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Alumni Stories

A gold mine of experience

Meet Martha Glenny, Katharina Möller, and Shona Kearney, School of Fashion Studies Jewellery Arts alumni who returned to the College to become professors in the program themselves.  

In addition to sharing their skills and experience in the classroom, Shona, Katharina and Martha are members of Quintet, a jewellery design collective they started with two other members of the Jewellery Arts faculty. “Working together as artists as well as teachers is very rewarding,” explains Shona. “It allows us to keep current and put the techniques we teach into practice.”  

Quintet has a new exhibition that will be touring the country this year, and their work will be featured at the upcoming Society of North American Goldsmiths conference in May 2013, co-hosted by George Brown and Harbourfront. “In addition to creating the exhibition, we’ve put together a catalogue, designed a multi-function display unit and overseen the touring schedule,” says Katharina. “The breadth of experience across the group allows us to tackle all these things ourselves.”

Martha Glenny – 1975 graduate, Jewellery Arts
“My interest in jewellery was sparked by a part-time job in a shop that specialized in Scandinavian Modern design. It sold jewellery unlike any I had seen before –it was contemporary and made me see the potential for a creative career.  The things I enjoyed as a student are the same things I love about being a teacher - the pleasure of problem solving and the delight of making objects. GBC was the start of a life-long career that has given me much satisfaction and joy.”

Katharina Möller – 1988 and 1991 graduate, Gemmology and Jewellery Arts
“I chose to study at George Brown because it was the most recognized jewellery program in Ontario. As a student I could see the College had a strong commitment to excellence, but I didn’t realise all the planning and preparation that went into each lecture. Now I understand my teachers made it look effortless because they planned their lessons so effectively.  They showed genuine concern for our progress and encouraged us to rise to challenges and expand our vision, which is the same approach I take with my own students.”

Shona Kearney – 1997 graduate, Jewellery Arts
“I chose George Brown because it was renowned for its intensive hands-on technical training.  The value of technical accuracy, repetition and continually challenging oneself has been a constant throughout my career –taking risks in a creative discipline is essential.  The College has been the ideal place to learn and develop my skills -the supportive environment and feeling of community in the program is something I’ve experienced as both a student and a teacher. I love working closely with a group of students and watching confidence and technical abilities grow.”


What are the most important things for a successful career in jewellery design?
KM – Be flexible and open to new experiences. Constantly examine the world around you and incorporate new ideas.
MG - After you graduate, even if your goal is to have your own business, work in the field and spend a few years learning ‘on the job’.  Be active on many levels: working, volunteering and joining organizations.
SK – Persistence and networking are vital.  Take a chance on opportunities as they present themselves.

Why do you think it’s helpful and important for grads to stay connected to the college?
SK:  In the jewellery industry, job opportunities are not always posted in the usual places. Staying in close contact with our alumni allows us to pass along job opportunities, as the industry relies on word of mouth and often approaches the college when seeking new employees.
KM – George Brown is a wonderful networking resource.  I consider the students’ time in the classroom as the start of their careers –the strong connections they make here will benefit them throughout their working lives. 
MG - On a personal level, we work very closely with our students and we simply enjoy staying in touch!

What’s the top advice you have for students?
MG - Your time at college is very short - make the most of it! Commit fully to all the courses and project work, and actively engage with your professors to enhance your learning.
SK - Something I try to pass on, which I found challenging as a student, is that there is value in making mistakes. In this field, making mistakes is inevitable and learning from them is hugely important.
KM - Be creative in problem solving. Creativity is of vital importance, whether it’s in an artistic, technical or business context.


Program: Jewellery Arts - F114

Graduated: 2002

Leif BennerGrowing up in family of artists, Leif Benner was set on a career in creativity from the time he was a school kid in London, Ontario.

Asked whether he was always into jewellery, the George Brown College Jewellery Arts grad replies, "No, not back then, but I was interested in every artistic outlet around - music, cooking, all the creative arts."

Leif first became involved with the jeweller's art around the time he was getting married. "I met a goldsmith who let me hang around his studio for a couple weeks while he made our wedding bands," he remembers. "I was fascinated by the process and to learn that each piece of jewellery is essentially a little sculpture."

Although he was intrigued by the "bit of romance" and the highly technical skills required to work with gold and precious stones, Leif was still planning to attend George Brown College's Chef School. Then by chance, he came across the Jewellery Arts program while flipping through the George Brown College course calendar.

"In London, there are quite a few goldsmiths, so I asked if anyone from George Brown had done apprenticeships, and heard only good things," says Leif. "I decided to apply to both programs, with Jewellery Arts as my first choice. I figured I could always fall back on being a chef."

The Jewellery Arts faculty recognized the gleaming potential beneath Leif's inexperience, and although he had never touched a piece of metal, he liked that he was immediately immersed in the medium.

"At that point in my life I was looking for something really fresh. You just jumped right in and they gave you everything you needed," Leif explains. When asked how he developed his unique style of distinctive yet classic pieces, Leif credits the mix of courses at George Brown College.

"The Profs encourage creativity but always give you grounding in the traditional way to get results," he says. "The way the courses are set up, you study the skills most relevant to your interests whether they are more on the artistic or the business side."

After graduating from the program with honours, Leif was accepted as an Artist in Residence at Harbourfront where he concentrated on perfecting his craft and began to sell his pieces. Inspired by his mother, a restaurateur, Leif leased one of the first studio spaces in the now wildly popular Distillery District, and is now in the enviable position of deciding whether or not to expand a successful business.

"It's tempting to expand, but I don't want to lose the personal touch of dealing with my customers directly and the creative satisfaction I get from that."

On November 17, 2010,  ten outstanding graduates from Business, Arts & Design were inducted into the inaugural Alumni Wall of Fame. The inductees represent alumni who have excelled in their professional careers, have been actively involved in the community, and have been advisors and mentors to the students. 




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