Saturday, October 12, 2013

Wyatt's Cuff

It was 2002 and I was in the lovely country of Italy with my boss Mr. Robert Mednikow and a small clan of other employees from Mednikow Jewelers of Memphis, Tennessee. I was the custom jewelry designer there and we were on a buying trip.  Bob (Mr. Mednikow) was a wonderful and gracious traveling companion for the most part.  He did like to have things his way but I guess that was to be expected given his position. Anyway during the trip we were seeing all the very latest jewelry fashions that the Italians had to offer. As it turns out Bob had lots of connections at the jewelry show and it seemed everybody knew him.

One day he introduced me to Pippo Perez, a flamboyant jewelry and watch designer. Bob and he were taking about a new line of leather goods that Pippo was showing and Bob was narrowing down his choose on an exotic purse for his wife, Betty.   I was distracted by Pippo's new watch line “Lucky Time” and was galvanized by one wrist watch in particular. It was dramatic, tailored and it had the most unusual leather band. The band was made of polished stingray leather. I had never heard or seen such a material. It was beautiful and filled with detail. A bit like ostrich leather but on a much smaller scale. That night at dinner Bob told me that he had bought that very watch and he wanted me to have it. Wow that was cool ( I did mention that he could be gracious, right?) and it was years before I saw any other pieces of stingray leather, aside from Betty's purse. Yes, it was made of stingray as well.

I can testify that I am not gentle with any of my jewelry. I guess it's because I can effect repairs myself if any thing goes awry. Anyway, after all these years that stingray strap looks about the way it did when I first put it on. The stuff just wears great and ages gracefully.

Philip's son is Wyatt and he was to have a cuff with a band's “glyph” on it as well. I had been wondering what I was going to do to match the sexy coolness of Philip's cuff of Mokume Gane. Of course you can see where this is going. The stingray leather cuff with some sterling accents was going to be a fairly straight forward project and it also solved the problem of resizing the piece as Wyatt grew. It was also fortuitous because Chloe's project was next and it was going to take considerable time. Thank goodness stingray leather is available at most leather shops these days, you can even order it from TandyLeather. I highly recommend that you seek out some of this material. Wyatt's cuff should serve him well and it will easily adjust to fit him as he grows.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mokume Gane Cuff for Philip

Mokume Gane is a Japanese term that roughly translates to mean “wood-grain in metal”. It was always one of those ancient mysteries of the orient. Primarily it was a metal billet formed from layers of metals that varied greatly in color. These billets were then shaped and deformed to bring out brilliant patterns on the surface. This metal technique was seen mostly in the furnishings of samurai swords. These uses included handles, guards and the sheaths of these weapons. Mokume Gane was highly secretive process that was passed on from artisan to artisan in an oral tradition.

The process of forming these multilayer billets predated technology and as such the process was controlled and duplicated by religious constraints. The temperatures were often regulated by the colors of a rising sun and the timing by the length of a chant or song. Oral traditions are easily broken as the number of participants dwindle. By the beginning of the twentieth century the secrets of Mokume Gane were thought to have passed beyond recall.

Fast forward to the rise of “Metal Arts” in American colleges and Art schools during the late sixties and early seventies. During this time period there was a wide spread attempt to reproduce the look of Mokume Gane using modern techniques. Many artisans used layers of different colored metals soldered together with silver solder to mimic the ancient art form. The results these efforts produced were very limiting, superficial and mostly unsatisfactory. There were wide spread rumors in the metal art world of individuals that wanted to make excursions into the orient to interview the old artisans of the knife guilds to try to glean some of the old ways. It was a hope that this information might result in a translation of the old oral tradition into modern metallurgy. It is not the scope of this article to explore who went where and discovered what. It is a fact however, that today one can obtain information that will result in a very satisfactory Mokume Gane billet regardless of how close it adheres to the materials of the seventeenth century. I bring your attention to the materials, publications, classes and lectures of such metal artists as Steve Midgett, James Binnion and the metal wizard I have watched closely, Phillip Baldwin.

Speaking of “Phillips” my client Philip wanted us to make a cuff for him that would turn heads and start conversations. He wanted something classy but still with a lot of eye appeal. I thought that Mokume Gane would be just the thing. I have always admired subtle things like fine Irish linen, where the closer you look the more there is to see. Sometimes you have to just sit back and let the material do the talking.

The cuff form itself was shaped in a hydraulic press with tooling that I made myself using magnets and mild steel. There was a lot of experimenting using copper and brass blanks to get the shapes and lengths just right. It was more than once I nearly gave my finger a good pinch in the press. But after a bit of time, some patience and a bunch of tweaking the project started to come around. My hydraulic press is an old “Bonny Doon” from years ago. We don't use it as much as we should and sometimes we even forget that it's in that far dark corner of the studio just under the breaker panel.

My plan was to keep this piece fairly simple and rely on the materials and “glyph” to do the heavy lifting. This is the Mokume Gane cuff that I made for him with the ever present band “glyph” on top.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A New Piece for Susan

We have a client that calls on us about once a year to make some very cool pieces for his family. It turns out that they (the entire family) are big fans of a particular band that is “off grid”. And as such, this band has an entirely different kind of following. Many of these followers will go from place to place as the band pays different venues. The band has it's own tee shirts, albums, cd's, and basically all sorts of merchandise including their own tequila. Our client, Philip sends us what he calls “glyphs” and gives us a few hints as to colors, type of jewelry wanted and price range and then we “dress up” these “glyphs". This year was a banner year for this project. We were allow a generous budget and the choice of materials was wide open.
Susan, his wife was to get a necklace and seashell and the “glyph” were the only parameters given. Well I have always wanted to work in Paua shell inlays. The Paua shell is really the colorful iridescent inside area of an abalone shell. I wanted to use the greens and blues often found in this enticing material.
I had to do a lot of research in a hurry to know what was needed and what the procedure was for turning the chunky abalone shell into the fine thin colorful inlay material I needed. As it turns out, the dust created when you grind away the over burden from the shell is very toxic. Please do not try this without a through investigation. I found the technical staff at RioGrande an invaluable resource for many of the aspects of this project.
After building the center element using a curved sided triangle as a focal element I then finished the tedious process of the inlay. I then covered this element with the “glyph”. All that was needed now was the stringing of the “Raven's Wing” pearls and the sterling letter blocks. The overall effect was rich and almost intoxicating not entirely unlike that of an exotic dark chocolat (apologies to Joanne Harris).

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Greenleaf for Ed


My buddy Ed gave me an old gold ring of his a few years back. I always wanted to reuse the gold in making him an "Art Pin" that he could wear to openings and parties and such as that. I just couldn't think of what would be appropriate for him to wear. But e few weeks ago just after Thanksgiving an idea came to me.

I remember visiting the “North Carolina School of Performing Arts" many decades mater of fact...back in the 70's in my serious hippie daze. One of the drills the instructors would used to strip your personality away so you could over print the role of the person you were to play was to make your own name unimportant. They would train you to do this by making you repeat your name out loud over and over again to the class for 5 minutes or so. Try it some time (but maybe in the privacy of your own home). After a few minutes your name starts to be just a bunch syllables. It starts to lose importance and even meaning...just a bit of noise. In any case the same thing happened to me with Ed's last name. I had heard and used it so often over the years that I had forgotten how unusual it was...”Greenleaf”.

The solution for the subject matter of the “Art Pin” was of course now very self evident. It just had to be a “green leaf”. So I charged into the task armed with some room temperature curing specialty resins the gold from his old ring and some sterling.

I wanted the outline of the leaf to be very stylized and simple but I wanted the surface to look very rich. Kind of like the look of a dollop of mint jelly in a silver spoon. The first sample was okay but it lack the lush look of jelly. The images I had seen of Basse Taille enameling where the back metal surface is engraved or carved before the enamel applied was what I was after. A heart bur was just the ticket needed to cover the background silver with a field of “poppy seed” bright cuts to reflect the light back through the enameling.

After a few more test runs the finished product was just what I had hoped for, a “green leaf” pin for Ed.


the beach rocks

the beach rocks
Although I have been lucky enough to receive many accolades and awards during my professional career as a jewelry designer, I was nearly always fulfilling a commission and therefore the aesthetical concerns of my client. Now that I have relocated to the great NorthWest I am pursuing my own images for the first time since graduate school…and loving my craft with a renewed spirit.

deep currents

deep currents
This was inspired by the way the river's currents swirl around the rocks that sit on the bed of the river.

in the kelp bed

in the kelp bed
At times I let my mind wander to what is happening the depths of the kelp beds. I image how the cold waters waft and drift along. I like to think about the serenity of life in the kelp beds.

two six rings

two six rings
We called these rings "six ring" because when you see then from the profile...they reminded us of the number six.