2018 Oregon College of Art and Craft Appeal

Intro: Oregon College of Art and Craft's 111–year–old legacy has forged on, cultivating innovative thinkers and creative problem–solvers. This year–end, we are proud to feature the stories of three of them. 

The relevance of craft in today’s world is once again on the rise and has never been more vital to creative inquiry. At OCAC, we understand the critical importance of higher learning and are dedicated to preparing students, not only to secure dynamic careers in the ever-shifting economy, but to think creatively and innovative in every situation. 

The human inclination to think and create is a powerful one. Take a behind–the–scenes look at OCAC's cross–disciplinary community as we focus on the processes, motivations, and gifts of current students and alumni, and faculty members.


Silversmithing with a Fresh Approach

Sara Thompson: “Metalhead”

Sara Thompson: “Metalhead”

Silver, I found, is like my Goldilocks Metal.

"Making" Outside the Box
(or Vessel)

At age 22, metalsmith Sara Thompson ( BFA in Craft, Metals; 2017) is primed to redefine American silversmithing.

The soft-spoken “metalhead” with a penchant for mathematics and science has rocketed to success as a silversmith, sculptor, and jeweler. 

It’s a career trajectory the American Craft Council describes as nothing short of “meteoric.”

And that success has its roots in making on the idyllic campus of Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC). In 2017, Sara earned a BFA in Craft with a concentration in Metals.

“I’m telling people at the Smithsonian, at the American Craft Council, that my degree is in Craft,” she says. “What I studied, was high-quality skilled making in metal. That’s what I took away from a BFA in Craft at OCAC…it distinguishes me and sets me apart from other artists.”

The Self–Professed Science Nerd

Adorned with science-infused tattoos including an astronaut, the planets, and a rocket ship, the contemporary metalsmith is proud of her education in deep materials knowledge.

"This school is special. It’s like a little Narnia up here,” she says of the 9.5 wooded acres nestled in the Southwest hills of Portland, ORE.

“I think other students should have the opportunity to experience that."

Sara credits OCAC’s mentor–based learning model and small class size with helping her thrive.

“I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today if it wasn’t for Christine (Clark),” she says of the OCAC professor and former Head of Metals. “Christine has this amazing ability to see how students learn and structure curriculum around their needs.”

This school is special. It’s like a little Narnia up here...other students should have the opportunity to experience it.

A self–professed “science nerd,” Sara traces the value of OCAC’s tight–knit community back to a cognitive theory: “There’s this principle by Malcolm Gladwell in which the largest army troops are 150…because that’s just about the number of spaces the human mind can retain familiarity with. And when you look at the size of OCAC, it hovers around there. Quantity doesn’t mean a better quality.”

I kept coming back to wanting to work in silver...

Sara has already received multiple private commissions for custom work—a rarity for an artist so young.

They include a series in the international Foster Art Project Archive of Ivorypress founder Lady Elena Foster (wife of British architect Lord Norman Foster), and original pieces collected by leading philanthropists Edythe and Eli Broad.

Since the time of this interview, she earned an Award of Distinction in Metal from the Society of Arts + Crafts.

Sara moved to Martha’s Vineyard at age 11 and served as a jeweler’s apprentice for five years. Her introduction to metalsmithing and jewelry making was in sterling silver.

"I kept coming back to wanting to work in silver, as it was the metal I was most familiar with. But also, there was something about it—the properties & the look of it.”

She’s the One Who Does the Hammering

Sara has no interest in becoming “a fancy designer” or a household name. Of the career milestones she’s already achieved, she admits, “It’s really overwhelming…it’s a lot to think about and comprehend.”

But Sara remains focused on the work. In fact, she can recall every single piece made since July of 2016, including which collector and what location each went to.

“66 vessels and 82 silver spoons,” she says, opening a black moleskin journal to reveal a hand–scrawled list. “Probably within the last two months, I’ve made another seven, no eight, vessels. I’m working on two trays this weekend & hopefully another 15 spoons.”

Making Waves as a Metalsmith:

Sara may have chosen her path as Maker, but her deep interest in science continues to make waves (and ripples)—in the conceptual meanings behind many of her elegant vessels. From the ratios of layers of the earth, to the calculations of the Golden Spiral, Sara artfully weaves proportions into her pieces.

“For example, the lips of the trays I’m working on right now follow the curvature of waves in the ocean. When you pick them up right here,” she demonstrates, “the trays curve upwards so you can slip your fingers underneath them.”

Sara’s “silversmithing with a fresh approach” is the epitome of OCAC’s focus on cross–disciplinary learning. As one of her collectors sums it up: “What you’re doing is very special. You’re Craft, but you’re sculpture, but you’re design. You’re fine art. You don’t fit into this one little box.” Or, in this case, vessel.

When surveying Sara’s achievements today, it's difficult not to wonder what she may be on the cusp of accomplishing in five years, or 10 years, or 30 years. As for what does lie ahead, Sara responds, “Who knows.” And right now, that’s not entirely important.

“I never pictured myself becoming a famous designer or being catapulted into this realm of artists,” she says. “What I wanted was just to make my art, be happy, and live comfortably. Nothing more. Anything more than that is just a bonus.”