Metalwork found Kathleen Baum at a time when she needed a change.
The College of DuPage Art professor was inspired by the hands-on aspect of making jewelry, connecting her to the earth.
“Creating beautiful things in the real world fulfills our basic human longing to touch and create,” she said. “Forming something in your hands connects you to something deep and balancing.”
Baum started teaching at College of DuPage in 1994 after finishing her master's in fine arts degree from Indiana University. Although she jokes that her alternative career as a nightclub singer might not have worked out too well, Baum clearly loves spending time with her students.
“One of the reasons I’ve been at COD for more than 25 years is the diverse nature of our students,” she said. “There are beginners and those seasoned in the field. Some students want to learn a skill for employment while others are there to grow for their own enjoyment. When a student is proud of what they have accomplished, especially since jewelry objects can be so different and magical, it’s a fabulous moment! Why would I do anything else?”
Baum said she is obsessed with the history of jewelry and adornment. She continues to gain as much information as possible on gemstones and why humans have always worn jewelry.
“After discovering metalwork, I realized almost immediately that I loved the material and dedicated my life to the craft,” she said. “My years of study in art history made me observe how little the academic world regarded the history of jewelry. I continue to grow in the history and knowledge of my craft and am grateful to share what I learn with others.”
It’s that combination of her vast information base and hands-on skills that Baum uses to reach her students.
“I hope my students believe their own creativity is stronger than they thought possible,” she said. “The studio environment is really responsible for that. The myth of the artist all alone being brilliant in his garret is simply nonsense. Creative people do spend an inordinate amount of time on their skill, perhaps alone, but to make something useful and meaningful, you need support. The broad spectrum of people in COD art studios enriches the experience of education.”
While Baum is inspired by the way technology positively affects people, she also sees the importance of continuing such ancient crafts as working with metal, which involves fire and beating it with a hammer.
“Our technological revolution is moving so fast but it’s imperceptible to younger students because they are riding the rocket, so to speak,” she said. “Students don’t ‘need’ to know how to pierce a piece of metal with a hand saw because laser cutters can do the job. But hand cutting is real, and the experience is real. You watch your work progress. You feel the piece get lighter and make a different sound as you put it on the workbench. It’s deeper understanding for the foundation of your education.”
As one of only a few community colleges with full National Association of Schools of Art and Design accreditation, COD offers a vast array of art classes that provides an in-depth study for students majoring in art or pursuing their own creative passions. Classes offered include art history, ceramics, design, drawing, metalworking, painting, printmaking and sculpture.
“We are fortunate to offer a wide range of art classes and well-equipped studios. If you think of an art form, I bet we offer a class in it!” Baum said. “The faculty are working artists who care deeply about the success of their students.”