VCC’s jewellery art and design program helped Era Design owner get started

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      Like many of today’s high-school students, Rosemary Bartram was eager to become an artist in her teenage years.

      The owner and jewellery designer of Era Design in East Vancouver was lucky enough to have a science teacher named Mr. Burns at Argyle secondary in North Vancouver who wanted to help girls get involved in the trades.

      He created a jewellery class as an elective, which was offered in one of the shop rooms.

      “At the end of the class, I said: ‘Mr. Burns, I really, really love it. How can I become a jeweller?’ ” Bartram recalled in a phone interview with the Straight.

      He told her about the jewellery art and design program at Vancouver Community College. She prepared a portfolio of her work, applied to the program, and, much to her surprise, she was accepted even though she was only 19 years old at the time.

      “Boy, they took a risk on me,” Bartram said with a laugh. “There were a lot of people in their 30s who had a full career and who had been through Emily Carr and had art degrees and English degrees. I was a high-school student.”

      She thrived in the two-year full-time program, which offered three days a week of studio time back then, enabling her to learn metalsmithing, wax-carving, forging, and stone-setting. Then there was a half-day on gemology.

      “To this day, I use my gemology training absolutely every day,” she said. “I still have my old textbooks and I refer to them. It’s such a valuable thing to know what the stones are and how to answer questions that people have.”

      Bartram, who is held in high regard for her customized designs, also appreciated that the program covered art history and drawing. Instructors told her that she didn’t have to necessarily look at jewellery to design her pieces and that she should also be paying attention to architecture.

      “Art was integral to the whole program,” she said. “I think that gave me a lot of confidence.”

      Bartram also has a great deal of confidence in the direction that VCC’s jewellery art and design program is taking under Karin Jones, who graduated from the program more than 20 years ago.

      Jones’s art has been shown at the Royal Ontario Museum and in exhibitions in Japan and the United States. Bartram called Jones an “amazing person and an amazing goldsmith”.

      “They’re so lucky to have her as their program head right now,” Bartram said. “Only good things are going to come from that, I have to say.”

      VCC’s jewellery art and design program still covers the same subjects during its two years that Bartram enjoyed so much as a student.

      The history of art is offered in each of the four terms, as are gemology and design and drawing.

      There are also courses on metal techniques, production techniques, computer graphics, and business management. In the second term, students are required to complete a display project, and in the fourth term, they must complete a diploma project.

      To this day, Bartram is glad that she didn’t listen to naysayers who wanted to discourage her from achieving her dream of becoming an artist. “Don’t be dissuaded by people who say you can’t make a living in art or design or trades, because I really disagree with that,” she said. “I think you should choose something that you’re passionately interested in and just go for it. You can have a really good career.”

      On Friday (March 3) from 2 to 3:30 p.m., VCC will host an information session on the jewellery art and design program in Room 160 at its downtown campus.