Learning the tools of the trade

Camas man teaches all the basics of traditional jewelry making

Gene Dietzen has always been interested in creating things from scratch.

“When I was in high school, I made model kits and these were photographed and actually used on the cover for different manufacturers,” he said.

Dietzen dabbled in jewelry making after high school, but between managing a career and earning a college degree, he didn’t have the time for his true passion: teaching.

Several years ago, Dietzen found that creative outlet through East County Community Education, teaching astronomy and eventually jewelry making, among other things.

After a stint there, Dietzen wanted to find a place where he could solder without fear of “burning the building down.” He taught classes in southeast Portland and at a Washougal shop before opening up his own studio in Camas four years ago, after a back injury forced an early retirement.

Now, Dietzen teaches jewelry making in his Clear Skies Studio five days a week. There are evening classes available for anyone from the curious to those experienced jewelry makers seeking a private work space.

Over the years, he has refined his classes.

“What I learned about teaching jewelry making is that people would tell me they wanted to make a ring or necklace, and then I’d end up finishing most of it,” Dietzen said. “Now, I show students how to use the tools and they spend six weeks in basic mode, from sawing to soldering. Then, if they want to make something, they have the skills to do so.”

In addition to basic jewelry making, Dietzen also teaches etching, fusing, advanced soldering, wire-wrappping, stone setting and casting.

“I have people that come from as far away as Lake Oswego and Longview for the classes,” he said. “And there is plenty of diversity as far as what they do. My students range from bus drivers to doctors. For them, we are a second set of friends to talk with. We also have a variety of skills sets, from beginners to professionals.”

On a recent Thursday night, five students were in Dietzen’s studio working on different projects. The sounds of laughter were mixed among sawing, hammering and soldering.

Michelle Lee, an engineer, has been attending class for 18 months.

“I don’t get to be very creative during the day,” she said. “This is my time once a week that I get to be here and have the chance to make something.”

She added that Dietzen is a supportive teacher.

“He helps you out if there’s a question,” Lee said. “You can show him a picture of something you want to make and he’ll help you figure out how to do it.”

Whitney Woodland has been coming to the class for 18 months, but has been making jewelry for eight years. She exhibits items at various bazaars and festivals in the area, as well as every other Saturday at the Washougal Farmer’s Market.

“I really like having a creative outlet and time to work,” she said.

Patti Berglund has been coming to the class for three years. As a college instructor, she enjoys the time to be creative.

“If you can work independently, this is a good fit,” she said. “I can do what I want in here and still learn everything.”

Caileigh Piatt enjoys the camaraderie of the other students and exchange of ideas.

“It really gets you working when you decide on a design for (a piece),” she said.

Joan Anderson has been attending class for the past 10 months.

“I like making what you want exactly the way you want to,” she said. “It’s fun to create something from nothing.”

For Dietzen, it’s all about the students.

“My focus is to teach and give my students a solid foundation and provide a safe environment.”

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