Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shiny Fancies: Glass and wood and silk and metal

Originally I'd planned a few series for this show...a series of pots, a series of lamps, a series of shawls and a series of mobiles. The pots and shawls happened, the mobiles never got made and I stopped after two lamps which don't really go together anyways.

This lamp was the first in my projected series of lamps using wood, fiber and glass. The wood is scavenged camphor from the wood bin at the Craft Center. I found the thin pieces with natural edges and saved them not knowing what I'd do with them, but the wood smelled too delicious to resist. I've never worked with or even seen camphor before, but later found out that this was from a bookcase my friend Dylan was commissioned to build. The photos of the full boards are breathtaking and I can't even imagine how wonderful it must have smelled while he was working on the case. I added in some found maple for the edges of the base, then foolishly tried handcut dovetails to attach a little block of oak to the maple for the lamp base. I like the idea of hand tools, but really really really need a class to learn how to use them well. The dovetails took forever and don't show unless you look at the lamp from the bottom and the whole thing is very probably overengineered, but hey, it works. The silk is from the silkworms I raised last year. I let the moths emerge, then degummed the cocoons and stretched them out over a frame to form the panels. The panels were then stiffened with paverpol, a fabric hardener.

The other lamp is a redo from a series of lamps I made for Tom Wickersham's Ides of March way back in 2005. Maurice Ravel's Piano Sonatine is a piece I first played in junior high, studied again with Susan Aceto at Williams, then used as an audition piece to get into private lessons with Lois Brandwynne at Davis. I've played piano since I was tiny, but had never been good about practicing until I got to Williams and decided I needed to learn a piano concerto and tried to learn Chopin's Piano Concerto No 1 on my own. I soon realized I needed a teacher and found Susan Aceto. She was wonderful for me, helping me improve my playing and technique while finding pieces that I really liked to keep it all fun. I've never worked so hard at classical piano as I did in college.

Ravel is an impressionist composer and Susan used the idea of colors and images to help me improve my playing of the piece, especially the third movement (which was the first movement of the piece I'd learned as a kid and is the most difficult). I played the entire piece as part of my college senior recital, but my most memorable performance of this piece was in the impressionist gallery at the Clark Art Institute on a beautiful old piano surrounded by Degas, Monet, Renoir and more.

I created images in my head for the different parts of the third movement and still have those images in my head, though I can't play the piece nearly as well now as I did then. I thought about doing a series of lithographs of the images, but never got the print time. When the theme for the 2005 Ides of March house art show was "Found in Translation" it seemed the appropriate time to translate the images from my favorite piano piece into a different medium.

There's an old weaving magazine called "Loom Music" and weaving patterns or drafts do look a little like sheet music. There are many possible ways to translate music into weaving. Since I wanted to do a series of fabrics from different parts of the music, I decided to translate bits of melody into the treadling (which determines the order in which sets of threads are lifted). The loom I used was an eight harness, 10 treadle loom, so I didn't quite have enough "notes" for an entire scale. Taking out the sharps and flats gave me 8 notes so I threaded a point twill and set two treadles to tabby and used the other 8 for my melodies. The fabric was made of 60/2 silk at 48 ends per inch (i.e. really thin yarn fairly densely set which means it took a really long time to set up the loom). I'd painted both my warp and weft threads in sections according to the colors for different parts of the song, so I ended up with a series of very different pieces of fabric, all on the same warp. Cutting the silk fabric fabric was the most painful part and I was tempted to just display the cloth, but I wanted to make a series of lamps since light was so important to the impressionists. I was rushed for time at the end and was never a good seamstress in the best of times, so I never felt I did the fabric and concept justice in the actual lamps.

A very long story to get to the point. This lamp is my redo. I took my precious fabric off the clumsy wire frame and designed wooden triangles to hold it instead. The wood is from some beautiful dense aromatic hardwood I got a while back in trade for a bunch of fleece. It's a wonderfully thick piece, so it felt a little wasteful to rip it into thin strips, but it was the perfect wood for this project. I was thrilled that my miters worked and the triangles glued up well. I made a series of glass rings to hold them together and very gingerly fused the glass rings together with a tiny jewelry torch. Happily I didn't scorch any of the wood. I may refine it further, but I'm much happier with this version than the original.
Few more pieces to round out the show:

November Rain. One of the only two welding projects I completed before I apparently forgot how to TIG weld. Steel, human hair (from back when I had very long hair) and glass. I made the two figures while I was depressed after a breakup. Apparently I was enjoying wallowing in grief :)

Moving Forwards. Glass, walnut. Walnut is my favorite wood and I like working with it even just to sand it down really fine and finish it with a nice oil. The glass figures are part of a study I was doing on movement.

Women Charge. Glass, silk, paverpol. More glass women. I can't remember when I started this piece. I wanted to make a bunch of glass women marching with fists in the air, but once I'd made a few I wasn't sure what to do with them. I tried welding together the steel framework for a glass bridge but found my welding ability had evaporated. I didn't really know what I wanted with a bridge anyways. Paverpol is a fabric hardener for sculpture that I'm just learning about. For this piece, I thought maybe I could make a silk "rock" out of silk roving and paverpol. It looks, well, interesting, but isn't as solid as I'd imagined, hence the women appear to be charging a little overzealously rather than marching. Hmm...

This is a long post already, so I'll end here. One last piece in the show...

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