On Saturday, August 29, 2020, at 10:00 a.m. Tioga Arts Council (TAC) member, Michael Husted and Van Horn Jewelers officially recognized Owego Free Academy (OFA) student, Alice Dang, as the winner of the first OFA Jewelry Design Challenge. In Van Horn Jewelers, Husted, Skip Hornick, the Dang family, and friends gathered round to celebrate.
For years, Michael Husted – A Jewelers of America, Master Bench Jeweler; artist; sculptor; musician; and TAC Member – has contemplated how he could inspire a younger generation to pursue a career in the arts. After much consideration, the result was the OFA Jewelry Design Challenge.
In early 2020, Husted connected with OFA Art Teacher and former TAC Board Member, Susan Camin, who enthusiastically agreed to help facilitate this initiative. At the same time, COVID-19 was emerging rapidly and silently spreading. Once the first local cases were announced, OFA shut down and shifted to virtual learning. Despite the closures and difficulty, Husted and Camin persisted and shifted, too, facilitating the challenge remotely.
With assistance from Madison Hornick, a Van Horn Jewelers colleague, Husted created a video presentation that gave an introduction to jewelry making and included a few tips on how to develop ideas, both aesthetically and practically. At the end of the presentation, Husted promised to select one design, build it, and present it to the student designer compliments of Van Horn Jewelers. Despite quarantine, the students responded, and the result was overwhelming. Between March and June, 18 students submitted 325 designs.
“I was greatly impressed with the effort and quality of the designs. Any number of them would have made for outstanding pieces of jewelry but I narrowed it down and ultimately selected a pendant designed by Alice Dang.” According to Husted, Dang, who was at that time a Junior, submitted five good designs that were rendered in a beautiful manner, but he kept returning to one design, which consisted of a round major stone above opposing wings set with rows of small, round gems.
“As I was looking at numerous different necklaces online, I came across one that had angel wings on it. That necklace then inspired me to make this lovely necklace,” said Dang. “The pink circle represents a pink baby pearl. The smaller circles on the ‘wings’ are white/clear, faceted, round-shaped gems. The part that is at the top of the pearl as well as the wings are both gold.”
Reproducing her drawing on a CAD program, Husted grew a polymer model with a 3D printer. Interestingly, when he began to work on its design in CAD, Husted noticed that the wings were not symmetrical as he had originally thought. However, he continued, it was a wonderful reminder that “some things, while not perfect, make for more charm.” Once complete, he cast it in sterling silver and set with a cabochon pink coral gem and multiple round cubic zirconia.
With permission from Dang, Husted created two versions of her design. The first, a sterling silver necklace with 32 round cubic zirconia and a pink cabochon coral gem. This was the gift for Alice. The second is 14K yellow gold necklace, with coral encircled by diamonds, that will be for sale at Van Horn Jewelers. Both have been on display at 31 Lake Street throughout the summer, but, due to phased reopening and safety concerns, the group has waited to organize a formal announcement. On August 29, Dang finally saw the finished pieces in store and receive her necklace. Though quiet, it was clear that she, her family, and her loved ones were proud and thrilled to be a part of this initiative.
The 14K gold design is now for sale at Van Horn Jewelers and a designer’s commission will go to Dang for her creative contribution upon its sale. On top of this, Husted took it upon himself to create a second piece based on a design teacher Susan Camin drew as a model for her students. Husted gave Camin the piece as a token of appreciation for making the OFA Jewelry Design Challenge possible.
Throughout her career, Camin always strived to show her students that “their art is worth something.” Whether artworks are used to help fundraise for a nonprofit, like artfully SQUARED at TAC, or transformed into an original piece of jewelry, art has value.
“I am myself a graduate of Owego Free Academy (class of '75) and had some of my best moments in the art room and was looking forward to returning to give the presentation to the art classes,” said Husted. “I wanted to expose the students to the field [of jewelry craftsmanship] and to give them the opportunity to work in a medium that they were not experienced in. I also wanted to show them that there are ways to earn a living as an artist that they may not have considered.” For 40 years, Husted has enjoyed a rich and rewarding career as a Master Bench Jeweler.
“The challenge exceeded my expectations and was more fun than I could have hoped,” Husted reflected. Looking ahead, Husted hopes to host this challenge again with another one of the high schools in Tioga County. Skip Hornick, a co-sponsor of this event, said: “This opportunity to extend his expertise to the youth is very important to Michael. It’s his passion.”
The OFA Jewelry Design Challenge is truly a gem on every level. It serves as a wonderful example of how an artist can give back by engaging students in a creative endeavor, and can show young artists a career path they had not considered before. It also serves as a wonderful example of partnership: Camin and Husted forged a new program and, with the support of a local business, made it come to fruition. The challenge inspired Alice Dang in a completely new way, and just may have inspired a possible career path for this young artist.
Dang said: “Thank you again for making the design challenge and event today possible. I am so grateful and honored for all the dedication and hard work you put into me and my artwork over these past two years.”