When I think of Breckenridge, Colorado, I immediately think of skiing, so I wasn’t sure what to do when meeting a group of friends there during the off-season. Imagine my surprise to find myself trying my hand at silversmithing¦transforming clay into a silver pendant!
Breckenridge’s Laidback Vibe
As soon as I arrived on Main Street and took a first step outside the car, I could immediately sense the city’s laidback vibe. The mountain air is a little chilly in May, but also clean and refreshing. Buildings on Main Street still have their mining-era facades, and behind them are stunning views of snow-capped peaks, and a small river with quiet walking paths.
My group’s local guide Austyn, whom I met the next day, put it all into perspective when I mentioned the laidback feel of the town- she said, “In Breckenridge, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
What she meant is that you don’t have to dress up or try to impress anybody- jeans are acceptable attire, even at the best restaurants. She thinks this culture may stem from the city’s past. Although it certainly has luxurious amenities nowadays, it started as a mining town rather than a ski town- so some of that practical, down-to-earth mentality lingers even in modern times.
Breckinridge Arts District
In Breckenridge, there’s a lot to do year-round. While ski season is certainly the busiest and most popular time of year for visitors, the popularity of the sport often causes the city’s ‘hidden gems’ to go overlooked — and this includes the exciting Arts District.
The Breckenridge Arts District is a community of artists, studios, galleries, shows, and other businesses- it’s a cultural gathering place. The heart of the district is a cluster of renovated historic buildings near the city’s center, where local and visiting artists rent spaces, set up shop, create new pieces, and teach classes.
In this space, one of the most popular studios is the Hot Shop. Here, ‘hot arts’ like metal working, encaustic painting, and glass working are performed and taught by local artists.
And that’s where I found myself a couple of days into my trip, receiving a lesson from celebrated local artist Yvonne Kuennen.
The Hot Shop
Yvonne has a warm smile. Her teaching style is relaxed yet efficient. My friends and I were a talkative group and on a time limit due to evening plans that followed the workshop, but she managed to keep everyone on track to complete the pendants, while appearing unhurried herself as she walked around to shoot the breeze and give personalized instructions and feedback.
When I first received a small ball of clay, I wondered if there had been some mistake- I signed up for a metalsmithing class, not to work with clay. But I quickly learned that my preconceived vision of donning welding goggles and melting down scraps of metal wasn’t accurate. Instead, the silver was embedded into the clay.
Rolling around the soft, malleable material, I had difficulty imagining it could ever turn into one of the hardened metal pendants I saw hanging in a display case but, that’s precisely what happened.
I started by choosing a mold to use. There were a lot of different patterns available, ranging from abstract designs, to leaves, to paw prints, owls, flowers, and more. I chose an abstract flower design for myself.
My next step was to roll the clay down to the width of a stack of 5 standard playing cards- the cards were already available for measurements. Wetting my hands with a thin coating of olive oil to keep the clay from sticking, I rolled down the clay, and then pressed the mold into it to imprint my design.
Next came a series of cutting away the extra clay, cleaning up the edges, and attaching a hanger to the back so I would be able to wear the pendant. I enjoyed the whole process — it felt a bit like returning to ‘arts and crafts’, which is something I don’t always make enough time for as an adult.
Eventually it was time to dry the pendants- Yvonne noted they can explode if heated while wet, so she checked the pendant after drying, and before I moved onto the next step. I gave my pendant one more round of filing, and then Yvonne heated it with a small blowtorch.
The heating process was when the magic happened- my project transformed from soft, muddy clay to a shiny silver pendant. After a couple minutes of cleaning it up, it was ready for me to wear straight out of the workshop.
The whole process was unique and fun- something I had never done before, but something I would look forward to trying again the next time I’m in Breckenridge.
Other Breckenridge To-Dos
And while it was very special, the Arts District isn’t the only thing to do during the off-season. I also enjoyed their culinary scene, with the opportunity to try dishes from an award-winning chef – the Breckenridge Distillery Restaurant features a menu by David Burke of Top Chef fame – and to do a group cooking class at Colorado Mountain College.
There are also plenty of gorgeous hikes, historical tours, quiet nooks to grab a cup of coffee and relax, and opportunities to sample from local breweries, along with art exhibits and festivals.
So, whether you’re a skier or not, I’d recommend a visit to Breckenridge any time of year- and be sure to schedule a stop at the Hot Shop.
For more information about visiting and classes, check out:
Written by: Tammy Powell
Tammy Powell is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Boulder,
Colorado. She is enthusiastic about traveling, reading, meditating, and
ballroom dancing. She maintains a blog of her travels and life lessons at:
All Photo Credits: Tammy Powell