Transformative Bijoux

At-risk teens use jewelry-making course as therapy

“Bijoux et Agressions” (“Jewelry and Aggressions”) was the name of the renowned goldsmith Tasso Mattar’s first workshop with the students of the Institut d'Enseignement Socio-Educatif (Institute of Socio-Educational Teaching) in Dreiborn, Luxembourg. Over the span of three days in June 2009, Mattar worked alongside the school’s at-risk teenage students, whose past experiences range from drug use and criminal activity to educational struggles and family problems. Perhaps an atypical jewelry-making workshop, this one merged practical training sessions with explorations of aggression as a form of productive, creative therapy. One student, for example, created a chair-shaped pendant to reflect her childhood experience of being forced to sit in isolation as punishment. The workshop, one of two that Mattar has conducted at the Institute in the past several years, was part of the school’s program-rich, jewelry-focused curriculum, out of which the enterprise, 3bornart, has emerged.

3bornart was born out of a collaboration between three pioneering teachers of the Institut d'Enseignement Socio-Educatif. A 2007 visit to Mallorca, Spain to participate in a jewelry-making workshop in Mattar’s studio inspired Liliana Borges, Pat Zimmer, and Chantal Koelsch to bring their newfound metalsmithing and jewelry-design skills back to their school in Luxembourg. The initial stages of the project were difficult; the tools and materials (they primarily used silver, for example) were expensive, and funds for the project were soon exhausted. The teachers and students thus turned to discarded objects as a source for the jewelry, using old tin cans, vinyl records, fire hoses, billiard balls, and black rubber inner tubes, to name just several examples, for materials and inspiration.

Today, the student-created jewelry has been presented the prestigious “Made in Luxembourg” label by the country’s government, and is sold at Luxembourg’s contemporary art museum, Mudam, as well as Capsule, a concept store in Luxembourg City. For many of the fifty students who have participated in 3bornart since 2009, working with their hands to create the jewelry and watching it be sold outside of the school has been an opportunity to feel a real sense of success and pride for the first time. All profits from the jewelry sales go to the association, Aide aux Jeunes en Détresse (Help to Young People in Distress), which distributes funds to support the Institute’s students in various ways, such as organizing outdoor excursions, paying for cinema tickets, and providing places to stay for students with nowhere else to go during school vacations.

One ring in particular speaks poignantly to the fulfillment that the students have achieved through their work with 3bornart. The band and setting of the ring is crafted from brass, and the central, crowning jewel is a reused, white computer key that exhibits one word, “Home.” For the students of the Institut d'Enseignement Socio-Educatif, the jewelry workshop has become not only a place that can offer pride and self-esteem, but also a haven from which to start anew.

To learn more about 3bornart, please visit www.3bornart.lu. Emma Bowen is an educator, design historian, and social entrepreneur who currently teaches at Parsons The New School for Design.

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