Artist Project Series: Little Red School House Ring by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

My project is based on a schoolhouse in rural Ontario.  The schoolhouse was built in 1876 and captured my heart as a child.  The school was decommissioned in the 1950’s and purchased at an auction by my mother who then gave it to her father. It sits on 1 acre of land that my relatives had donated for the school.  My grandparents lived in a farmhouse nearby and my grandfather used to give me the keys and I’d ride my bike up to the school…and play inside.  One summer I even conned neighboring kids to come to my school–I was the teacher, of course!  When it came time for my husband and myself to buy or build a house…this was our model and we took as much of the old school to our house.  My dream as a little girl was to live in the “little red schoolhouse”.

In the project I’ll show how I made my ring.  Have fun and design your own dream house!

This project is proudly presented by Cool Tools. (And I thank them and Bill Struve for this wonderful silver metal clay.  It was the perfect clay for my project.  It was strong, but flexible when it was bone dry.)

EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay
paper clay
Teflon/non-stick sheet
paper, scissors, pencil, adhesive tape
pipe cleaner
Liver of Sulfur
olive oil

Tools and Equipment:
mortar and pestle
palette knife
thickness slats
ring sizer
electric programmable kiln
fiber blanket
paint brush
wire brush, agate burnisher
wooden dowel (2 sizes larger than your chosen ring size)

Step 1: Maquette and Paper Pattern
Using paper clay or modeling clay make a maquette (mock up) of the building you want to make.  This is where I was able to work out angles and scale.  I use this to help me make the paper pattern for the building part of the ring. My paper clay maquette is on the left and the final paper pattern is on the right.

Step 2: Cutting out the Pattern
Prepare your work-space for metal clay.  Be sure your tools are clean and at hand.  I roll clay on a non-stick sheet and lift it to make sure the clay is free from the sheet. Then I lay out the pattern and carefully cut out the pieces.  (I’ve had years of practice NOT cutting through my Teflon sheet, if you are not sure how far to cut I suggest moving the clay (gently so you don’t stretch it) to a piece of paper.

When you have cut out your pieces, leave them to dry completely.  If you have a dehydrator this can speed up the process, or leave your pieces over night.

Step 3: Prepare for Assembly
Keep all of your metal clay off cuts, as you will need to make a lot of paste.  I find I need a runny paste and a thick paste for project like this.  The bits of clay have to dry completely and then be chopped up fine–to a dust.  I use a mortar and pestle to do this.  Then add drops of water from an eye dropper or pipette and mix paste with a palette knife.

Step 4: Assemble the building
Using a paint brush “butter” the edges of the walls with the thick paste and add them to the house base.

Let the house sit and dry for a bit before adding the roof…or it will collapse. (Experience speaking here!) When you add the roof, hold the pieces gently for a little while so that they don’t slide down. (Also speaking from experience.)

Step 5: Ring Band
To make the ring band, roll out a long strip of clay.  (You will notice that my first band was patterned–this is a design option.  In the end I decided to redo my band to a plain one.)  I rolled my strip for my clay using a purple thickness strip as a guide.  I wanted a thick band and I find they stretch a bit when you wrap the wet clay around the dowel.

Place the clay strip around a dowel that is 2 ring sizes larger than the finished side you’d like. Don’t join the ends as the ring band will be attached to the sides of the little house.

Once the clay has set up, you can check the opening size against your house. I use calipers measuring the width of the house and the width of the band opening.  Taper the ends so that it will sit flush to the sides of the house. This is just a test fit, don’t attach anything yet.

Step 6: Finishing prior to firing
Once the house and the ring band are dry–bone dry.  You can file and sand and make sure everything looks really nice.  I usually scratch in my initials inside the ring band at this point. When you are happy with your surfaces, join the ring band to the house with thick slip.  And hold the joins so that they set up and stay.  If you think they have set up and are strong–hold for another few minutes.  (Ring bands have a sneaky habit of separating when you are not looking at them.)

Let your creation dry completely before firing.

Step 7: Firing
I use a programmable electric kiln for pieces like this and I build up support for them using fiber blanket. Follow the firing instructions in the package of clay.  I let my pieces cool in the kiln to a point where I can pick them up.



Step 8: Finishing after firing
I put all my pieces in a tumbler after firing.  I push pipe cleaners through any opening they will fit so that I don’t have spend the next 6 days shaking and picking out shot from my tumbler…

After the ring is in the tumbler, I will hand polish areas I want a mirror finish on. I use wet-dry sandpaper and an agate burnisher.

The final step is to add a patina to highlight details.  After the liver of sulfur darkens, I polish it off areas I want to have the silver shine.

Jeannette Froese LeBlanc lives in a little red school-house on the edge of a woods in rural Ontario, Canada with her husband, children and a menagerie of pets.  She holds a Master’s degree in education as well as several bachelor’s degree’s in history and arts.  When she is not teaching, Jeannette makes jewellery in her home studio.  She is inspired by nature and her life as a mother. To see more of her work follow on her Instagram: