One of the best things about a city the size of Buffalo is accessibility in the arts. With a bit of effort (and money) you can learn from classically trained musicians, celebrated visual artists, renowned actors and master craftspeople.
In the Five Points neighborhood on Buffalo’s West Side, His + His Studio offers the chance to learn jewelry making from experts in the field. Married owners Vince Pontillo-Verrastro and Aric Verrastro met in the jewelry studio at Buffalo State and earned their master’s in fine arts from Indiana University-Bloomington. Pontillo-Verrastro had been a tenure-track professor in the University of Wisconsin system when he started thinking that a career in academia might not be for them.
“Frankly, I resigned because I was no longer enthused by the way education was being treated institutionally, like commerce driving the economy and unlike the public service I feel like it is,” they say. “I felt like I was being worn down over time.”
Having learned the craft of jewelry making, gained experience on how to teach it, and developed the administrative abilities to handle a small organization, Pontillo-Verrastro says they are happy to channel all of that into something much more rewarding. His + His Studio offers ring, earring and bangle making. The studio also offers wax carving, lost-wax casting, enameling and silversmithing workshops. The two-hour ring making workshops costs $100 and people walk away with an elegant, hammer-textured silver ringband. A two-day, six-hour wax carving and metal casting workshop costs $250.
In addition to offering workshops, His + His Studio also has retail sales of handmade jewelry that has been crafted by the owners. Pontillo-Verrastro says his studio’s goal is to keep prices and rates approachable so that many people can be exposed to the art of metalsmithing and jewelry design.
“I want to build an educational platform that democratizes studio jewelry education,” they say. “What you see here, typically speaking, can only be seen in a university or a production house. To be able to offer an affordable studio experience is something truly unique.
“I want to be an example, showing you don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth in order to become a goldsmith.”
On my recent visit, Pontillo-Verrastro walked me through a lost-wax casting process that was part science, part art, and all unique experience. I watched as they melted silver in an 1800-degree electromelt ‘kiln’ and poured it into a plaster mold using a vacuum casting machine. After the metal solidified, the mold was ‘quenched’ in a bucket of tap water, dissolving the plaster and releasing cast metal parts for a custom piece that would later be fashioned into a singular piece.
I had never seen anything like it and Pontillo-Verrastro was there to explain the entire process. I walked out feeling like I’d had a full-on unique experience, and it was only 10:30 a.m. Before I left, Pontillo-Verrastro told me that providing people with a safe and engaging experience is what his studio is all about
“The jewelry studio gave me a community,” they say. “It’s where I found the most sense of place, where I felt the most at home and it’s where I met my husband. So this isn’t just a fabrication studio, it’s an inclusive space where all are welcome.”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
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