Joseph Trippetti – Cloisonne on Steel

When Joseph Trippetti returned from the Army in 1946, he studied for three years at Philadelphia College of Art and the fourth year at Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts in England, where he majored in silversmithing. He has been enameling since the 1950s. For some years he taught enameling and painting before concentrating on commissions and gallery exhibitions. The medieval tapestries still influence his designs. His cloisonnés were on domed copper plaques before he turned to large steel tiles.

Musician: 16″ x 16″, Silver Cloisonné Wires. Steel, Enamel.

Design is my main interest. My method of enameling has remained about the same these many years. Originally, my work was mainly of cloisonné on domed copper plaques. I trained as a metalsmith. For the past 15 years I have been working on white pre-coated, flanged, steel plaques, ranging in size from 6″ x 6″ to 16″ x 20″. Using the pre-coated, steel tiles I do not have to be concerned with cleaning the metal and applying base coats. The fine silver, rectangular cloisonné wire I use is .010 x .035.

I have two Norman kilns, 15″ x 15 ” x 9″ and 27″ x 24″ x 15″, on a 220V line. They were made for me with the specification to heat within 35 minutes and have fast recovery. Each kiln has a pyrometer, and I fire between 1250°F and 1500°F. My pyrometer has not been checked for years, and so my kiln temperature may be way off a standard, but it works for me. The floor of the kiln is protected with a Fiberfax blanket. Firebricks support the flanged piece in the kiln. I do use a timer, especially for the larger pieces, to remind me to look in the kiln after 31/2 to 4 minutes, at which time the piece is usually about orange peel stage. This method is adequate for all except the final firing. I usually eyeball it. Originally the kiln wires were exposed, but when a pitting problem developed, the wires were changed to be covered in the floor of the kiln.

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I start with rough sketches in pencil and then translate the selected one to a full size ink drawing. Using carbon paper, like dressmaker carbon paper that leaves no residue, the pen drawing is transferred to the pre-coated steel plaque. To protect the drawing, I tape a sheet of glass to foam board and make a sandwich into which I slip the drawing. The pen drawing is used as a pattern to bend the cloisonné wires. I form the wires on top of the glass and then position each wire on the transferred design on the plaque.

The tool for bending the wires is one I designed by soldering a handle of the tweezers to one of the handles of a straight bezel shears. The tweezers and my fingers are used to bend the wire; the short blades of the bezel shears cut the wire in place on the glass. My aim is to take the least complicated approach. The cloisonné wires are put in place on the plaque with uncut Klyr-Fyre. After the Klyr-Fyre has dried, the piece is fired. With my kiln at 1300°F, a 16″ x 16″ plaque is placed in the kiln and the timer set for 31/2 to 4 minutes. Subsequent firings are at around 1 300°F to avoid overfiring the piece. Through all the firings, as with silver cloisonné wires on copper, overfiring can cause the wires to sink into the enamel.

I use primarily 80 mesh opaque, leaded, unwashed enamels, though I also have some 150 mesh enamels and some unleaded enamels that I use when I need those colors. To use them all in one piece, the unleaded enamel needs to be under the leaded enamel and not on top. The enamels, wet with water, are wet packed with a brush almost to the top of the wires, and then the piece is tapped to level out the enamel and fired. Before each firing, any opaque enamel on the wires is removed with a fine pointed brush. It usually takes about 8 to 10 applications of the enamel, tapping and firing for the fired enamel to reach almost the top of the wires.

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The final firing, with just a thin sifting of either soft or medium flux over the whole piece, is a healthy firing with the kiln at 1500°F before inserting the plaque into the kiln. I do not wet the piece for the sifted coat. My sifters are made of SO mesh screen bent into open boxes in square or rectangular shapes. The square ones are about 21/2″ x 1/2″ deep. I also have ones that I soft soldered together out of brass tubing.

I do not remove the veil of flux from the wires after the final firing. This coating protects the fine silver wires from discoloring. You need to be careful not to overfire this final firing in order to prevent the flux on the wires from balling up. For me, the most important stage in the making of each enamel is the pen drawing of my design.

By Joseph Trippeti - © Lilyan Bachrach - 2004
Excerpts from the book: Enameling with Professionals
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Excerpts from the book: Enameling with Professionals
A unique book for everyone interested in the art and techniques of enameling
ISBN 0 9719252 0 8
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