REDDING, Conn. -- When 16-year-old Emma Boland of Redding first took a jewelry-making class at the age of 10, she had no idea she would end up winning national competitions.
To date, she has won three gold medals in the Connecticut Scholastic Art and Writing Competition as well as a Judge's Award and an American Visions Award.
Recently, in the National High School Metal Smithing competition, "both of the pieces I submitted were accepted, and one came in first place," said Boland, who attends Joel Barlow High School in Redding.
"This is a huge, huge accomplishment because it's on the national level. All the metal smithing schools in the country submit works to it. Only about 30 pieces are accepted in total to the whole show," said Boland's jewelry teacher, Lee Skalkos, an Easton resident.
The process of making jewelry can take from 10 to 15 hours, according to Boland. It involves cutting sheets of metal with saws, firing them in a kiln and grinding down the glass with a stone.
During the school year, Boland creates jewelry in Skalkos's jewelry class at Joel Barlow. Twice a month, she works on her pieces in Skalkos's studio.
While Boland can make a wide variety of jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings, she has only entered necklaces in competitions. All the necklaces she makes are made of sterling silver.
According to Boland, when submitting a piece for competition, it has to be 100 percent handmade. "You can't even buy a clasp for it," she said.
All submissions are judged from photographs that she submits online. When photographing a piece of jewelry for a competition, she works in a dark room at Joel Barlow High School.
"I spend many hours in the darkroom, taking over 100 pictures of each piece of jewelry I'm entering. I go through every one and only actually submit three photos of each piece into the competition," she said.
For Boland, the hardest part of making jewelry is designing for the purpose of a competition. "When I make jewelry for myself, I can make it however I want to. I don't have to worry about pleasing other people. But in a competition, the judges are looking for really artsy, funky out-there pieces that you don't see every day."
Boland said jewelry making is a great stress reliever. "If I'm having a rough day, I can go and solder something and it relieves my stress," said Boland, who also plays field hockey and runs track at Joel Barlow.
Skalkos has been teaching jewelry for 12 years at Joel Barlow, as well as making and selling jewelry for 40 years, and said Boland stands out as a student.
"Emma is very driven and determined," Skalkos said. "Before she creates a piece, she designs it on paper and we discuss the design in detail. She thinks big, she thinks creatively and in a more artistic sense than just a jewelry sense. Her jewelry is more of an art piece than just a jewelry piece."