder and then combined with other materials, such as quartz or feldspar to produce a particular color. The powder is carefully and evenly applied by hand within tiny troughs that have been cast in gold 18 karat or higher and then heated to temperatures between 2000-2400 F (1500 celcius) until molten glass forms. Multiple application layers are required and then polished until the enamel is flush with the gold. This firing process gives champlevé enamel its unique beauty.
Since the inception of Foundrae we have become immersed in the enameling world, which we discovered is unfortunately very small because the reality is that so few craftspeople have studied this technique and even the suppliers of the enamel glass powder raw material that is used in the process have closed down over the decades. There is only one enamel powder factory in North America which is located in Kentucky.
Working with champlevé enamel is very difficult. Requiring highly skilled artists, each piece is made by hand and then heated one at a time in the kiln until it reaches temperature heights of thousands of degrees and there are so many variables that can require the enamellist to have to repeat the entire laborious process. Taking a piece out of the kiln seconds too early or seconds too late can change the color or ruin the finish. Yet despite these difficulties, I have fallen deeper in love with enamel and have a real respect for not just the artisans, and the producers of the raw materials and the kilns, but also for the teachers. We value and want to preserve traditional enamel making.
We decided to spend a weekend at the John C. Campbell Folk School, also known as “the Folk School” located in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Southern Appalachian Mountain region in Brasstown, North Carolina and founded in 1925. It was an immersive, hands-on experience, exalting the art of making and craftsmanship: which is at the heart of our collection. Guests included Laura Freedman, founder of Broken English and retailer of Foundrae, Laura Ferrara, stylist, and three of the Foundrae team, Beth Hutchens, Leeora Catalan & Sophia Cantizano. After a weekend of enameling instruction, Sophia Cantizano will continue to train & practice in our in-house enameling studio.
We were so inspired by the trip and by the passion of the instructors that emphasized how important it is to preserve the art of enamel making, that we decided to dedicate a portion of the profits of a limited edition, set of ten, Transformation medallions to a scholarship fund we are establishing at the Folk School for new students interested in studying enameling. The limited edition pieces will be available at Broken English & Foundrae exclusively and fund ten full one-week enamel study courses.