Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Folk-Tech Metal Masters

 My most favored metal techniques involve pushing the stuff around with hammers and punches and stuff and cutting it up.  These techniques would be "chasing," "repousse," and "piercing" -- all of which are hand techniques, and usually executed in silver, which is a nicely ductile and biddable metal.  Oh how I have wished to carry these techniques over to steel, which, in my, book rules.  I must be a throwback to the days when the value of the metal was in its utility, not some sort of abstract measure of exchange or beauty.  If you had just one warped bottle cap in King Arthur's court, you would be hanging around with Merlin.  Well, now I've discovered some real magicians in Haiti are doing those beloved techniques in very large scale on recycled steel drums.  Do follow the link and visit, and you will see a team of steel drum makers and an artist who have turned from making music to making visual art.  And I hope you'll understand their mastery, as I do, when you see a picture of the work in progress!  I am inspired to continue in my search to work more steel better, and quit complaining about my lack of equipment, like why don't I have a press or a blowtorch and a few extra apprentices to help me out!  Feh!  These guys deserve our respect and appreciation in more ways than one.  You can see that adversity does not get in the way of their sublime self expression.  Take that and keep it in your heart when you think you are discouraged, and keep calm and keep on keeping on!

We don't need no stinkin blow torch -- we can set fires inside the drums to anneal them.  You may not know that annealing steel isn't such an easy thing for the average craftsman without a forge to heat it red hot and cool it slowly so it stays soft (quenching hardens the stuff, just the opposite of non ferrous metals).  But then, these guys are not average craftsmen.  They have been working steel to musical specifications for generations and making beautiful music with it, which means they already know how to anneal and temper the stuff to specification.

Under the spreading banana tree, the village smithy ... no, not that!  Here an expert smith is preparing the metal for working, I think, that is, with his ball peen hammer, he's flattening it into sheet for the next step.  And I'll bet it's not as noisy there on the sand, and do you notice his technique for holding it down while be bangs on it?  Don't need to steenkin' vices or clamps, either.  And look at what a fine condition his work keeps him in.  He's really buffed.

And the result of all this -- a graceful dove bearing the olive branch of peace, just right for this season.

I think I'm going shopping in Haiti!  It's a nice way to spread a bit of cash where it's needed.

Thanks to Mimi and her team of metalsmiths for the beauty they are sharing with the world.

So, click on this link to go there, too :

Peace, joy, courage and determination out there to all of you, and pass it on!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It Came From Outer Space

Over in Eastern Washington, where the rock climbers go to test their mettle, is a fine outcropping of pure granite named Snow Creek Wall -- stellar climbs there are named Outer Space, Orbit, and such. Have patience, I'm getting to it -- so these two climbs are considered journey pieces and when one gets a few pitches led on one of them, one is chuffed, which calls for a post-climb celebration in the Snow Creek Parking lot, of good brew, frosty and wet, fresh from a stash hidden in Icicle Creek on a hot day.

This results in bottle caps that lie in the gravel parking lot through seasons of snow and blistering sun until they have reached found object perfection. Hence, the jewels here, caught in riveted steel orbits, to swing and sway seductively at your ears.

They are all hand wrought hammered steel, nicely grunged with genuine Washington state dirt, and waxed to preserve the finish that makes them look as though some future archaeologist had found them, wondering what ritual significance the votive offerings at this sacred gathering place may have had.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Devil and Paganini

Inspired by a biographical essay of the great Nicolo Paganini, published in The Musician, Vol. XI, No. 5, May, 1906, I present a haunting stickpin of hand wrought steel, with a gorgeous skull hand carved in Bali. These skulls were not used as jewelry, but as some sort of ritual item, and prior to the ban, were carved of ivory. Now, buffalo bone is used. This particular skull was made prior to the advent of electrical tools for carving. The artisanship is so fine and true it transcends simple frightfulness! So true also of the virtuosity of the greatest violinist to have lived, born impoverished, a prodigy, with a turbid history mixed of fatal love, accursed health, imprisonment, and sublime genius.

I have kept the form simple and straightforward to show off the fine carving. The pin has the feel of a time when a jabot billowed at the neck of a gentleman. It could work as well now as a shawl clasp, for the time traveler's cravat, or an ornament for the adventurous lady.

And just a note about the word "forged" -- in metalworking terms that word means a piece has been worked red hot, hence from the forge, typically iron or steel. This piece was annealed but worked cold, hence, "hand wrought" or "cold forged" would be the applicable term. The taper of the pin was hammered, rather than filed, to add strength and a certain gravitas to the workmanship.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Last Heretic

Heretic or Martyr?  It just depends upon which side of a doctrinal debate you find yourself.  Personally, I think the whole idea that a person should be put to death for a belief is evil in itself.

In times when personal choice is criminalized, it's wise to look into the long history of heresy. Roman officials executed the first heretic 385, 5 years after the "Edict of Thessalonica" of Theodosius I, which criminalized divergence from established dogma.  In 1836 The Spanish Inquisition condemned its last heretic, Cayetano Ripol, a teacher accused of teaching Deism in his Spanish classroom. The Church held out for burning, but the state executed him by hanging.  His body was then placed in a barrel, painted with flames, and buried in unconsecrated ground.  Deism holds that while God created the world, he does not interfere in the affairs of man. The last heretic apparently proved that.   Incidentally, the word "heretic," comes from the Greek, αἵρεσις, which originally meant "choice." Time travelers, be aware of history, know that bad ideas are never extinct, and plan a good escape route.

One of the joys of working with old found objects is tuning into them and seeing what they may evoke.  This cuff is an altered brass escutcheon embossed with acanthus and urn, funereal in the true Victorian spirit, which I hand painted with flames. The brass chain closure is a vintage chain from Alchemyshop, in Latvia, to which have been added a milagro as toggle closure and a rough garnet crystal as a counterweight.

And remember, one person's heretic is another person's martyr, so keep a sharp, skeptical eye on all true believers and dogmatists.

You have been warned!