Faculty Spotlight: One Class Changed Everything for Cathy Mustari

One class changed everything for Cathy Mustari.

In 1984, Mustari was an art director for Channel 32 in Chicago, and wasn’t looking for a life change – only for something fun to do in her spare time. She decided to take a metalsmithing class at Joliet Junior College just for fun after her husband, Bob, accepted a position with the college’s Student Support Services.

A metalsmithing class at JJC was where Cathy Mustari discovered that her hobby was actually her passion – and now she teaches the class at the college.

But something unexpected happened: Mustari discovered a newfound passion in her metalsmithing class: jewelry-making.

For the first time, Mustari could make jewelry from scratch. She learned how to design, solder, etch, form, finish, cast and set stones. She worked with all sorts of materials, such as gold, silver, copper, brass, niobium, glass, and semi-precious stones.

“This class was a life altering event for me,” Mustari said. “It was unbelievable, working with tools I’ve never worked with before, and in 3-D. It’s a very self-enriching class. I loved it.”

But this class became more than just a hobby for Mustari. She eventually turned her passion into a career.

“I decided to start my own jewelry business,” Mustari said. “I started selling it, selling jewelry at the television station, and then it just mushroomed. I decided that I wanted to change careers. I left the television station, continued my jewelry business, and continued to take the classes at JJC, eventually becoming a student worker under our instructor, Bev Decman.”

Read a story about a recent jewelry sale put on by Mustari’s metalsmithing students

In addition to the metalsmithing courses Mustari took for credit, she eventually started taking JJC’s non-credit continuing education metalsmithing workshop.

In these classes, Mustari started talking to people who would eventually turn into lifelong friends. It was easy to talk to others who had the same interests as her. To Mustari, the continuing education course was a very comfortable place, with each student weighing in on their peers’ work, giving advice and opinions, sometimes sharing materials others had created. The workshop turned into something more for Mustari and her friends – it wasn’t a class anymore, but a community of artists.

With encouragement from Decman, Mustari continued her education even further and attended Governor’s State University. She graduated with a master’s degree in sculpture and jewelry, and eventually became a JJC metalsmithing teacher in 2001.

Mustari retired in 2008, but kept coming back to the classroom as a student. She began teaching the continuing education workshop course again in fall 2013, and this spring will be her final class as a teacher.

Even though Mustari heads the workshop, she said her class isn’t full of 15 students, but instead 16 instructors, who share their jewelry-making secrets with one another. Each of Mustari’s students has their own specialty. Some like working with certain metals or stones, others have favorite tools and techniques. Claudia Goethe likes working with the seaglass she’s collected from her vacations to Puerto Rico; Bua McLean enjoys cutting stones and casting plastic; Sandy Morris-Goodspeed has the most fun mixing colors and creating glass beads.

“If you talk to every student in that class, they’ll have the same response: the class has a deep connection. It’s crazy,” Mustari said.

Mustari’s life would have been completely different had she not come to JJC. Today, she couldn’t be happier. And it’s all because of one class she took just for fun in 1984.

“When I started teaching the class, I would intro it by telling my story,” Mustari said. “I would say, ‘I don’t know how this class is going to impact you, but this class, when I took it, changed my life.’ ”

For more information about the Fine Arts Department at JJC, visit www.jjc.edu/info/fine-arts.

About NewsRoom