Thursday, November 29, 2012

Provenance Unknown

I have been keeping (well, hoarding) this beautiful painted bakelite moth inlaid with rhinestones for quite a while.  But now that the holidays are on us, I am having a sparkle attack. Trouble is, I know nothing at all about this piece. It came to me roughly repaired with crack just the right of center. Was that where the comb or brooch fixture was removed? We'll never know.

What do we know? It is bakelite, and faux tortoise shell, with picque treatment not unlike antique tortoise shell pieces. Look closely and see an incised design with green in it, possibly once metallic paint.  All the rhinestones are intact, but some have gone dark (a look I love, so rich, so nuanced).  It is molded.  So it is definitely bakelite because the galalaith ("French bakelite") doesn't mold.  It is carved.  The design puts it somewhere close to Art Deco.  The workmanship is definitely European, most likely French.  I fantasize a producer who moved from tortoise shell (a cruel industry) crafting to Bakelite, treating the material in much the same way. After all, technically, both are resin.

What did I do? First removed the ham fisted glob of unidentifiable glue that served as an erstwhile patch, and inspected the break. Not too bad, but must remember that if I use the piece as a pendant, that area is weak and the crack could spread.  So, in a bricolage fashion, I used watch crystal cement to seal the crack, and once cured, papered over the area with antique text soaked in resin.  I then wired a harness to the piece that would hold the grand old boullion tassel and a rope of old stock glass pearls and Swarovski crystals.  I then papered over that.  Voila!  A flapper's sautoir, of tiny pearls and crystals recycled from abandoned jewelry, right down to the nice spring loaded catch, many, many knots later.

Here's a close up of the repair, the harness, and the antique text. Sometimes random words out of context can be so provoking. I love it when that happens.

I think the tassel and rope of pearls are just right with this beautiful antique, which I prefer to think of as a moth.  Velvet wings, jewel colors, small spangles reflecting a lone lantern, etc.; very romantic. Go ahead, invite the sheik into your tent. You are young only once in this life!  So wear this with your satin chemise and dancing pumps to the Hot Club de France, and don't skimp on the toddy.  And click the link, it's Django Reinhardt, probably the most influential jazz guitarist of the 20th century, burning the air with his rendition of "Sheik of Araby."  Now, are you in the mood to party?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I am thankful I figured out how to use these pretty little antique mirrored whatsits in a pair of festive (think pure frippery) earrings.  After carefully drawing a bead on the end of a very thin bit of brass wire, it was threaded through the central hole, with a bead cap serving as a boss for a finished look, coiled around in the back and on the sides, and then brought back into a loop for suspending.  The ingredients are:  dirty pearls (a personal fave in recycled materials; you know the kind:  she wore them every day, thickly crusting them with hairspray and talcum powder, and chipping away the nacre in places); old pearlized wired glass drops, etc.  Once wiring was done, I papered over the backs with text from an old French grammar.  And the major part, sequin covered balls from some time back, who knows when for sure.  Sweetly shabby and tres bricolage!


And then I finished off a pair of earrings made of another favorite material: salvaged tin; in this case a tin imprinted with a chewing gum logo and the name, "Chris," which had fallen to the ground, was run over and flattened by a car and then rusted for a few seasons until I found it.  There's no amount of faux antiquing that can reproduce the authentic look of this one.  I papered the back with text from a 1913 edition of The Modern Priscilla and added a pretty red glass bead and some steel findings of my own design.   

I'm thankful for found objects, you see.  They provoke thoughts of use and abandonment, also wastefulness, but they give us a second chance when we can wear them for personal adornment.

Abbie is thankful, too.

We wish all a peaceful holiday with ample opportunities to appreciate good fortune and love our abundant planetary home and fellow Earthlings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Take Five

Here's the theme for the experience.  After that, try this.

Why five?  Well, I've just completed five days of study with master silversmith and designer, Valentin Yotkov, on the art of chasing and repousse.  Hands-on study of the great archaelogical treasure of his native Bulgaria is the foundation of his art.  You see, the art of chasing and repousse is indeed an ancient one, and we were privileged to have a master teach us what he has learned in a lifetime of study and application.

Another reason for the theme?  Our workpiece was based on 5 part symmetry.  So as we executed our workpiece we got to repeat each motif -- if you look at mine, you can probably tell where I began; that would be the weaker part.  One improves with repetition and drill, as in calligraphy or drawing.  It is a very tactile art, but also one of reflected light and a sense of volume and motion.  I could go on and on, since it is one of my favorite things to do as a metalsmith, but let's just cut to the pictures.

This is an example of Maestro's work, which he provided for us to study as a guideline.

The five part symmetry provides many contrasts, as well:  high relief, lower, and flat; and the rope motif, which was saved as the last step, and the most demanding.

Chasing is a combination of working on the front surface ("chasing) with liner and planishing tools, as well as a matte tool for texture on the background, and using punches on the back surface to raise the metal ("repousse").  Good practice produces a design that appears to be much deeper than it actually is.

Here's a view of the back of the piece above, so you can see that just because it is the back, doesn't mean it shouldn't be beautiful and cleanly executed. 

Here is our most excellent master, who shared generously of his hard won expertise -- in five short days, we learned secrets of the art that took him years to discover.

That's because there are few people who actually teach this art -- I studied some of the technique in college when I took a silversmithing degree, but these last five days taught more.  I feel grateful and excited, and ready to make at least five more of the workpiece, as Valentin recommends.  It takes critical practice to learn to handle the hammer and tools in a way that produces work that has vitality and expression, just as it takes a painter long effort in the studio to capture  "effortless" beauty.

Not quite finished, far to go, my own pitch pot, with the tools Valentin makes and provides for use in his classes.  The difference in his tools and the ones I had left from student days can't really be described.  Handled properly, his liners move across the metal with a sort of buttery silkiness.

When I finally clean the workpiece, and add some patina, wax it and buff it to show off the high spots, I will imagine it as an artifact found in the sands of the silk road and after that, I will sit down with it and make it better the next time.

It's all about take five, which means to take the time you need.  I'll take five from feeling that each thing I do has to be ready for sale, from counting the time it takes to make something and weighing it against a price.  I'll take five from even thinking I have to be "good" at it, or from thinking about the other things I "should" be doing.  I'll take five to enter a meditative state and work mindfully.   Thanks to Valentin for teaching that went far beyond the scope of the task at hand!