It is an important chance to make a different kind of contribution to our field of work with an offer like the Summer Academy. Theo Smeets interviewed by International Summer Academy

Interview  /  BehindTheScenes   Education
Published: 13.05.2019
Theo Smeets
Theo Smeets

International Summer Academy
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2019 participants come from all over the world.​.
2019 participants come from all over the world.​

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For the fifth time, the Trier University of Applied Sciences organizes the International Summer Academy (ISA) and so opens its workshops to jewellery designers and students. In eleven different workshops, the participants will be able to discover new artistic horizons and/or techniques and implement those into their own artistic creations. The workshops will be held by artists from Russia, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Germany. In addition to the workshops, there will be options to do excursions to jewellery merchants, as well as visits to the agate and copper mines within the Idar-Oberstein area.
Founded as Master’s graduation project by Tabea Reulecke, the International Summer Academy (ISA) takes place since 2015 in the well-equipped workshops of the Trier University of Applied Sciences, Department of Gemstones and Jewellery in Idar-Oberstein. We talked with Prof. Theo Smeets, Head of Department and co-organizer of the Summer Academy.

Theo, for the fifth time already the International Summer Academy has invited a group of international artists to offer a series of workshops. Can you tell us about this year’s course plan, the teachers and the selection?
This year ten artists have been engaged for the Summer Academy. Of course, we continue with the classes in gemstone cutting. Alexander Friedrich will again offer two courses, one in each week. This year we are delighted to offer another excellent gemstone class: gemstone engraving with Inga Tomilina - a great young stone carver from Russia. Also, we re-scheduled some of the classes of the last years that were booked out: enamelling with Danni Schwaag, casting with Peter Vermandere and PUK- micro welding with Petr Dvorak. We initiated two new classes: repoussé with Gabriele Hinze and filigree with Susanne Matsché. Besides those typical jewellery courses, there are also three specialist courses: Computer-Aided Design with Tanja Falkenhayner, miniature wood sculpting with Jörg Obergfell, which was also very successful last year, and we offer a photo-class by a new teacher - Michael Müller. He is in fact not new: he has been teaching in our university in Idar-Oberstein for several years now and he is an expert with light and positioning jewellery on the table and the body. When in fact I think of all those rotten jewellery pictures on the web and in catalogues – here is a chance to get a how to create good pics of your works!
All in all, this is quite a broad range of topics, which has proved to be a successful mixture in the last four years.

When you first heard about this project from Tabea Reulecke during her Master studies at the gemstone and Jewellery department at Campus Idar-Oberstein, what were your personal expectations about the Summer Academy? Can you tell us a little bit about the process and development?
I am very glad Tabea offered to set-up this project as part of her Master’s. It is exciting to start something new, but we knew about Tabea’s organizing capacities since she has been our assistant for 6 years before she started her master study. Tabea has travelled a lot and she has established contacts all over the world. Therefore, the easy part was and is the search for good teachers. And since last year’s edition, we get asked by artists if they can offer a class at the Summer Academy.
More complex was to set up the administrative part, I mean, we are based in Germany. That means issues like insurance, how to handle money, tax, bills, use of the workshops for non-students, keys for teachers, internet-access in the university for non-students and so on and on and on… But now for the fifth time we have all gained some experience, we know better how to handle things and we have set-up a wonderful team. All the organizational stuff is handled excellent and this guarantees that our Summer Academy students can fully concentrate on their workshops.

The portrait of Tabea Reulecke, founder of International Summer Academy.

What means the City and the Campus Idar-Oberstein for the International Summer Academy?
Idar-Oberstein is still one of the most renowned cities for gemstones worldwide, that is why in the center of the Summer Academy, there are always as much gemstone classes as we can possibly offer – and they always are the first to be booked-out! For some courses, we have to set-up waiting lists. This year half of the places in the gemstone classes were pre-booked by Summer Academy- students from 2018.
Idar-Oberstein, yes Idar-Oberstein keeps overwhelming most Summer Academy- students as it is quite astonishing to see the sheer amount of companies and the focus on gemstones. I guess this kind of concentrated, professional activity all around the city maybe generates a kind of special energy – even if Idar-Oberstein is not to a most beautiful place on the planet it professional culture is somehow inspiring. And I guess, also the name of our university might have some radiance by now.
But also for our University, it is good to broaden our range of educational offers for professionals and students from other institutions. As a state institution, we certainly have, beyond the regular programs of study, the task to offer such opportunities. What we are hoping for as well as to maybe convince some of the participants to even start a master study or a master in further education. The last is a Master-Course especially for experienced professionals without a bachelor degree. Any jeweler with vocational training and at least three years of professional praxis can apply for this study.

Various precious Gemstones for facetting.​

Why did you and Tabea decide to continue the Summer Academy, after its first edition in 2015?
That’s an easy one: already the first edition of the Summer Academy was a full success! Even if it was not completely booked out it became very soon quite clear, that Tabea’s concept worked. We have offered wonderful courses for a decent price and we have seen all the happy faces of the Summer Academy-students afterwards. That is the main prize we get: we see those people go home charged with energy, new methods and updated knowledge. They really have learned something for their professional practice. But not only the work during classes but also the networking possibilities are great – people are meeting and learning from each other. I am also sure, we do not have any Summer Academy-students that have been sent by their boss to have some further education. Everybody is here because they are thrilled about learning new things or getting more specialized in areas they love to work in. This enthusiasm is certainly electrifying for the teachers and the organizing team, being a motivation for each next edition!

Tell us, what do you think makes the difference between this and other summer workshops around the world and how does this difference influence the program of the International Summer Academy?
There are certainly lots of super summer workshops with many different themes and in many wonderful places. I guess in Idar-Oberstein we have a good mixture of professionality and having fun, I mean, for most people, it is their holiday. So, there is besides the courses a nice evening program with some lectures, we’ve had yoga and dancing, we have a wonderful cooking team with some of our students from all over the world. We maybe are not that much different but I find it interesting to see that we have quite a high number of people who return for a second, third or even fourth year. Some take the same course; some change to other courses, there seems to be something special in the set-up and the ambience of our summer academy. Not in the least, we have a super team of teachers and organizers, which also makes the people want to return. When I look at the level of the courses: I find it nice to look at the homepages or the facebook-sites of our Summer Academy-students : there I see, in the weeks and months after their visit of the Summer Academy, works that they made here being offered for sale or new works where the things they have learned are recognizable. This is also an indication, that all courses have a professional level and all the things that the Summer Academy-students have learned are applicable in their professional practice.

The ISA Team takes care of different healthy and satisfying meals for lunch every day.​

When you look back, teaching was one of the most important fields for you. How do you see your role as an organizer? How does it influence your decisions?
Honest? I do not do very much. I mainly take care of the contact with our administration and I set-up the website. At the beginning of each course-week, I have the honour to welcome the Summer Academy-students and wish them a good time. That’s it. O the managing-level all the decisions are made mainly by Tabea Reulecke. Since we go back together such a long time there is complete confidence and trust that, somehow, we will manage things. Usually, in November we start with a short talk about next year’s program, we decide on the courses, we divide the tasks and then we start to work. And the work is not only done by Tabea and me, a lot of motivated people are involved: our caretaker and workshops managers prepare the rooms and the tools, our librarian is involved in the administrative part there is a wonderful assistant, that does a lot of PR and is present during the Summer Academy to help out and every little problem.

What are the most important insight and experience you take from each year's International Summer Academy?
Well, the Summer Academy always takes place during the holidays. Some of our students are not happy that they cannot use their workshops for two weeks. But, as mentioned, as an official public state institution we also have different tasks beyond educating our students. I consider it an important chance to make a different kind of contribution to our field of work with an offer like the Summer Academy. We thus do not only work on an on-going revival of gemstones within our field of artistic jewellery, but also but I guess we offer an important chance for all those lone rangers, working in their ateliers, taking care of business, customers, tax and everyday life – usually not finding enough time and chances to refuel their professional battery with new technics, inspirations and contacts, at that point our university wants to contribute. Another insight is on our teachers. They know that we try to offer our courses for the lowest price possible. So, the afore-mentioned lone rangers are enabled to participate. This also means that our teachers will not get rich. They are making a great contribution. They, in fact, make the Summer Academy possible. Without their enthusiasm and their energy nothing would be achieved.

After 5 years of success, is there anything you would like to change about it?
Well, I guess we are changing from year to year, a bit at a time. Nothing big, just trying out some adjustments and minor modifications, small improvements, a new course, like this year’s engraving class, some new teachers, like now Michael Müller will be offering a photo class. I know that nothing lasts forever. Still I guess with this fifth edition of the Summer Academy, we have managed to put together a kind of a well-oiled organisation that can keep on going for a while, and, as they say, never change a running system and the same goes for a winning team… as for me, I hope we can continue doing the Summer Academy for quite a few more years.

And now please tell us, what excites you most about this year International Summer Academy?

The most exciting? Well, it’s the middle of May and I’ve just been told we’ve almost reached the break-even point, the Summer Academy 2019 will take place!

About the Interviewee

Theo Smeets was born in 1964 in Valkenburg, the Netherlands. From 1982 to 1986 he attended the Valkschool Schoonhoven where he graduated as a gold- and silversmith. From 1986 to 1992 he studied under Onno Boekhoudt, Joke Bakman, Ruudt Peters and Marjan Unger at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, where he graduated as a jewellery designer. Since 1992 he has worked as a jewellery artist. Since 1998 he has been a professor for jewellery at the University of Applied Sciences in Trier, at the Gemstones and Jewellery Department. He lives and works in Wattenheim and Idar-Oberstein.
The participant makes casting mold from soapstone..
The participant makes casting mold from soapstone.

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Peter Vermandere shows the participants how to cast in different materials, such as silver, gold, bronze, aluminum or zinc..
Peter Vermandere shows the participants how to cast in different materials, such as silver, gold, bronze, aluminum or zinc.

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Participants of Danni Schwaags workshop discussing their tryouts..
Participants of Danni Schwaags workshop discussing their tryouts.

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Working atmosphere in the goldsmithing workshop while Peter Vermanderes Casting workshop..
Working atmosphere in the goldsmithing workshop while Peter Vermanderes Casting workshop.

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Engraving a really thin agate during our engraving workshop..
Engraving a really thin agate during our engraving workshop.

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Patricia Domingues speaking about the outcomes of a whole day of stone cutting..
Patricia Domingues speaking about the outcomes of a whole day of stone cutting.

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Gemstone Shopping in Idar-Oberstein: you will find stones in every dimension..
Gemstone Shopping in Idar-Oberstein: you will find stones in every dimension.

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PUK workshop with Petr Dvorak..
PUK workshop with Petr Dvorak.

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Result of one of our participants during the PUK workshop with Petr Dvorak..
Result of one of our participants during the PUK workshop with Petr Dvorak.

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