Front Range Community College Students Honor Seniors with Narrative Jewelry

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Thursday, April 11, 2013


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LONGMONT -- Jewelry can have meaning to its wearer, but it's not often a piece of jewelry can tell its wearer's story.

But jewelry students at Front Range Community College recently designed and made what's called narrative jewelry that tells the personal stories of 11 women who live at Sunrise Assisted Living in Boulder.

While visiting her uncle there, jewelry instructor Camille Rendal met several women who, she was sure, had compelling stories to tell.

"I thought it would be really interesting to figure out a way to commemorate their lives," Rendal said.

With the community college's directive to add service learning to classes in mind, she realized her students could share the stories through jewelry.

If you go

What: "Reconstructing the Past" exhibit opens with a reception

When: 6 p.m. Friday, April 12

Where: Firehouse Art Center, 667 Fourth Ave., Longmont

More information: The exhibit will be at the Firehouse Art Center through May 12. Firehouse is open from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. Call 303-651-2787 or see

That jewelry -- along with pictures of the women who inspired the pieces -- make up the exhibit, "Reconstructing the Past," at the Firehouse Art Center beginning Friday through May 12.

Last August, Rendal began working with Catlyn Kennan, who teaches Women's Sexuality, and Mary Ann Grim, who teaches Women in U.S. History, to design a project involving all three classes.

After receiving short biographies from the women's families, students prepared to interview them.

"It was just a page in the book that meant, really, nothing," said Linda Parks, 55, who lives in Boulder. For Rosanne Morris, Parks made a necklace featuring a cross-stitch patterned heart and charms representing her dog, her love of travel and her family members.

Sue Palmer, a resident of Sunrise Assisted Living in Boulder, looks at a display case of medals that Lanell Perry, a Front Range Community College student,
Sue Palmer, a resident of Sunrise Assisted Living in Boulder, looks at a display case of medals that Lanell Perry, a Front Range Community College student, made as part of a narrative jewelry project. The students jewelry, as well as pictures of the women with that jewelry, are on display at Firehouse Art Center from Friday, April 12, through May 12. (Tony Umile/Courtesy photo)

Although students used the provided biographies to create interview questions, Krystle Aaraas had to improvise when no one showed up to interview Marjorie Richards.

Students went in to the interviews with pre-conceived ideas of what the women would say, said Aaraas, 25, of Longmont. History students asked about the challenges of discrimination in the workplace, for example, but the women didn't think much about those problems, she said.

They would answer, "No, we just did it," Aaraas said. "These women were very easygoing."

Melissa Ferguson, 24, who has compiled oral histories for other projects, helped compile the questions to interview Clare Goodrich, who lived in Okinawa, Japan, for 15 years.

While the students were more interested in asking about that time, Goodrich wanted to talk about other times in her life, Parks said.

The students from Kennan's and Grim's classes wrote reports about the women they interviewed. Those reports are on display with the student-made jewelry in the Firehouse Arts Center exhibit.

The jewelry students also benefited from the interviews.

"You walked in with an image, ... and walked out with a clearer vision," said Karen Edgerly, 51, of Boulder.

After the group interview, Parks spent an additional 90 minutes with Morris, getting to know her even better.

Making a piece of narrative jewelry was more intense than making jewelry for herself, Parks said.

"This piece became very personal because there was a connection with someone else," Parks said. "When you have a challenge of interpreting someone's life, it's very personal. ... As the designer, it gave me a lot of joy."

Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226 or

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