Episode 517

In this episode of ARTEFFECTS: visit The Basement in Downtown Reno and meet Micah Blank, a jewelry maker attracted to simple, elegant designs; dive into the world of the Sacramento Ballet; learn about the meticulous work of scratch board artists; discover the Weavers Guild of Miami Valley in Ohio.

AIRED: April 16, 2020 | 0:26:46

- In this edition of ARTEFFECTS,

a Reno jewelry maker's simple

yet elegant approach to his craft.

(light string music)

- I really like taking apart things

and putting it back together.

I want my rings to stand the test of time.

- [Beth] A peek into the world of the Sacramento Ballet.

- [Amy] There are things on the planet that are difficult

to put into words.

And to me, dance and music can fill the spaces

that sometimes words cannot.

- [Beth] Meet the masters of the scratchboard.

- It is a fun thing to do

even if you're not good at it.

It's just kinda fun to scratch off that black ink

and watch the white appear

and you can do some pretty neat effects with it

once you start to learn how to use it.

- [Beth] And discover the Weavers Guild of Miami Valley.

- We're not raised with it right next to us.

So an organization like the guild

allows us to get the instruction,

get the support and keep the love of weaving going.

- It's all ahead on this edition of ARTEFFECTS.

(lively jazzy music)

- [Announcer] Funding for ARTEFFECTS is made possible

by the Bently Foundation, The June S. Wisham Estate,

Kate & Richard Kenny, The Nell J. Redfield Foundation,

the annual contributions of PBS Reno Members and by...

- Hello, I'm Beth MacMillan and welcome to ARTEFFECTS.

Artist Micah Blank of Reno has a classic

yet minimalist approach to his jewelry.

He creates elegant pieces

designed to stand the test of time.

We caught up with Micah in his shop in The Basement

in Downtown Reno to learn about his craft.

(soft string music)

- My name is Micah Blank and I create jewelry.

I make all of my jewelry in the old post office

in Downtown Reno in The Basement.

I got started in jewelry because I wanted to wear jewelry

and I couldn't ever find jewelry that I liked

so I decided that I had to make my own jewelry.

I really like gold jewelry but I like it to be particular

and kind of look a certain way.

I like signet style rings

and I like kinda bigger heavier pieces.

I like to use a lot of diamonds and 18-karat gold.

I would consider to be more of a fine jewelry

but I also like it to be just very basic

and kind of minimalist and simplistic.

I make necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings.

I really like to make engagement rings.

I love diamonds so when people want an engagement ring,

I get excited

because it's just like a statement piece and I love it.

Usually I start with the stone

so I'm building a design around a center stone.

So depending on the shape, I kinda create the lines of it

so it's gonna kinda fit with the shape of the stone.

When I sit down and create a piece of metal,

I usually melt the metal in some kind of a crucible

or just some a form so that I can get

a basic shape of the melted metal

and then from there I will draw it

into wire or hammer it into a shape that I need.

I really like working with the metal.

It's very pleasing to see it kinda stretch out

and become something out of kinda just this lump of gold

that I melted down.

I try to keep in mind dimensions and proportions

of the actual jewelry itself,

I don't want to make a ring too heavy

so that the stone looks smaller

and I don't wanna make it too small

so like too thin so it's flimsy.

I try to keep in mind

like structural integrity and things like that.

Sometimes people will bring in an heirloom piece of jewelry

that they received from a relative

whether it be their mother, their grandmother

and the style is a bit outdated

and they just want something using those stones,

they want it to be a bit more current

or something unique to them.

And so from there, we'll just kind of discuss what they want

and then we'll take all the stones out,

melt the gold down and start making

a really interesting ring

using metal and stones they already have.

(soft string music)

I think it's really important to repurpose jewelry

and things that we have, like repurposing anything.

So if we can use diamonds that have already, you know,

and we can use recycled gold,

I think that's very important in the process.

You wanna make sure that you are buying something

that you know like okay,

the person was paid a fair wage to find this gem stone

and I think everyone should wanna make sure

that their hands are clean

so to say when they buy their jewelry.

I think the most gratifying part to me is the finished piece

because I know where it started,

I know that it started with just a wire

or just a wire and some stones on my bench,

and then I get to see it kind of evolve into this actual,

it starts to look like a ring

and then when you polish it or clean it up,

then it starts to look like,

and then you see the finished piece coming out.

Every time I make a piece of jewelry,

I'm like oh this is nice.

- To learn more about this Reno-based artist,


The Sacrament Ballet

continues to build dancers and audiences

by redefining the ballet you though you knew.

Let's hear from Amy Siewert

who now runs the dance company she started out with.

(dramatic orchestral music)

- There are things on the planet

that are difficult to put into words.

And to me, dance and music can fill the spaces

that sometimes words cannot.

What I wanna do is to challenge people's preconceptions

of what ballet is.

This is a phenomenal organization,

over 60 years in this community

building dancers, building audiences.

It's pretty fantastic to think

that I am running the company that I used to dance for.

I've always wanted to direct;

I have wanted to do that since I was a young dancer.

I felt like I'd been training my whole life for this job

and that felt good.

So I made a world premiere Nutcracker this year,

which is the biggest artistic project I've ever taken on.

People have very strong opinions about Nutcracker,

it's a very intimidating thing to step into.

But as a choreographer,

you wanna put your stamp on something

so to being able to do that was huge.

I actually started hearing the music differently.

Dance is the physical embodiment of the music,

so if I can take whatever I'm hearing,

find the intention to it and put it into physical form,

it's about the environment we create in the studio.

It's about the support these artists have for each other

and what they create every day.

Having dancers who are willing to take the leap with you

is essential.

I talk with the dancers often about don't chase the dragon.

You had a great show last night, don't try to recreate it.

What's gonna be new tonight?

How do you go somewhere else?

Where else can you explore?

When you're creating like that, it feels effortless.

You're not struggling, you're in your creative zone.

It's just crazy 'cause some days it all just works,

and some days it doesn't.

There's a saying that, if everything you do works,

you're not trying hard enough,

so you need to be able to create and fail

'cause you might learn something incredibly valuable

that takes you to the next place

that you can't get to without that little failure.

- To learn more, visit

Now it's time for this week's art quiz.

At what age did American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer

Misty Copeland begin her ballet studies?

Is the answer A, seven years old;

B, nine years old;

C, 11 years old;

or D, 13 years old?

And the answer is D, 13 years old.

The roots of scratchboard art stretch back to the 1800s

when illustrators used the art form to create images

for newspapers and books.

Rather than applying paint or ink to a canvas

to create an image,

artists who work in scratchboard use sharp tools

to scratch and remove ink or paint from the canvas

bit by bit to reveal an image.

Now let's meet some artists in Ohio

who work in this unusual fine art form.

- I think most people don't realize how long it takes to do.

Some scratchboard artists are very quick,

but the process that I use takes a long time

and I usually set goals

like a couple of square inches per day.

I work very close with a very sharp knife

and do extreme detail.

It's a very satisfying art form.

It's immediate, it's very much like drawing in that sense,

you know, you put the lines down and there it is.

People have said to me,

"Oh, I'd love to watch you do scratchboard."

And, I say, "I can't think of anything more boring

"than watching me do scratchboard because I'm so slow."

But, it's like watching grass grow or paint dry.

But it is a fun thing to do even if you're not good at it.

It's just kind of fun to scratch off that black ink

and watch the white appear,

and you can do some pretty neat effects with it

once you start to learn how to use it.

- It's like drawing with a knife instead of a pencil.

You're starting with black ink,

you're removing it to get to the white

but, how close the lines are placed,

how thick or thin they are

give you different values and different looks.

You can also get these boards without the black ink,

so it's just white clay and you can add your own ink.

And, some people use ink, some people have used watercolors,

and then you can do the same type of scratching techniques

and that gives you a different look

than the traditional black scratchboard.

- [John] Supplies are fairly minimal.

You can work with a knife and a scratchboard.

That's all you really need.

There are a lot of different kinds of tools

that will give you different textures and lines.

- People have used X-Acto knives with scalpel blades,

which are very good at cutting skin,

they're also very good for creating

probably the finest lines that you can get.

People have also found that tattoo needles work very well.

I like the flat needles,

that have five or nine little needles in parallel,

and they allow you to gently remove the black

and so you can get different levels of gray

more easily with them.

- When I first started doing it,

I was involved in cave exploring

and it was a medium that to me

really portrayed the deep black shadows

and bright highlights that you see in caves very well.

And, also allowed me to do a lot of detail

in the geology on drawing the rocks.

I could get very fine detail with scratchboard.

As I grew to like the medium,

I started noticing its affinity

to much older engravings that you would see

in old zoology textbooks from the 19th century.

I just love the line work in those,

and scratchboard was very similar in a lot of ways

and having an interest in animals, especially reptiles,

scratchboard was a great medium for me to use.

I like to do very realistic, authentic images of animals.

And in order to do that, I need photographs.

Scratchboard is a very slow medium

so you can't really take it out into the field

and sketch with it like you would

with graphite or with paints.

'Cause when I do animals like a crocodile,

I don't copy the photographs exactly,

but I do need them to make sure

I have the right number of scales,

in the right places and so on.

- I kind of like everything.

I'm a bit eclectic.

I've done portraits, I've done animals,

I've done a fair number of birds,

I've done mountain scenes,

I've done a lot of architectural subjects.

My most common size is eight by 10 inches, or five by seven.

I've also done 18 by 24, which are fairly large.

And the first time I did a really large board,

I said, "Oh, I'm gonna make the smallest board."

And I did a little one by 1 1/4 inch board

with an owl on it.

One question I get a lot is, well,

how do you get color on the board?

Is it underneath?

And, the answer is, no.

If it's a black board it's white underneath,

but after you've scratched away the black,

you can come in with a dilute ink or watercolor.

- I've got a degree in fine art

from the University of Cincinnati.

I was trained as a painter

and I discovered scratchboard about 20 years ago

and have been doing it ever since.

I emphasize authenticity a lot,

but I also want to be a good artist,

and for me underneath every good realist painting

there's a good abstract.

You still have to have that sense of design.

And I've been trying to combine the two

into doing the best scratchboard art I can.

And I have achieved a Master status

in the International Society of Scratchboard Artists.

- We emphasize the international,

even though most of the members are from the U.S.

and another large chunk are from Canada.

We've been getting more and more artists

from other countries.

I thought it'd be great to have Cincinnati area

exposed to scratchboard art.

I was the exhibition director

for Middletown Art Center exhibition last May.

They have a really nice gallery space

that could hold 80 to 90 works.

Then we had two days of, we call them workshops,

they're a little bit more of demonstrations.

We also have our annual membership meeting

and we have what's called Ask the Masters.

Some of our Master members who are our most talented members

do a little panel and answer questions around what they do,

how they do it, offer advice.

It's a chance to learn from each other.

It's a way to both network and build the relationships

but also learn and try out some things.

Well I think people see and appreciate the fine nature of it

and I think they also see that especially for animal fur,

it's a really great medium

because you can get a depth and layering of the hair

that you can't easily achieve like with pencil.

- One of the tough things

about doing that sort of work though

is that you can get lost in the detail

and you have to keep in mind the bigger image

and sometimes it's tough to do that,

to keep track of both the faraway

and up close at the same time.

- [Rich] A lot of people walking by

if they see if from a distance,

they say, "Oh look at the photographs."

It's like, no, no, these are not photographs.

I think they get impressed

by the fact that someone can actually do that.

I have heard some artists who see it and say,

"Wow, that's really neat but it's not for me."

And, that's true.

You know, it's not gonna be for everyone.

But if you like drawing, if you like animal art,

if you like shadows and values,

the rich contrast of black and white, give it a try.

- To learn more, visit

For 70 years, the Weavers Guild of Miami Valley

in Yellow Springs, Ohio has crafted a community

of talented artisans.

Originally organized in 1949

to promote interest in handweaving,

today the guild also promotes handspinning

and textile arts through education.

Here's their story.

(soft music)

- The Weavers Guild of Miami Valley

encompasses any person who is interested in weaving,

interested in spinning.

- Most of our members are weavers but not all.

We have people that are involved in knitting, quilting,

fiber arts in general, you name it, they do it.

This is our 70th anniversary

and so we have been celebrating

by having displays at various libraries

and historic societies in the area.

- They've put exhibits in all of the libraries

to give people a chance to know

the guild is here and thriving.

- [Carol] And then, of course,

we'll be at the Wool Gathering.

- The Guild sponsored the Wool Gathering originally

and Young's Jersey Dairy took it over,

but the Guild started that and it just grew.

- The Wool Gathering is my favorite

because of all the vendors that attend the Wool Gathering.

Bring your pocketbook.

I guess, if you asked each member,

they'd have a different answer as to what they get

from being a member of the Weavers Guild.

But our primary purpose is education.

We would like to teach weaving, spinning

to those folks who are interested in learning.

In addition to that, I believe personally

that it is a way to preserve a craft

that is not predominant today as it was once in the past.

- The days of learning from your mom, your grandma,

Aunt Sally, those days are gone

and we're not raised with it right next to us.

So, an organization like the Guild

allows us to get the instruction,

get the support and keep the love of weaving going.

- People who think it's really simple and fast,

quick, easy to do, it's not.

So, I tell people, it is a time-consuming craft,

hobby, endeavor, and so they need to be made aware of that.

The weaving part is not that time consuming.

What is time consuming is planning.

Planning your colors, what fibers you're going to use.

- The advantage of weaving

is the way you juxtapose the fibers

creates a particular hand in a cloth,

and that's where all the difference is in a hand-woven piece

as opposed to a machine-woven piece.

And, there's nothing wrong with machine-woven pieces either.

It's just there's a difference in the hand,

and the design and the creativity

and it all goes into how a weaver uses the fibers.

- I enjoy working with cotton or cotton blend.

I have worked with other fibers such as wool and synthetics.

The items I like to weave are scarves and household items,

towels, place mats, table runners.

My goal eventually is to weave a coverlet

and maybe I'll get there one day.

- Most of my weaving when I worked was yardage

that I would then make into clothes.

So, a lot of my inspiration

would be things you saw in stores, in magazines

and you would say, "Oh, well, they did this and this,

"I could do that," and then try it from there.

The scarf I did at a workshop, several years ago,

a new theme came out that was called iridescent weaving,

and that was using yarns that if you move the item,

they would show different colors, they would iridesce.

It's a very simple weave structure.

It's just that the colors play with each other,

against each other and that's the finished effect.

- The weaving I do is primarily for the wall or collages.

So, it's a different process.

I will work with any fiber.

In a collage, you can use any material that you find lovely.

- [Carol] For me, it's a way to express myself.

With the spinning, it's a way to just relax.

- Craft-making is very relaxing.

It regenerates your spirit.

And, there's something very musical

about just doing the same thing over and over

and it just, it calms you down.

We do have a monthly meeting and at each monthly meeting,

there is a program presented.

- [Carol] Someone will come and discuss weaving, dyeing,

some topic that has to do with fiber.

People attending the meeting

will bring something that they've just finished

and show and talk about what they did

and yarns they used and that sort of thing.

- This is my first weave without doing it here.

- [Julia] The show and tell is primarily

to encourage the guild members to keep working.

- Sometimes that will be followed with a workshop

in conjunction with a presentation.

There are probably five or six different workshops

during the year.

I think it's amazing that this guild

has lasted as long as it has.

I've been members in other groups and organizations

and they kind of come and go.

People chose different interests,

avenues, paths, life interferes

and they don't have the longevity

that the Weavers Guild has.

I think the thing to remember from all of this

is the Weavers Guild, while being 70,

is still very young at heart,

is still doing new and challenging things.

We stay on the cutting edge

and we're constantly bringing new ideas,

inventive ideas to the guild and age is just a number,

it's how you feel, young at heart.

And, I think this group is very young at heart.

(soft piano music)

- To learn more, visit

And that wraps it up for this edition of ARTEFFECTS.

For more arts and culture and to watch past episodes,


Until next week, I'm Beth MacMillan.

Thank for watching.

- [Announcer] Funding for ARTEFFECTS is made possible

by the Bently Foundation, The June S. Wisham Estate,

Kate & Richard Kenny, The Nell J. Redfield Foundation,

the annual contributions of PBS Reno Members and by...

(lively jazzy music)


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