A piece of copper shaped as a maple leaf rests on a charcoal block awaiting its transformation. The flames of a hand torch hit the metal adding a new pattern of colors and texture. Once the surface has transformed to her liking, she quickly throws the metal leaf in a tin can filled with boiling water. An exciting bubbling, pop and whizzing sound follows as the coloring process creates a patina that is hard, durable and unchanging in color. The leaf is now ready to become a handcrafted brooch.
Debra Hoffmaster has had a passion for nature and art since junior high. Having grown up near a state park, she recalls the influence of a Park Ranger, who created detailed, representational animals within his artwork. In his art classes, Debra learned to draw and paint.
Later, Debra pursued degrees in Biology and received her Ph. D. in Zoology and Statistics. While attending college, she sought relief from the intensity of her biological studies and signed up for a jewelry class. After graduate school while attending an event with her children at a Toledo Metropark, she discovered the Toledo Gem and Rockhound Club. From 2001-2016, she took classes to learn the art of working with metals and gems. She also taught workshops and became an involved member.
Her background as a Biologist and the discipline involved in earning a Ph. D. compliment her artwork. Being familiar with reading and studying, Deb enjoys learning various techniques in jewelry fabrication. She has taught herself much from her research, as well as participated in workshops to learn specific tricks of the trade.
Her love of biology is also reflected in the pieces themselves. Her carefully crafted jewelry takes on the forms of nature, such as a calla lily, fuchsia flowers and maple leaves, or animal images like birds, feathers or fish.
Regardless of the final form, Deb uses a few specific Oriental techniques to create her jewelry. One is called Mokume Gane which began in Japan centuries ago when sword-making was a ritual process. The Mokume pattern showcases a technique achieved by the lamination of various colored, non-ferrous (metal not containing iron in appreciable amounts) metals together, resulting in a pattern resembling that of wood grain. As she describes, she begins with “an electric kiln to fuse sheets of differently colored metals into a billet that is approximately 1/3” thick. Once fused, the thickness of the billet is reduced by forging and/or rolling. This process also compresses the layers. I pattern the sheet by raising bumps on the sheet with punches and then filing them away. This produces a topographic map-like pattern in the metal. It usually takes eight hours to fuse the billet in the kiln and another 4-8 to roll and pattern the sheet. After that, the sheet may be formed, sawed, sanded and soldered into jewelry.”
Another type of production she employs is the Korean technique, Keum-boo, translated “gold added”. It is a special way of applying 24k gold to fine silver. “The Keum-boo process involves depletion silvering a flat sterling piece by repeated heating, quenching and pickling. Once the fine silver layer is created, the piece is heated to 650 degrees. Pieces of thin 24K gold foil are put in place and pressure is applied to make a diffusion bond between the gold and silver. The Keum-boo pieces can then be used in the fabrication of jewelry and may be patinated, polished, or left white.”
Deb’s sources of inspiration vary. Her “story” pendants featuring Pueblos, North American Indian settlements of adobe homes, were inspired by a vacation out west in Mesa Verde. A favorite pendant containing one such scene is made of titanium. She anodizes the titanium to create various colors – a sunset effect behind the pueblos. In the lower half of this circular pendant, an opal nut of varying layers and colors is fitted. Other inspirations come from nature, as seen in another favorite piece highlighting an ocean wave. This titanium piece is a layered image, in which she tapes off various parts of the titanium, working to transform the metal into various colors and forms. Depending on the metal, this process of adding color to the surface can come from adding patinas, anodizing or adding epoxy enamels. Other times a labradorite stone becomes the inspiration point and highlight for a set of earrings. She carefully integrates both the gemstones and metalwork for a satisfying, aesthetically completed product.
For Deb aesthetics are important, but equally important is the function of her work. Each piece must be pleasant to wear! She is attentive to how the jewelry will lay or hang when worn during her creation of it. In encouraging other artists, she states that yes, statement pieces can be pleasant or inspirational to view; but, in the business world of selling, many times it is important to think about who will purchase the pieces and how they will be worn.
Plan to stop by Deb’s tent at Artalicious to marvel at the intricately fashioned Mokume gane pendants, Keum-boo earrings, labradorite stone settings, bracelets and other fabricated jewelry!
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