Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Texas Roadhouse

I've just got back from almost a week in the Lone Star State which I was visiting on the invitation of my friends and colleagues, James Thurman and Umut Demirguc Thurman. What a trip!

Based in Denton, Dallas, the main reason for my visit was to speak to the students at the University of North Texas and to work with them on a couple of practical workshops. Before I go any further, I have to say that I had been "warned" by several people about going to Texas. One person wrote, "You have to remember that it is a big modern city, but it is still the Deep South". My experience proved that the Deep South of Dallas is mannerly, respectful and charming.

I arrived on Sunday to 23 degrees and blazing sun, having left Heathrow at 16 degrees and rain. James and Umut met me at the airport - Dallas Fort Worth, I should say, is easily the best US entry I've experienced. It took about 15 minutes to get from the plane to the car and the staff were helpful and friendly - and took me to dinner and my hotel. This visit was my first to a place where the car is essential. In a way, Chicago, San Francisco, Erie, New York and Pittsburgh have spoiled me to the ways of most of the US in that it is not only possible but preferable to use public transport or to go about on foot in those places. Not so "the Metroplex", the name for the hybridised city which encompasses Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth, the suburbs of which are still considered suburbs even 50km from what would be considered the "city centre". Consequently, everyone drives.

Denton Suburb View
View from the hotel!
Denton itself, the place where I was staying, is more manageable (though having no hotels in the town, I was staying on a kind of 'strip mall' on the outskirts... necessitating a car!) and it is possible to cycle and walk about there, largely on account of the presence of the University of North Texas, the place where I had been invited by James to speak as part of the Core Talk series and demonstrate some processes.

Not having anything planned for the Monday, James and Umut organised "Cowboy Day"!

Texan Cowboy

Complete with longhorn cattle:

Texas Longhorn - 2

One of the most interesting parts of the day was a visit to a shop which made cowboy boots! Not just any cowboy boots, but the most bewildering array of cowboy boots at M.L. Leddy's...

M. L. Leddy's - Some Boots

Although none of these are to my taste - or pocket: some of these were $2000 a pair! - the quality of the craft skills used in making them was phenomenal, many of them being ornately tooled and I had the pleasure later in the week to meet someone who had trained making these.

M. L. Leddy's - Buffalo Head

We then spent the afternoon looking around Denton's several junk-shops where I found a variety of rust nails, keys and strange porcelain figures and James and Umut found a new friend who appears to have a genetic malfunction where his nose should be...

James, Umut and Friend

Umut found a working "Paragon" enamelling kiln for $75, so it was an afternoon well spent.

Tuesday morning brought some work to be done and I gave a demonstration of soldering steel and making a piece by my "improvisational" process.

Demonstration at UNT - 2

Demonstration at UNT - 1

Demonstration at UNT - 4

After the workshop, I visited the UNT fashion collection, which is phenomenal.

UNT Fashion Collection - 2

UNT Fashion Collection - 3

On Tuesday afternoon, we headed off to downtown Dallas to the Dallas Museum of Art to take a look at the Art Smith exhibition. I've always loved the 1950s and 60s American studio jewellers but it is not easy to get to see the work in galleries in this country and - from the point of view of a jeweller - it is important to be able to see how the pieces are constructed, the quality of finish and the scale and proportion. The show is small but brilliant and I especially liked the display of work outside the show, exhibiting examples of work by jewellers who were involved with him or who were influenced by him.

Art Smith

There is a remarkable collection of silverwares in the DMA - including this incredible iron vase with silver decoration:

Iron Vase

Wednesday morning started very early with breakfast at "The Old West", which is a very old-school Texan restaurant where, for about £7, you can have a breakfast which means you don't need to eat again for the whole day. It was brilliant!

Breakfast At "The Old West"

The omelette at the front is stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and spinach and is served with a kind of rosti and a bagel. James and Umut have similar but they wisely decided to split theirs. Unfortunately, I couldn't return to bed after this as I was then speaking to the MFA students about their work before speaking to the general design students.

Presentation - UNT

The afternoon was free to wander about Denton before going out for a very light dinner of soup and noodles!

On Thursday, I ran a crit with the BFA students who had been given a week to come up with a forged iron handle for a handle-less vessel, a project which I thought was brilliant and possibly one to do with my own students. Umut told me that they were very worried that an external advisor was coming in to see the work but it didn't really show. They all seemed very confident. What made me laugh internally was fact that about half of them had left it until the last moment. What is it with students?!

UNT Metals Class - 2

Thursday night was interesting for James and Umut as well as for me. They had set me up to teach my electro-etching workshop at a place called Oil and Cotton. Neither of them had been there before but I think it is pretty sure that they will be back (and me too, when I am back in Texas).

Oil and Cotton

It is a great space, full of interesting and unpretentious work, offering community arts classes and supplies as well as hosting residencies. There was a print-maker in residence when I was there.

Etching Workshop - 1

And that was my time in Texas over...
There is no more to report, save that my luggage went missing during the stop-over in Washington and that I had the most horrible flight I have ever had in my life on the way back, followed by static traffic on the M25 going back to Brighton, but it was all worth it and I can't thank James and Umut enough for their hospitality and generosity. I hope to be able to reciprocate sometime soon.

I did manage to find some amazing materials while in Denton, including some number nails, which I have wanted for ages:

Metals From Texas

The little pellets on the right were given to me by James and Umut, who found them at a derelict steel mill in Pittsburgh. It seems that the iron was pelletised before it was put into the blast furnaces. These are really exciting little things and I am thinking about pairing them with pearls.

Iron Pellets

Not much more to report except to say that I received my copy of "Soused" by Scott Walker and Sunn 0))), a musical collaboration I've been desperate to hear since it was mentioned in passing on the radio in June. Needless to say, I am not disappointed. From actual shock at the first line Scott Walker sings, this is incredible music.