Metalsmith ’90 Spring: Book Reviews

This article is a book review of 3 books from 3 authors in the 1990 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine including Contemporary Patination by Ronald D. Young.

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Artists’ Jewellery: Pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts
By Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey C. Munn
244 Pages; 103 color illus., 141 bw illus.
Antique Collectors Club Ltd., Great Britain, 1989

 The second half of the 19th century can be claimed for the decorative arts. Not only had there been an increased production of glass, ceramic, metalwork and furniture but the creative accomplishments in these fields were a major influence on all the arts. When we speak of the Pre-Raphaelites, we are speaking of essentially decorative art styles. For the first time since the Renaissance, there was a confluence of painters, sculptors, craftsmen and architects working in the applied arts, challenging conventional design and the then current reliance on debilitating historicism.

The authors, Gere and Munn, noted authorities on the decorative arts of the period, have put together a narrative that takes as its focus the long-neglected area of late 19th-century jewelry and, specifically, jewelry made by individual practitioners. Although the book primarily serves collectors with an eye to connoisseurship and provenance, they have put together a credible portrait of the times, with the necessary social, cultural economic influences that mitigated changing esthetics.

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Their research has uncovered a vast array of significant practitioners: D.G. Rossetti, Alfred Gilbert, Charles Ricketts, Henry Wilson, in England, Philippe Wolfers in Belgium, George Feure in France, W.L. von Cranach in Germany were presented in a new light as a result of their survey. Together with many of the well-known designers like Tiffany, Lalique, Archibald Knox of Liberty, Georg Jensen, Raymond Templier, the inclusion of fine artists’ jewelry makes for a cogent understanding of jewelry as a progressive art form.

– Sarah Bodine

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Artists Anodizing Aluminum
By David LaPlantz
$19.95, 200 pages, 273 illustrations
Published by Press de LaPlantz, 899 Bayside Cutoff, Bayside, CA 95524, 1988

Artists Anodizing Aluminum is well titled, for it is only about small-scale anodizing but also about producing art. David LaPlantz has written a graphic, easily read, practical book on the sulfuric acid process of anodizing aluminum for both beginner experienced anodizer.

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AAA is a first-hand account about how David LaPlantz anodizes. He takes you through his studio set-up and shows you how he does his work. But not to lull you into thinking that there is only one way to anodize aluminum, LaPlantz includes a guest-artist chapter that exposes different options available in working aluminum, and, finally, LaPlantz takes you on a field trip to a commercial anodizer to give you some idea of how industry works.

Sulfuric acid anodizing is a simple but potentially hazardous process that should not be taken lightly, and LaPlantz clearly describes the hazards and safety procedures that must be observed. In the chapter on safety, thoughtfully placed at the beginning, he writes not only about the safety equipment you must have but also about the toxic (hazardous) materials that you will be handling, producing and how to dispose of them correctly when you are done.

He has managed to write about the anodizing process so that a novice should be able to set up an anodizing bath and trouble shoot any problems that arise, and has produced a video supplement. I feel that the video would be useful for those who have never seen aluminum being anodized or would like to see how someone else works. But the video is not altogether necessary; the book alone is filled with over 230 illustrations to explain graphically all of the steps in the process, with 43 color shots of the results.
AAA is filled with all sorts of information including: homemade racking methods, sources for titanium racks, how to get a pH reading to help keep your chemicals at peak performance levels, alternative surface treatments and a few digressions on art, philosophy and life to keep you thinking, amused and inspired.
Most information on anodizing aluminum is produced for and by industry and can get very technical. AAA is written for the artist, supplying enough technical information for you to know what you are doing. LaPlantz lists sources for those of us in search of more detailed information. Even though I have been anodizing for three years, I have gained a lot of information from AAA. I found it not only helpful for technical information but also inspiring, and I am looking forward to getting back into the studio to try several new variations in my work. If you are anodizing or thinking of starting to anodize aluminum, I feel that AAA would be an excellent resource book.

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– David Baird

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Contemporary Patination
By Ronald D. Young
200 pages, $34.95 + 2.50 shipping
Available form Sculpt-Nouveau, 21 Redwood Drive, San Rafael, CA 94901

Remember when copper was orange and brass was yellow? OK, so it’s become a little trendy to patina every square centimeter of surface. But, those rich blues and lichen greens are still so appealing. Of course classical sculpture and urban architecture has been familiar with these colors for centuries, but American metalsmiths act as if they just discovered the whole palette. And why not? Except for being a little pretentious, the exuberance does no harm, and the wonderful diversity of color that we’re seeing in the field is exhilarating. Now, into this wave of enthusiasm comes a new book on patinas.

Contemporary Patination defies simple classification. In some ways it is a “homemade” book. The type is fuzzy and many of the pages is the appendix have simply been Xeroxed. There are a few misspellings. These shortcomings lend the book a certain appeal, giving it an approachable quality that nicely offsets the sometimes forbidding information. And that’s where the mix gets unusual, because in some cases the information is more complex and thorough than you’d expect.

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The book weighs in at a good two pounds, but the important information accounts for only about a fourth of that. The author presents about three dozen formulas for patinas, and a few for pickles and wax coatings. These are supported by information on preparing the surface and applying the compounds. Instructions are complete and specific, much in the manner of a commonsense cookbook. It’s a book I feel comfortable giving to a student.

A great deal of the book, perhaps as much as half, falls into the category of support documentation. Young includes sections on selecting respirators and copies of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all the chemicals being described. These are, of course, available free from suppliers and one can question the wisdom of buying them. At the same time, having them nicely bound in a single volume makes some sense.

Color is introduced into the book in the novel form of three pages of photographic contact prints. I assume that the idea is to present that patina samples as accurately as possible, but I found that the shiny plastic sleeve disrupts the view. A good quality color printing would have been, for me at least, a more satisfying solution.

A couple years ago I reviewed a book called The Coloring, Bronzing and Patination of Metals by Richard Hughes and Michael Rowe, published by the British Crafts Council in 1982. It is difficult to avoid comparing this book to that one. The Rowe and Hughes book is vast, comprehensive and scholarly. Without looking at the flyleaf, you know it comes from England, for it exudes a sense of “If we’re going to do it, let’s bloody well do it right.” Young’s book, while accurate and sufficient to the general needs of many metalsmiths and sculptors, has a more transient quality. In the case of the former, I was dazzled. In this case I’m satisfied.

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– Tim McCreight

By Metalsmith Magazine
Metalsmith Magazine - 1990 Spring
In association with SNAG's
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.
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