Saturday, July 28, 2012

olympic cauldron

Well, I was prepared to hate the opening ceremony for the Olympic games which was on last night (sorry that my friends in the US had a somewhat edited version of it) but I loved the crazy Britishness of it all. There were just so many fantastic moments! My two favourites were the pogo-ing creatures during the "Pretty Vacant" section and the bit which is of most interest to metalsmiths, the lighting of the unbelievably beautiful "Cauldron" for the flame.

It was designed by the startlingly under-appreciated Thomas Heatherwick, who currently has a retrospective at the V&A in London. I say "under-appreciated" because I believe that he has not achieved the popularity of many of the other designers who set themselves to a similar range of projects. Consider, for example, Philippe Starck, who is a household name. Heatherwick is, in my opinion, a far more interesting designer and yet one who seems to still be appreciated mainly by the cognoscenti.
If you want to see it in action, BBC coverage is here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

leaving pittsburgh

Why The Long Face?

Sad to be leaving Pittsburgh.

As you can see, I had another night with Brigitte and we went to the Pittsburgh institution, Sarris, where we had the most gigantic banana splits I've ever seen. Delicious! I'm not really sure why I look so glum in that shot, but I'll put it down to being sad about leaving what has become a favourite city where I've made a lot of friends.
Sarris is a remarkable place in the suburbs of Pittsburgh which sells not only very fine ice-cream but also fantastic chocolate-covered salty pretzels and any chocolate you can imagine. It is somewhere between Wonka's chocolate factory, the soda-bar in "Happy Days" and a trashy mall It houses a neon rainbow, a chocolate castle and sells a menagerie of soft toys...

Neon Rainbow

Chocolate Castle

If You Go Down To The Woods Today

One of the brilliant things about Pittsburgh is the interconnectedness of the craft scene there. It is a very big and dynamic city with a tiny population; it has frequently been voted "the most liveable city in the USA" and part of this is down to the presence of several major universities, the availability of relatively inexpensive property and the presence of several very important museums, such as the Carnegie and Frick museums. The more recent additions of places such as The Warhol, The Mattress Factory and The Society for Contemporary Craft have given cutting-edge artists places to show their work and all of these institutions have very active education programmes, many of which are available on reduced-price or free scholarships.
Brigitte is, of course, one of the movers and shakers in this interconnected group and when I was introduced to James Thurman and his new wife, Umut Demirguc Thurman, it was unsurprising to hear that they would be having breakfast with her the next day! In a strange turn of coincidences, James was at school with Julie, who is the landlady of the rooming-house in which I was staying in Bloomfield, one of the more arts-based suburbs of the city. We went out for a meal to the excellent Church Brewhouse restaurant, a restaurant and micro-brewery in an old church.

The Church Brewhouse

My last class at the SCC was also this week. It was a class for people between school and university who were wanting to build up their jewellery skills. Yet again, I was amazed at how much these people wanted to learn and we covered loads of skills, from soldering tricks and tips to accurate pattern transfer on the first day, then stone-setting with various techniques on the second.

Final Class

During the time that this class was running, I had a chance to finish the piece I started last week, my Pittsburgh Piece made from screws, washers and white-metal wire picked up in the city. It needs a bit more of a polish, which I will do when I get back to my own workshop.

Pittsburgh Piece - 1

Pittsburgh Piece - 3

Carrie Furnaces, Braddock - 09

On the very last day - the day after the banana splits with Brigitte - I went to visit a disused blast-furnace with the husband of my non-metalsmithing friend, Elizabeth, the esteemed historian Kirk Savage. Carrie Furnaces are now preserved as a national landmark but have been left much as they were when they were shut down in the 1980s and although the visit was an organised tour, there is nothing tarted up about the decaying buildings and it is possible to wander about fairly freely within the tour route. The great thing about the tour was that we were taken round by someone who had worked most of his adult life in the place until it shut, which gave an immediacy to the place, a real feel for what the factory had been like when operational:

Carrie Furnaces, Braddock - 60

 Gary, our tour guide.

Carrie Furnaces, Braddock - 44

Our urban explorations should have continued in the afternoon with a visit to the now-disused Westinghouse particle accelerator, the first particle accelerator ever built but a monumental thunderstorm which lasted several hours - and allowed me my first chance to hear, see and smell lightning striking at close quarters as it struck the garden fence opposite my house - put a stop to that.

Fortunately, I'll be back again next year.

Bessemer St

Home again! Back to Brighton and the usual rubbish I photograph...

Liberace Ken

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Robot Attack!

I'll get to the robots in a moment. First of all, my class at the SCC... There isn't much to say about the class at the SCC as we weren't really making projects, more exploring techniques through making samples and finding ways of problem-solving for processes which the people in the class used. As such, I have no photographs of work to show. What I do have is a photograph of all the people involved:

The Class

Back row, left to right: Karen, Gerry, Robert (my excellent studio assistant) and Me. Front row, Celeste (L) and Mary (R). I am so pleased to have had such an attentive, interested group who were so willing to try new things, especially as the group were of such diverse making backgrounds. Celeste is already a very fine jeweller; Karen works mostly in fibre; Gerry has arthritis in her hands an has previously restricted herself to wire-work; Mary is a fine enameller but has little experience of more dimensional or moving works. I am so very grateful that we were such a coherent, friendly bunch, with similar experiences and objectives, willing to try new things and happy to explore and play with techniques and materials.
As part of one of the classes, we visited Construction Junction and Creative Reuse, two organisations who must be thanked - and supported - most fulsomely for their assistance and for helping to promote my classes at the SCC. Here we are at Creative Reuse, being served by the lovely Erika:

Creative Re-Use

I've started making a piece with a load of old screws which Karen found for me at Construction Junction. I may get it finished next week.

Pittsburgh has gone robot crazy. Everywhere you turn, there are robots, robots and more robots. This is because the Carnegie-Mellon University is having a robotics conference here in Pittsburgh and the art world has responded. As I am very fond of the slightly kitch 1950s-style of robots, I'm pleased to say that almost everything I've encountered has been relatedto that aesthetic, if not actually of it.
The first exhibit which I noticed was the fantastic "Robot Repair Shop", an installation by Toby Atticus Fraley (great name!)

Fraley's Robot Repair - 3

Fraley's Robot Repair - 2

The next exhibit I saw was on Butler Street at the small Fe Gallery, "Robots Of Unusual Size", which had one of Toby's robots next to a variety of others:

RO US at FE - 2

My own personal favourite:

RO US at FE - 3

I enjoyed this show a lot and would suggest visiting both of these if you are in Pittsburgh. I even bought a couple of pieces from the Fe gallery show. One final robot note: I spotted one of the Fraley robots collecting donations in the Wood Street gallery. It is worth throwing a few coins into his box:

Even More Robots!

The food in Pittsburgh is surprisingly good. There is a really strong local food movement and there are farmers' markets across the city. It was at one of these markets that I got to taste the deliciously unhealthy but very local Pierogis, a strange little fried dumpling, stuffed with cheese and served with fried onions:


Salty, savoury, fatty and very tasty!
These were made for me in PPG Plaza:

Making Pierogis


I hadn't quite realised that Pittsburgh was such a creative hub for so many artists and craftspeople. I am currently sharing a house with Robert Mickelson, a glass artist who is working at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. I went along to the centre to have a look at what is going on and found that it was a very impressive facility.

Pittsburgh Glass Center

In the gallery at the moment is a show of work by Nick Mount. I can't say that I like all of the work shown, but every single piece shows a phenomenal control of the glass and a consistent, refined aesthetic:

Nick Mount - Bottles and Bobs - 3

Pittsburgh is home to a very unusual photography museum, a collection of photographs, photographic apparatus and ephemera relating to 1) the history of photography and 2) Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. The Museum of Photo Antiquities is run by a mad-keen collector and it is a little private museum of the sort I really like, one run by an enthusiast rather than any sort of formal curator. It opens by request - asking, perhaps unsurprisingly, at the camera shop below - and the owner gives you a guided tour, explaining everything on the way. I found it fascinating and it was brilliant to be able to actually handle a daguerrotype, a tintype and other rare or obscure photographs to see how they work.

Museum of Photo Antiquities - 1

Museum of Photo Antiquities - 2

Although I've only shown two photographs above, there are three or four rooms and thousands of items, including a reconstruction of a photographer's studio from the early 1900s.

Finally, it was time for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust "Gallery Crawl", which I did with Brigitte and Dingo last year and upon which I was accompanied this year by Robert Mullen and Sharon Massey after spending two hours nibbling appetisers and drinking cocktails in Kaya. Somewhat inevitably, the galleries were all closing after we had been to a couple and it struck us that it was rather stupid to shut the galleries at 9pm when the whole point of opening late on a Friday was to entice people into the city and to spend time there.
Last year, I felt the exhibits were a little "so-so". This year, I was blown away by the exhibition of drawings by Michael Benedetti

The Image Obsessed - 1

The Image Obsessed - 2

I also really liked Yoko Seyama's installation at Wood Street Galleries which all of us found restful and somehow nostlgic, as well as being styled like a 1960s "happening":

Yoko Seyama

Finally - because I need to go to bed and there is a fierce thunder-storm kicking off - this last installation by someone whose name I failed to note, made from recycled junk, a series of kinetic sculptures which cast beautiful, changing patterns on the walls:

Waste Flowers - 1

Waste Flowers - 1

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Can't Wear That


Or, as Will - above - would tell you, Yes You Can Wear That!
Last weekend, I spent a brilliant two days with some young peope at the Society for Contemporary Crafts in Pittsburgh running a workshop looking at creativity, oblique ways of looking at every day objects and the creation of jewellery from those objects. The group were just fantastic: everyone got on well, they were funny, focussed, charming and polite and only towards the very end of an exceptionally hot Sunday did people start to flag a little. They made all sorts of things from materials supplied by the exceptionally helpful Erika at Creative Re-Use and used these in conjunction with their newly-learned jewellery skills to make some truly exceptional pieces of jewellery.

"You Can't Wear That!"

Clockwise from front left, Jared, Eliza, Will, Najada and Zoe, exploring ideas using paper.


Various bracelets. The especially "Pittsburgh" one was by Najada with help from my superb studio assistant, Robert Mullen.

Rings - 1

Some highly sophisticated rings, including a hot-forged dome ring (middle, front) by Zoe, a two-finger ring by Eliza (right), an interactive ring by Jared (with tines) and a ring with a captive, mobile marble, by Najada.

Pendants - 1

Everyone loves Will's robot and Zoe's black and white pendant on HANDMADE, graduated chain.

Pendants - 3

Two pendants by Jared (left and right) and Eliza's wholly-soldered industrial pendant.
Jared's pendants are both interactive, the one on the left can be unscrewed and has a working brass control lever on it; the one on the right moves and makes a clicking noise when it is moved.
The final piece that they made - there were some others, not photographed for above - was a piece which has had me and the staff at SCC discussing it for days. Najada made a pendant which is not only elegant, but is also political and philosophical; it calls into question ideas about viewer-wearer; it challenges perceptions of "self"; it's site on the body is challenging both to her as a teenage girl but also to those who would interact with the piece. Here it is:

Eye Pendant - 2

The hinge at the bottom flips down to open the tube:

Eye Pendant - 3

When the viewer looks into the tube, the only thing that can be seen is the viewer's own eye-pupil:

Eye Pendant - 4

This was a deliberate design element on her part. You can get the idea by the fact that in the above photograph, you can see the camera sensor which took the image!
I'm going to leave that there. The more you think about the piece, the more you will realise how remarkable it is!

Bruster's With Brigitte And Family

Had dinner with Brigitte and her family last night, which was great fun, though getting the back of my head licked by a St Bernard, no matter how loveable, is not quite what I expected. The quiche was delicious and no doubt she will be posting the photograph of me chopping onions somewhere soon! Afterwards we went to Bruster's for excellent ice-cream. Couldn't be better!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Clerkenwell - Pittsburgh

Although it is almost a week since the event - I've been travelling and am now in Pittsburgh - I really should write up an exciting event I attended on Monday last week in London, "Cut In Clerkenwell" which is an exhibition at Craft Central by the Hand Engravers' Association in the UK, a most worthy body who have a highly talented and esteemed membership - including Alan Craxford and Malcolm Appleby - and who have decided to step into the public eye with an inventive and thought-provoking event which combines hands-on workshops and demonstrations with an exhibition of 41 specially-commissioned pieces by some of the top engravers in the UK.
The launch event was opened by Chris Rowley, who made some appropriately scathing comments about government attitudes to craftspeople and heritage crafts (Hooray! About time craftspeople became more political) and was then addressed by Sir George White who is supporting the project through his Clockmaker's Museum, clockmaking being one of the main reasons hand-engraving is still alive and well in the Clerkenwell area.
If you are in London over the next week, the exhibition runs until Saturday 14th and is well worth seeing.

Cut in Clerkenwell - 2

Cut in Clerkenwell - 1

Cut in Clerkenwell - 3

Cut in Clerkenwell - 4

American Scene

Pittsburgh at last!
So far, I've danced to Chic with a TSA Officer, walked too far, eaten endless Southeast Asian food, met up with my friend Elizabeth and her family, met up with our own Queen of Crafthaus Brigitte, had the pleasure of discovering that Robert would be my Studio Assistant over the weekend and have taught a class of young people the basics of metalsmithing. I'll be writing more about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are some of the remarkable works they produced from scrap materials over two days:
"You Can't Wear That"