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Ellen West

Ellen West
Ellen teaching a wax carving class

About the Artist: A resident of Alaska for 45 years, Ellen was trained at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco. She lived for 16 years in the small coastal town of Homer, Alaska along beautiful Kachemak Bay. She now resides in Green Valley (winter) and Pinetop (summer), Arizona with her rescue dog, Sandi.

She began making jewelry in 1974, having taken a class in jewelry fabrication where she was introduced to the method of “lost wax” casting. First, an original is carved from various hard waxes or built up with heat using soft waxes. When the desired piece is achieved, it is sprued to a rubber base attached to a steel cylinder (flask) and filled with plaster.

The flask is placed in a kiln and the temperature gradually raised to 1250°F, burning out the wax model and leaving the cavity to be filled with the desired metal. The molten gold or silver is poured into the plaster cavity in the flask under vacuum. The next step is to clean up the casting and polish the finished piece.

The lost wax technique is a very ancient one and modern tools now make the job much less time consuming.

The process between conception of a design idea and its final polish may take several days, but the time between a perishable model (while still in wax) and its transformation into glowing solid metal takes only a few seconds. That quick transformation is one of the exciting aspects of this method of making jewelry. "I’m always relieved and slightly apprehensive when my model is embedded in plaster, no longer available to me for last minute changes. I know that anything can happen between the burn-out and the removal of what I hope will be a perfect cast. Shaking the metal piece out after casting is almost like opening a gift, even though I know what should be there, I’m anxious to see what did happen."

Ellen feels that the lost wax method allows the most versatility in design. Almost any conceivable design can be built in wax, cast, and transformed into durable, lustrous gold or silver in seconds. Besides producing a nature jewelry line of pendants, earrings, and charms, Ellen designs and creates Custom Jewelry contemporary rings and specialty items with or without precious stones. She believes most people find special enjoyment of and attraction to wearable metals….”I just love the feel of gold.”

Ellen teaches classes in wax carving and finishing tips at the Lapidary Club of Green Valley Recreation in the spring and fall.


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