Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 Regional Artist Project Grant Documentation Part 2: Welding and Sculpture Fabrication Process

"Observational Solitude" - Detail
Steel, Cast-Iron, Brass
80"H x 14"W x 4"D

In order to complete the requirements for my 2017 Regional Artist Project Grant, I had to use the Oxygen/Acetylene torch set I purchased with the grant funds to create a large outdoor steel sculpture. This process was an intense learning experience as I had never done traditional torch-welding and have not worked on a large-scale outdoor piece such as this in many years, and then only within the well-equipped studio of an educational institution. The following documentation chronicles my process from practicing welding with the new torch setup to completing "Observational Solitude" a 7-ft tall steel, cast-iron, and brass sculpture.

Practice welds on 1/8" mild steel plate.

Layout of cut-up components from a previously fabricated steel 
volume that was never utilized or completed.

Initial welding of the basic form complete.

Unintended consequences of the creative process.

Attaching the legs to the structure and closing off the volume 
with expanded metal mesh. 

Drill-bit casualties caused by drilling and prepping the 1/8" steel
 base plate to accept the legs of the sculpture.

Welding jig clamped together to hold the sculpture upright and square
 while welding the legs down to the base plate.

Almost complete.

Final welding to strengthen the attachment of the legs to the base plate.

The Completed Sculpture:

 "Observational Solitude"
Steel, Cast-Iron, Brass
80"H x 14"W x 4"D

"Observational Solitude" - Side View
Steel, Cast-Iron, Brass
80"H x 14"W x 4"D

"Observational Solitude" - Detail
Steel, Cast-Iron, Brass
80"H x 14"W x 4"D

 This project was made possible by the N.C. Arts council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, the Blumenthal Endowment and the Union County Community Arts Council.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

2017 Regional Artist Project Grant Documentation Part 1: Equipment and Studio Setup

I am very pleased and honored to have been awarded a 2017 North Carolina Regional Artist Project Grant, through the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte, NC and the Union County Community Arts Council. My grant request was for the funds to purchase an oxygen/acetylene torch setup to be able braze and cast my sculptural forms and units for use in my jewelry and sculptural works. This series of blog posts will document my process and journey from using the grant funds to purchase the requested equipment to properly building out and configuring my studio setup to accommodate new processes to actually creating and completing new jewelry and sculptural works.

Step 1 - Torch and Tanks

Upon receiving the grant funds, I purchased a Victor Journeyman Oxy/Acetylene torch set with the appropriate brazing, welding, cutting, and casting attachments to allow me to complete a wide variety of projects and new pieces. Setup was very straightforward, as I went ahead and bought a solid tank/torch cart to allow freedom of mobility and storage within the shop.

Step 2 - Weld/Casting Area and Ventilation

Next, I designated an area in my shop for all large welding, brazing, and metal-melting operations. The main work-station is a welded-steel frame table with a thick heat-resistant refractory top that was once a section of the inner cooking surface of a commercial pizza  oven. A cement-board panel was mounted on the wall above the work-table with a 1" air gap between the panel and the drywall to protect the shop wall from indirect and accidental flame and heat exposure. I then designed and installed a custom variable-speed ventilation system featuring an 18" x 18" vent hood and a 600+CFM in-line fan. The fan was installed in the attic above the workshop with direct venting to the exterior using straight-line metal ducting and a 1-way exhaust vent with damper and debris cage to prevent blockage and animal infiltration.

Step 3 - Kiln and Casting Equipment

In order to have effective wax-burnouts during the lost wax casting process, it is very helpful to have a removable wax-catching tray inside the kiln in order to collect excess molten wax from the investment molds for removal prior to full combustion. This reduces the amount of toxic fumes and gasses created and yields a cleaner overall burn-out. My first practical use of the new welding torch setup was to create a wax-catching tray from scrap steel I had laying around the shop.

The completed wax tray with expanded metal mesh grating.

 The wax tray properly seated in the kiln.

Next, I created a custom vacuum-casting machine on a mobile rolling base with a steel work surface to  degas and debubble the plaster-like investment mold material prior to pouring my molds around my wax patterns, as well as to provide vacuum pressure through the burt-out molds during the actual metal casting process. I had an old vacuum pump given to me by another jeweler, as well as the pressure gauge, valve, and fittings from a broken casting machine. I purchased new hoses, brass pipe fittings, and high-temperature rubber casting pads to connect everything together and complete the setup.

The casting machine base assembled and properly sealed.

Layout for drilling, cut-outs, and bending of the steel machine top.

The completed casting machine.

The base of the machine was assembled from plywood, pressure-treated 4x4" posts, rolling locking castors, and several coats of exterior marine varnish to aid in cleanup. The steel top was drilled for screw and bolt attachment points, a cutout for the vacuum gauge was drilled and hand-filed to fit, valve position indicators were stamped in the steel and highlighted with red lacquer, the front panel face was bent to the proper angle using an industrial bending-brake to allow molten metal and debris to fall away from the workings of the machine during casting, and finally everything was assembled together.

The casting machine in use.

This concludes all of the major equipment and studio upgrades that were necessary in order to actually fulfill the terms of my grant requirements as specified in my original proposal submission. Part 2 of this blog series will document the welding process from creating samples and getting a feel for the use of the welding torch in the new studio setup to the design and creation of "Observational Solitude", a 7ft tall welded steel sculpture I created to fulfill the large exterior sculpture component of my grant proposal.

This project was made possible by the N.C. Arts council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, the Blumenthal Endowment and the Union County Community Arts Council.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Antique Plaster Alginate Knife Restoration


Last year, I had the good fortune to receive the accumulated tools and materials of an acclaimed figurative sculptor who worked professionally in the modelling and fine ceramics and porcelain industry for many years. Among his vast collection of clay tools, rasps, chisels, and assorted modelling implements, I discovered a very interesting double-bladed knife tool. The steel was badly rusted, the bronze handle was covered in a thick layer of crusted patina, and the paper micarta-style handle was warped and swelled due to age. The only markings on the tool to be found were on the blade: "Adam Kalb, 162 Grand St. N.Y.". And so the research began.

Detail of Knife Inscription and Corrosion

After a good deal of research, the only references to an Adam Kalb at 162 Grand Street in New York come from "The Edison Monthly and Electrical Directory" published in July of 1919 by The New York Edison Company and the "Engineering Directory" published in 1921 by The Crawford Publishing Co. in Chicago. Both of these publications are directories of industrial suppliers, tool-makers, and distributors for the various industries and trades of the day. The exact listing reads as follows:

"Adam Kalb, 162 Grand st., New York, N. Y.  Mill, machinists', engineers', electrical and platers' and polishers' supplies. Buyer, Adam Kalb."

Upon further research, I believe the tool to be a plaster alginate knife from the dental and mold-making industry. The knife blade end is used for carving plaster mold pieces and cutting open alginate molds, while the blunt end has a slight bevel that allows it to be used as a prying tool to oped up mold pieces and safely remove patterns and models from the mold without damaging the piece or the knife blade. 
An example of a modern plaster alginate knife from the dental industry.

With the history and context of the knife firmly established and it's use and function established, it was time to restore and refinish the tool to brig back it's luster and beauty, not to mention adding a highly useful implement to my studio tool collection. The long 1-piece steel blade was easily removed from the handle by taking out the rusted set-screws, which allowed me to refinish the blade lightly and redefine and sharpen the cutting and prying edges. Next the handle was sanded down to remove the corrosion, clean up the paper and resin phenolic handle material, and re-polish the entire piece. The blade was re-installed in the handle, and the restoration was complete Here is the result:

Plaster Alginate Knife
Attributed to Adam Kalb, New York - Supplier
Circa 1920's

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Between Rock Drilling and Hard Places: Creative Problem-Solving

The desired configuration of stone and bronze.

The Idea: I want to mount a bronze casting to a chunk of stone that is bolted to a live-edge maple base with a 4mm brass spacer holding the stone up off the surface of the base so that there is a nice floating edge detail. I will drill 4 holes into the top surface of the stone to epoxy threaded rods in place that will slide up the inside corners of the hollow bronze casting and be affixed with PC-7 epoxy. I will need to cut out the brass spacer first, and use that as a template to drill 2 holes perpendicular to the bottom of the stone to epoxy in threaded rods that will go through clearance holes in the wood base and be secured with acorn nuts from below.

The Problem: The 2 flat-ground faces of the stone are not parallel, meaning that I can only drill holes that are perpendicular to the surface opposite what I am drilling into, as it is the surface resting on the drill press table. Clamping the stone is not an option, as the force needed to secure it from vibrating loose while using a diamond hole saw bit would likely damage the texture on the stone and potentially destroy it. Gluing the stone to a board that is bolted or clamped to the drill press bed is also an equally risky option, as the stone could pop off the board while drilling and result in a potentially dangerous situation.

The Solution: Encase the stone in a plaster mold that will hold the stone steady without damaging it and drill the necessary holes in the bottom surface that is now parallel to the top of the plaster mold and the drill-press bed.

The stone wrapped and mounted inside the mold frame, with all joints sealed with hot-glue.

The plaster mold poured with steel weights on top to prevent a blowout from the bottom seam.

The mold base removed and the stone marked for drilling with the brass pre-drilled spacer.

Wet-drilling the 11mm holes in the stone with a diamond core drill bit and water.

The holes drilled successfully and mold frame removed, ready to break open the plaster.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Reworking and Revisiting: When is a piece truly finished? (Part 1 of 2)

The piece "Rectified" was originally completed in 2015, and at the time, it represented the resolution of a number of visual, conceptual, and technical considerations that had surrounded my work and specifically my small cast-bronze sculptural units since graduate school. While the solution of the rock form and wooden base as the appropriate way to display the tension and sense of abstracted industrial decay of the bronze unit was a significant step in the right direction at the time, I always had an issue the the interaction of the wood plane and the rock form. 

The original version of the sculpture illustrates a visual and contextual disconnect relating to material interaction and intention:

"Rectified" - Original Version, 2015

After 2 years of looking at the piece every day, I finally took the time to reevaluate the piece and do what was necessary to properly resolve it. I cut and silver-brazed a steel frame together, then sanded, blackened, and sealed the finished form. It was tightly fitted around the wood base and affixed with 12 brass pins through the shorter side pieces, leaving the front clean and unbroken. The recess formed by the frame was then filled with polished brass lock pin spacers. These brass pins are used in the master-keying of facilities and institutions, thereby allowing multiple keys with different pin heights to open the same lock. The brass field was then raked out and smoothed. The resulting zen garden-like aesthetic with a solitary boulder and tenuous bronze industrial structure is exactly what I always envisioned for the piece, and I am extremely pleased with how it turned out:

12.5" W x 10.5"D x 13"H
Bronze, Copper, Brass, Steel, Stone, Wood

Another factor that contributed to the reworking of the piece was an unfortunate minor accident involving the copper chain tie-down that occurred during the return shipping of a piece from an exhibition. The chain was returned separated in the middle, and sat for over a year broken and incomplete. Rather than just reattach or replace it, I fabricated a fully functional turnbuckle from brass micro-hardware and tubing to reconnect the chain pieces. It's a minor detail, but for me it really adds to the visual tension and context of the chains function in relation to the bronze drain stack unit.

Detail of Chain and Turnbuckle Unit

In Part 2 of this blog post I will explore in more depth the relationship between the creative process and the completion of a piece or body of work. This will address such issues as the impact of the original concept on the piece that is ultimately created, the importance and place that naming or titling a piece holds within the creative process, and the argument for revisiting old works as opposed to making a completely new piece instead and furthering one's creative exploration.

Friday, December 30, 2016

(Up)Setting the Stone: 2016 We Are SNAG Exhibition

I am very pleased to announce that one of my recent works was selected for the 2016 We Are Snag online exhibition "(Up)Setting the Stone". The exhibition was juried by George Sawyer and Laura Wood, and focuses on the concept of the setting in traditional jewelry as a technical process, conceptual idea, and abstraction to be manipulated and utilized in different ways within the field of contemporary jewelry and metalsmithing. I am truly humbled and honored to be included in such an amazingly talented and diverse group of artists and makers. I am grateful to the jurors for including me in this strong exhibition, check it out at SNAG/SPACE, the online exhibition space for the Society of North American Goldsmiths:

Monday, December 19, 2016

2017 Regional Artist Project Grant Recipient

I am very honored and excited to announce that I have been awarded a 2017 North Carolina Regional Artist Project Grant, through the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte, NC and the Union County Community Arts Council. My grant request was for the funds to purchase an oxygen/acetylene torch setup to be able braze and cast my sculptural forms and units for use in my jewelry and sculptural works. This was my first grant-writing experience, and the process was highly informative and rewarding, and allowed me to better understand and articulate my own thoughts about my work, creative practice, and artistic vision.

I will post more about the process in January once I receive the grant, get the equipment set up, and begin creating a series of 5 brand-new sculptural jewelry pieces and one outdoor sculpture. I look forward to documenting and writing about my creative process and studio practice as I create my first new series of lost-wax castings in over 5 years.

The Arts and Science Council received nearly 100 grant requests from the counties of Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanley, Union, and York (SC). In the end, 32 grant proposals were approved and funded. I am honored to be included in such a diverse and talented group of literary, performing, and visual artists. Check out the full list of artists and grants at:

This project was made possible by the N.C. Arts council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, the Blumenthal Endowment and the Union County Community Arts Council.