Often the paramount achievement of technical mastery is the ability to “remain invisible.” The virtuoso violinist is heralded less for his pyrotechnic fingering than his subtle grace in purifying each note within a seamless composition. It is the music we hear, rather than the musician. When I first saw the Brooch Pin by Barbara Heinrich, I had this same sense of “invisible” mastery.
Barbara’s pin is a disk about an inch and a half across, made of 18k gold and set with about a dozen small diamonds. The subtle surface glistens with a symphony of textures and shapes in relief, vaguely symbolic without being directly representational. My first response was a desire to touch the piece. Rarely can the hard edges of cut stones and polished gold incur a tacit appearance of “softness.”
The first step in creating this effect was to establish a subtly irregular surface by rolling the gold through a mill between sheets of paper. After annealing, the sheet was rolled again, this time against a template of brass that had been prepared by piercing. The result was a sheet metal with low relief areas. A circle was drawn freehand and cut out; then the edges were thickened by upsetting them with a light cross-peen hammer.
When location of the diamonds was determined, small holes were drilled. Disks of gold were soldered onto the back of the sheet to provide extra thickness for these areas; then the holes were enlarged and shaped to receive the stones. The diamonds were secured with a burnisher, which was also used to brighten the high areas of the relief and the thickened edge.
This piece is ultimately “approachable” as the care of workmanship and control of glitter seduces both the knowledgeable jeweler and the uninitiated layman. At the same time, the viewer is comfortable with the piece; nowhere is the hand of the maker awkward or threatening. The delicate composition forces us to lean closer, inviting us to enjoy the sparkle. If the pin could make noise it would be the gentle tinkling of wind chimes. It speaks with a gentle timbre.
Barbara claims that “this pin provides a place for the spirit to relax and be nurtured.” It is this clear sense of an intended effect that allows the technical quality to accomplish its function so gracefully. By focusing on the soothing mood she is trying to create, the artist is able to allow the technique to operate with quiet confidence, always secondary to the resultant esthetic.
Tim McCreight is a working craftsman and teacher at the Worcester Craft Center. He is a contributing editor to Metalsmith.