New Ideas for Enameling
3 Minute Read
When I was the only American enameling in a week's workshop in a small town in Hungary, it had taken all my energy just to get myself there. I was given a set of their enamels, a small table all to myself, some metal, and a chair. What to make?
The Russians, Hungarians, a German woman, and two young Indian fellows all had brought previously made designs that they could translate into enamels, but I have never worked that way.
The little attention I had received I interpreted as surprise at my being there. What was this American doing here? What did these people know about America, I wondered. Surely they knew about 9/11, and the devastation it had made. Maybe I could illustrate that disaster.
I had noticed a machine shop near our big kiln room, and there I went to collect all sorts of scraps from the floor. On a once fired piece, I scattered wires, sawdust, metal bits at random, and refired, having added more enamel on top. Much to my pleasure, the scraps stayed - 'stuck' and in place. I experimented using this 'technique' and by the end of the week had a variety of works.
There was to be a juried show. I figured they might accept one piece of mine, if only as a reward for having come such a long way to participate. After the jurying, the juror, a formal gentleman who had come from far away Budapest, asked especially to see me. In halting English, he asked to keep two of my pieces, "as they had never seen anything like it." (I decided to take that as a compliment.)
When I returned home, I went back to my old ways of working until I took a workshop with Bill Helwig at the Arrowmont Conference. I had never worked with gold and silver foils, and enjoyed what could be done with them. After a while, though, my need to again experiment more widely came to the fore, and I began to incorporate all sorts of other materials.
When Mr. Carpenter saw what I had done using thin rusty pieces of iron embedded in the enamels, he was eager for me to show others in an article for this magazine. That didn't seem enough for an article, and I continued my experiment. I began to ask myself, "What would happen with shapes from the kitchen cupboard? Perhaps they would just burn out and I would have a smelly kiln room?"
I tried, and lo and behold! If I had enamel underneath and enamel on top, they became encased and added a new dimension, a different design making something entirely new possible. Chicken bones keep their shape…but better yet, crushed up egg shells remain and keep their white color! Wild rice next came out of the pantry and I found it leaves an interesting texture. Ground coffee and tea also 'work'.
As I did these experiments, I kept some things constant:
1) I always used a fired layer of flux on copper to begin with.
2) I always fired for 2 minutes at 1475°F.
3) and I used only flux, transparent blue or transparent red enamels.
As I write, the possibilities excite me, even as my kiln room is beginning to smell like my kitchen! I am sure this approach is not for everyone, but perhaps when you have been enameling for 50 years, as I have, you too will find radical experimenting worth trying.
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