SOUTHAMPTON, NY – On a recent Saturday morning, Mike Daly was sitting on a workbench in a small Main Street store, trying to handle the finicky flame of a blowtorch with one hand while holding a silver ring with the other.
Mr. Daly, of Hampton Bays, has done a lot of different things over his 78 years, including as a technical illustrator in the aerospace industry and as a New York City police sergeant. It was “a whole new learning curve,” he said of the jewelry-making workshop he attended in the rustic 17th-century Pelletreau silver shop under the tutelage of Eric Messin.
Over the course of eight two-hour sessions, Mr. Messin taught Mr. Daly and his fellow participants, Marisa Bastin, from Amagansett, and Tina Catanzaro, from Westhampton, techniques such as carving a wax jewelry, silver soldering, setting in stone and using a polisher.
Now in the seventh session, everyone was approaching the final goal: a silver ring, set with a semi-precious stone. (The casting process, which involves molten silver, is performed offsite.)
With the ring, “they have a finished product they can be excited about,” said Messin, 48, whose speech retains the accent of his native France.
When he does not lead workshops on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, Mr. Messin, whose training includes a passage to Van Cleef & Arpels in New York, creates and sells her jewelry, in precious metals and precious stones, in the tiny boutique, built in 1686.
The shop, originally a haberdashery, bears the name of Elias Pelletreau, silversmith and figure of the War of Independence. It is one of the five properties managed by the Southampton Historical Museums and Research Center; proceeds from the workshops (which cost $ 365 for museum members, $ 385 for non-members, materials included) go to the museum. Within the framework of his agreement with the museums, Mr. Messin can use the shop as his workshop, without rent.
With its mansard roof, original post and beam construction and small collection of Pelletreau silverware, the boutique is a picturesque setting for Mr. Messin’s enthusiastic but demanding teaching.
“Eric is very picky about the details,” said Mr. Daly kindly, between two torch fights this past Saturday. Mr. Messin was helping him get the correct size flame to solder parts of his ring, a gift for his wife, Grace.
Nearby, Mme Bastin was using a mallet on a thick silver wire to form an oval support for a citrine, the yellow stone she had chosen for her ring. When the result has not passed the course with Mr. Messin – “It’s not closed, you see?” – it was back to the mallet for Mme Bastin.
Despite such occasional setbacks, “it feels like you are on vacation,” she said of the workshop, as her cell phone rang unanswered beside her.
Ms. Catanzaro, after taking the workshop and studying jewelry making elsewhere, no longer worked alone, sculpting a wax model for a ring in the shape of a coiled snake. “One thing Eric teaches me: patience,” she said, when Mr. Messin suggested that she use another type of wax.
The workshops, which began in 2007, took place in a roundabout way, but fortuitously. Son of a landscape painter, Mr. Messin left France at the age of 19 with his family who settled in Philadelphia. Without money for college, he found himself “doing the dishes, mostly in French restaurants,” he said. Realizing he didn’t want to do this forever, Mr. Messin, who had received artistic training in France, dabbled in sculpture and then turned to the idea of making jewelry for a living. .
“I felt like it was like sculpture,” he said. “And I liked the idea of doing this with very noble and precious materials, like metals and precious stones.”
After a three-year apprenticeship with a master jeweler in Philadelphia, he moved to New York, gaining additional experience at Van Cleef & Arpels and other high-end companies, before becoming independent for jewelers in the Manhattan Diamond District. On weekends, he would go out to the East End of Long Island to indulge his passion for windsurfing.
A lover of the rural way of life, in 2001 he found a space on the second floor in Southampton, where he hoped to develop a private clientele. Every day, when he went to lunch, he passed the little patinated wood Pelletreau shop.
“I think it would be a perfect setting for me,” he said. But given the building’s historic cachet, he called the thoughts “fancy”: asking me about the store, which was often closed, “didn’t even cross my mind,” he said.
After a few years, Mr. Messin was forced to close his workshop in Southampton and went to work as a foreman in a jewelry workshop in Manhattan. Scroll to 2006, when Tom Edmonds, the newly installed executive director of Southampton Historical Museums, was looking for a traditional craftsman who could work in the store, keeping its doors open for longer periods.
The store is “a gem,” Mr. Edmonds said in a telephone conversation. “People should see it.” But volunteers were hard to find, he said, “and I don’t have money for a staff member.
Mr. Edmonds met Mr. Messin through a mutual friend and knew he “would fit right into the history of the building”. The two therefore agreed on the current arrangement.
The workshops bring in between $ 12,000 and $ 15,000 a year, Edmonds said. And Mr. Messin’s regular hours at the store – he’s there 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – mean “anyone can come in,” Mr. Edmonds added, and often gets a visit. free and impromptu from its resident jeweler. .
Mr. Messin “can deepen” the store, thereby furthering the mission of museums, Mr. Edmonds said. He added, “He’s our presence on Main Street.”