Phillip Fike

27 Minute Read

When I sought out a writing project Metalsmith proposed Phillip Fike, a founding member of SNAG, and resident of my childhood home of Detroit. I began my research by interviewing him while he was in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania accompanying his longtime companion Clare Morison at a wholesale craft show in January of 1997. He brought with him an oxygen tank, and a box full of metal ornament spanning fifty years. We both recognized the timeliness of this assignment, and as I proceeded with looking at the work and listening to him speak it grew in magnitude, worthiness, and urgency. We continued with hours of conversation on the telephone before I met him again at the SNAG conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In June I visited him for a day at the metals studios at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and two more days with he and Clare in Hamtramck, and Grosse Pointe Park, examining his work, his slides, his photographs, and his papers.

Phillip Fike

In a further attempt to grasp his lengthy artistic career I interviewed many of his friends, colleagues, current and former students and assembled a thirty page chronology from his various resumes, publications, archives, and personal recollections. This following is a portion of nearly sixty hours of conversation (in notes, audio and video tape) spanning the entire year. Though Fike did not live long enough to see this in print I hope these efforts begin to do justice to this pioneer of American Metalsmithing.

Since 1994 Fike suffered from Pulmonary Fibrosis (he suspected it was due to years of the inhalation of metal oxidizes from working in improper ventiliation). He was on oxygen assistance nearly twenty-four hours a day. Regardless, he refused to retire, and continued teaching (he was approaching his forty-fifth year) and traveling with immense determination (he drove cross country to attend the SNAG conference and the National Ornamental Metal Museum's Annual Repair Days in a wheelchair). He died December 8, 1997, at the age of seventy, in Clare's studio. He is survived by Clare Morison of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, sons Peter of Reno, Nevada, Christopher of Bethel, Connecticut and four grandchildren. Address contributions to the Phillip Fike Memorial Fund, Department of Art and Art History, Attn: Steve Kram, Wayne State University, 150 Arts Building, Detroit, Michigan 48202. —Jan Yager

If you know anything about the fibula, ancestor of the common safety pin, you already know something about Phillip Fike. His name has been synonymous with the fibula for over thirty years. I discovered both at the 1975 "Uncommon Smith" conference at Eastern Michigan University. Conference attendees were in the auditorium viewing slides, when a sinuous gold and ebony form appeared on the screen. At that same moment from the back of the room came the penetrating twang of an ancient instrument historically known as the Jew's Harp (which looks strikingly similar to a fibula). Someone whispered, "What was that?" Then another replied "That was Phillip Fike's Fabulous Fibula."

"The spectator viewing my work may assume from the character and quality of my pieces that I know what I'm doing, have known in the past, and know now where I might be going next with my future relatively predictable. My only claim to knowing has its source in believing I have been blessed with instinct about human things and unexpected encounters by chance to know them. Something like being in the arena at the right time and going forward until you've claimed the secrets of your instincts." - Phillip Fike, Artist Statement 1987

Phillip George Fike referred to himself as "a simple American metalsmith competing with the excellence of the past." He has been described as "one of the more inspired artist of our generation." Remarkably, Fike sustained growth as an artist, metalsmith, researcher, scholar, communicator, and educator for fifty years. Decade after decade he gained mastery over the creative process, and achieved the deepest possible understanding of a stunningly wide array of metalsmithing processes and material. Spanning a full half century, his prolonged and profound quest for truth resulted in work of arresting aesthetic resolve.

Fike was one of the founders of the Society of North American Goldsmiths in 1968, and it was he who coined the acronym SNAG. The Wisconsin Designer Craftsmen Society established in 1916, was the first to recognize Fike's talents while he was a student at the University of Wisconsin. Beginning in 1949 he won awards at their annual fair in four consecutive years, and in 1950 he began entering other annual exhibitions. Within six years he had won awards in exhibitions sponsored by America House, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, the Wichita Art Association, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. He exhibited at the Renwick Gallery, the Walker Art Center, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. In the following decades his work was in Objects USA, Copper 2, Good as Gold, Ferrous Finery, Goldsmith, Jewelry USA, and Platinum Jewelry Design. The American Craft Museum, the National Ornamental Metal Museum, the Museum of Art in Toronto, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London have shown his work. His last exhibition was American Masters of Hollowware at the Georgia Museum of Art. In 1970 Fike was listed as "among the [13] influential young contemporary jewelers in America" and in 1988 he was elected to the American Craft Council College of Fellows.

Swimmer, 1949-50, cast sterling, 4¼ x 4¼ x 1"

The middle of three sons, Phillip Fike was born on July 15, 1927 in Baraboo, Wisconsin, home of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus. Recalling a difficult childhood he described his mother [Paula Lichte] as domineering and obsessed with the church, and his father Forrest as occupied with his role as a physician in rural Reedsburg, Wisconsin. His childhood pleasures were watching his grandfather carve wooden violin posts, playing golf, observing nature, and exploring his Uncle Walter's farm. Fike lamented that the threat of punishment nearly extinguished what he later referred to as his "instinctual attraction" to the farm's iron forge. Still, by the age of ten he had attempted to mint a lead counterfeit fifty-cent piece, and he had succeeded in chiseling his name on a tombstone, under the tutelage of the master stone engraver at nearby Collins Monument Works. Metal craft was an integral part of Fike's education due to Miss Evelyn Bauman, his teacher at Madison West High School from 1942-1945. While her student he cast a ring in silver, raised a bowl in pewter, learned to engrave metal, and become aware of Scandinavian Modern silversmithing. His As were in Art Metal and Typing.

In April of 1945, directly out of high school, Fike enlisted in the U. S. Navy. Stationed at the Naval Air and Technical Training Command in Lakehurst, New Jersey, he tested, fabricated and rigged experimental parachutes. There he discovered his zeal for mechanics, but because he could type fast and accurately, he was assigned a desk job where he remained until the end of World War II. One a one week leave in July 1946, just before his planned re-enlistment, Fike traveled to western Massachusetts to visit his cousin, sculptor Norman Harms, who was attending Cummington Summer School of Art. Surrounded by artists, writers and poets for the first time, he realized that he "felt like them." The and there he decided to follow his instincts and pursue a life of art.

Under the sponsorship of the GI Bill Fike returned home to study Applied Art at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He remembers Professor Arthur Vierthaler not for his teaching but for his gruff, forceful insistence that students develop their rendering skills and go to the library to find a topic worthy of research. Fike credits Henry Wilson's Silver & Jewellery (1942 2nd edition) with introducing him to niello and Professor James Watrous's hands-on Historical Art Processes class with providing the impetus to recreate it.

Bar Suspended Wheaters, (ear ornaments), 1984, 14k, 18k yellow and white gold, 2½ x 4"

Niello is a method of decorating silver or gold objects by filling incisions on the metal with a paste made of copper, silver, lead, and a small bit of borax and heating it until the amalgam flows. Fike's first niello experiment in 1947 generated noxious fumes and caused the evacuation of the entire arts building. Regardless, his resulting brooch, inlayed with niello, earned him an A, won him his first award, and convinced the head of the department to install a much needed exhaust system. Fike said he "rapidly became known among craftsmen for his success with this difficult process … [because] no one had ever seen it used in a contemporary mode."

Phillip Fike earned his Master of Science degree in 1951 from the University of Wisconsin. His graduate show included niello work, engraving, fine wire work, and carved and inlaid ebony brooches, pendants, and small sterling silver castings. One abstract sculpture Swimmer depicted a begoggled figure, limbs akimbo, joyously navigating underwater. To achieve this pose with limited casting facilities he cast it in six parts and brazed it together.

After graduation, Fike worked at Liberty Powder Defense Corporation in Badgerville, Wisconsin. From 1951 to 1953 he supervised the machine milling of rocket ammunition cruciform to precisely controlled tolerances. At the end of each day he walked back across the road, to the studio he had set up in the bathroom of his house, to create a portfolio of metalwork and ornaments which he hoped would establish his reputation and secure him a college level teaching position.

In 1953 Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit, Michigan, hired Fike to replace retiring English silversmith Arthut Nevill Kirk. Kirk, who taught at Wayne from 1933 to 1953, had influenced several generations of metalsmiths in the Detroit area since his appointment to Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1927. Because of Cass Technical High School, Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, the Michigan Silversmiths Guild, and Wayne University, an astounding number of people were studying jewelry and silversmithing. From 1948 to 1953 between twenty-one and forty-one percent of the entries in the annual Exhibition for Michigan Artist-Craftsmen at the Detroit Institute of Arts were classified "Metalwork" (on average eighty-one pieces per year). it is no wonder Fike described Detroit at the time of his arrival as a "hotbed of major metalsmithing."

Cloud Comb Seeded, 1977, mild steel, gold, silver, 3¼ x 6⅜ x 6⅛"

Detroit proved a potent brew. For forty-five years Fike's teaching position at Wayne University placed him within the "rich and varied life of the university," and within walking distance of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, the Detroit Historical Museum, and the Detroit Public Library, and a few miles away from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. And, to earn much needed extra income Fike transferred his mechanical drawing and tool and die skills to Detroit's automotive and defense industries.

Fike's first job at Designing Service Corporation from 1953 to 1955 was lathe cutting jigs and fixtures for the U. S. Air Force's B-52 bomber. Immediately, he acquired his own lathe and applied this process to the creation of his one piece Cavex Cuff Links. In a strikingly similar swords into plowshares transformation in the 1880's "a New Jersey jeweler and inventor, bought a machine [likely a swagger] that had made cartridge shells during the Civil War… [and] patented an adaptation of it for the manufacture of collar buttons and one-piece cuff links." Fike designed his cuff links to resemble buttons when worn. Employing silver, gold, niello, and exotic woods, he made countless variations of "dumbbell" and cast "U" shape version, before arriving at his most widely acclaimed lathe turned pair, comprised of discs of 14k gold and ebony or sometimes granadilla wood. Each slice was graduated in size, drilled, tapped, and stacked one on top of the other onto a threaded gold shaft forming a catenoid or double ended funnel. Fike's aerodynamically re-configured dumbbell variants were strikingly unique. They have been described as "the purest form of problem solving … this wonderful simple form that cut to the heart … getting down the essentials, making it work, and making it visually compelling at the same time." Fike is quoted as saying "When you bring engineering and aesthetics, or meaning, together as one - bare naked - you've got something powerful!" Their bold profile, lack of mechanisms, and graphically precise inlays won awards, and came to embody his work in the 1950's. Forty years later they remain fresh and demonstrate Fike's genius for straddling the centuries - one foot firmly planted in historical precedent, and the other stepping forcefully into the future.

Flower Fibula, (inverted spring coil mechanism), 1980, mild steel, sterling, gold, 2½ x 1⅝ x 6⅝"

Fike's passion for integrating mechanisms is best seen in his unceasing obsession with the fibula, another body ornament that holds fabric in place. Fike began serious study of fibulae in 1965 during a sabbatical to study the collections of the museums in Rome and Florence. Seven years earlier in 1948 the Detroit Institute of Arts had mounted an Exhibition of Ancient Italic and Etruscan Art including three gold and six bronze fibulae. The DIA provided Fike with a letter of introduction that allowed him to handle, photograph, and extensively study fibulae in Italian museums. "It was then that I woke up to the fact that the fibula was such a great clasp, especially the Etruscan (Vulci, c. 700 B. C. E.). I came away saying I would devote the rest of my metalworking life to the study and making of them."

Phillip Fike researched, recreated, and reinterpreted the structures and mechanics of fibulae when he made Experimental Bow Formations with Seven Text Fibulae in gold, gold-filled sterling silver, brass, bronze, stainless steel, iron, niello, and ebony. As Heikki Seppa noted, "… most of us made those fibula, but he [Fike] kept on making them in ever varying ways [and now] … he has the advantage of knowing the function of the fibula, whereas in the historical writings it was never even mentioned." And he wondered if it was possible to create a fibula "so important to the garment that when a lady takes it off she is naked?" Eventually, he succeeded in unraveling the mystery of how to wind the inverted spring coil as seen in Flower Fibula.

By the mid 1960s Fike was also combining his interest in interlocking ring sets, wide pierced wedding bands, and juxtaposing multiple colors of gold. For this he devised a bi-metal casting process using 14k white, yellow, red, and 24k gold. He realized that by not brazing the metals together after they were cast, he could preserve the visually crisp edges of the castings, thus arriving at his unique Interlocking Wedding Bands. Made on commission, they ranged from geometric to organic reflecting the personality of the individual client. Each ring was made of two, three, and even four pieces that separated then locked back in place, in only one way, to create a Gimmal or Puzzle Ring. Through these pieces Fike again revealed his genius for solving both aesthetic and technical issues with highly satisfying mechanical innovations.

Untitled: Three Individual Wedding Rings, (one dis-assembled, two inter-fitted), 1965-1997 14k white and yellow gold, 3⅛ x 5/16"

Like many contemporary American jewelers, Fike explored wire and kinetic through his fibulae, neck pendants, and ear ornaments. He favored precision and bringing wire to its extreme. He would draw it to an exceedingly fine gauge, end it in a weighty ball, wrap it around a form, or forge it to its widest, longest, thinnest possible state. The Orbiters ear ornaments were so precisely balanced that once they started rotating they continued to spin, silently, almost musically, for two or more minutes. The fine gauge gold wire in his Bar Suspended Wheaters ear ornaments were planished to a thin foil. By rendering the work down to its essence "he [Fike] lets it breathe" and exist as its most exquisite self.

Although metal and glass are pyrotechnical cousins few goldsmiths explore both mediums. Like René Lalique, Fike was led through research in metal to innovation in glass. Fike received his first brief but infectious introduction to glass in 1962, at Harvey Littleton's earliest hot glass shop in Verona Wisconsin. After that he said "it seemed absolutely essential that I do some serious work in glass." The opportunity came in 1969-70 on an exchange with the University of California-Berkeley, where he first concentrated his training and research in glassblowing techniques with Marvin Lipofsky and others. His Blown Birds series of ovoid glass forms resembled breasts with nipples. To make them rock and jiggle and to conceal the punting scar left in the glass, Fike took molds of the undersides of the glass forms and cast a bronze bottom for each one. Eventually, he was forced to retain his focus exclusively on metal, though not without making a contribution to glass: he discovered that metal powders would adhere to hot glass when applied with a eutectic spray welder used in the auto industry.

While participating in Brent Kington's 1974 Iron Workshop at Fort Collins, Colorado, FIke "… finally woke up to the real truth that you can't ever have been much of a metalsmith if you weren't an iron worker." After establishing an iron forge at Wayne State University he said "I felt on track and the presence of the forge in the shop turns the place into a kind of temple." A particularly important piece from his iron period is Woven Pectoral Ornament, in which Fike hot hammer forged four full leech forms that rapidly decrease in thickness and are woven together to form a flexible collar. This gimmal of iron tendrils is so masterfully resolved it appears to have grown in place. Pencil drawings for this piece reveal studied and precise measurements in thousandths of an inch to calculate the tapers. It is a fine example of the grace and fluidity attainable in those rare encounters when a master goldsmith manipulates hot iron.

Fike liked pairing his Maiden, a pewter and granadilla wood teapot with Knight, his pewter, ebony, and gold teapot/pitcher so they could converse and create a charged atmosphere by association. The Knight is angular and erect, his Maiden is sinuous, bulbous, and suggestive. Fike shaped and carved these unabashedly male and female forms in hard wood and then married them to his metal work. He obviously enjoyed shaping wood as much as he did metal. His repeated practice of precisely stacking, inlaying, and laminating wood and metal in striped, tiled, diamond, and spinal cord type formations is the approach of a (wood) lapidarist. He considered himself a structuralist, allowing the form and the surface of a piece to reflect the process used in its making.

This system of designing was applied to countless variations of cuff links, pendants, fibulae, and several Academic Maces from the mid 1950s to the mid 1980s. The maces, descendants of the medieval battle club, were his largest and conceptually most complex works, "…endowed with symbols and a powerful presence, inspiring the spectator with evidence that human values of high purpose are protected." The Wayne State University Mace, executed between 1981 and 1984, measures fifty-one inches long, and was comprised of 134 discs of carved ebony and bronze designed to rotate in seemingly endless random edge cut patterns.

While concurrently exploring other techniques, Fike continued his niello work throughout his career. This led to artistic innovation, the invention of specific tools, and a totally successful method of pouring his lustrous blue-black niello formula. Single-handedly he brought this process to life for American metalsmiths through workshops, and through the creation of his contemporary ornament. On a sabbatical in 1977 Fike spent time at the British Museum researching the history, the art, and the artist/goldsmiths who were niellists in 14th, 15th, and early 16th century Europe. He considered this research to be the most important of his career, and it prompted him to engrave the Niello Compendium. "The compendium describes formulae, manufacture and application of niello … it is a poetic dialogue of select words revealing intimate process with fire, substances and tools." It is engraved with a burin assisted by a stereo zoom microscope on a four by six inch plate of sterling silver. He described it as a "technical treatise … a rare and poetic version … hopefully touching and flowing mystically." Since niello is so closely associated with the invention of printmaking, it seemed fitting that Fike intended to pull an edition of prints "to secure his formulae and procedures, and to assure the continuance and spirit of alchemy." Before sealing it in niello.

Duck Fibula, (unfinished), 1996-97, cast 14k, 4⅜ x 1⅝ x 1". Photograph by Jerry Anthony

Fike transmitted the importance of metalsmithing as a venue for making art and ornament. He spoke slowly, deliberately, eloquently, almost religiously, of the history, principles, practices, and powers of metalsmiths. His reverence for creativity, discovery, and the importance of personal quests was communicated to both new and advanced students. In 1983 he became the only member of the art faculty at Wayne State University to receive the college's "President's Award for Excellence in Teaching." "People have said I am a gifted with being a fine born teacher. It is a marvelous pleasure when you are in the presence of a student as they awaken to a concept … when someone's life has been changed…"

Fike estimated he taught over 3500 university students in his nearly forty-five years at Wayne. He introduced thousands more to Niello, The Comb, Fetishes, and the Ancient Clasps and Fibulae at lectures, workshops, and conferences throughout the country. Fike also spread his word further through his "handouts." These typed and hand printed missives on many topics were updated and revised many times. They were valued for their information, wit, wisdom, and provocative questions and they continue to be passed around by former students and colleagues. He had all kinds of rules. The "Rule of Three" (no artistic breakthroughs before the third try); "Painting is an Easy Art" (compared to metalsmithing); and "When in Doubt Use a Pearl" (a practice he regarded as the metalsmiths most common sin) are just three examples.

Maiden, (a teapot pitcher), 1980-1987, pewter and granadilla wood, 5⅜ x 3⅜ x 10½"

"The Ultimate Bench Pin" handout extolled the wooden bench pin as an essential multi-purpose tool that must be made by the metalsmith in scale with their own hand. He considered it the generative focal point of the metalsmith's workbench, and necessary for the fertilization of craftsmanship. The first assignment he gave his students was to saw, file, and shape their own pin. (Fike made his first around 1957). Although he described it as "a noble tool, even in its simplest form," his pins often looked baroque. He believed it should function from all sides, and when mounted with a sturdy C-clamp, be rock solid and strong enough to stand on (both literally and figuratively). Fike's Ultimate Bench Pin in tandem with his Laptop Anvil enabled him to work, travel, and teach almost anywhere; on an airplace, in a hotel room, or in the back of a van. Fike's "never be without your tools" philosophy is in full force in his tongue in cheek, All Sixteen Up Front, a neck collar sawblade container, each tube containing a dozen jeweler's sawblades. Created for the Great Sawblade Container Competition, it was awarded the Grand Prize and exhibited at the Museum of Art in Toronto, Canada in 1985. It is representative of Fike's shared exuberance and zest for wit, invention, and mixed media.

For many summers Fike traveled to Ox-bow Summer School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan to teach small metal sculpture. Established in 1910 as an artists' retreat, Fike often referred to it as his "spiritual home". There he and countless other artists gathered to rest, recharge, and cross pollinate. Still, his home base was always the commodious metal studios at Wayne University in Detroit. Fike maintained the studios as though they were his own, because they were. It may have been their classroom, but it was his only studio. "[Phillip] understood very, very early … that if you are teaching something you have to grow at the same time, and sometimes even a bad experiment turns out to be very good, because there was that fine seed of advancement and discovery going on."

Many of Fike's students have sustained and extended his vision through their work in the marketplace, industry, and academia. Stanley Lechtzin, a student of Fike's from 1956-1960, spoke of Fike's "sense of artistic integrity …[and how] he communicated very clearly the value of innovation, originality, finding one's own mode, and the necessity to establish it as quickly as possible." His example "has led many to develop a stronger philosophical base for their own work."

Experimental Bow Formations (with seven test Fibulae), 1965-1990, stainless steel, brass, and goldfilled wire, ebony, Average 1 x 4 x 2". Photograph by Jerry Anthony

Throughout his life the multi-faceted Fike was a performer to the core. As a child he played violin for twelve years. He wrote poetry, sang opera, performed as a semi-professional folk singer, and co-founded the Michigan Classical Guitar Society. In metalsmithing circles he became legendary for his scholarly lectures delivered with a straight face, while wearing a Viking's helmet, an iron Cobra-snake headdress, or a gold Mayan nose ornament. Stories abound of his splitting the air with his notorious imitation of a lion's roar to unsettle and penetrate a classroom, or silence a crowded restaurant. His unrealized dream was to forge, tune, and then perform upon a Jew's Harp, all before an audience.

Phillip Fike clearly is both a product of and contributor to the abundance of metalsmithing in the Great Lakes region - what I now consider "The North" or "The Third Coast." Wisconsin's early leadership in crafts due to the efforts of Miss Evelyn Bauman, Emil Kronquist, Elsa Ulbricht, Madeleine Tourtelot, the Milwaukee Vocational School, the Wisconsin Designer Craftsmen Society, and the Milwaukee Handicraft Project, (which shifted the focus of the federal WPA programs towards crafts) and many others spawned a wave of talented artists, metalsmiths, teachers, writers, curators, patrons, and industrial designers.

Fike upheld Scandinavian Modern standards of craftsmanship, while studying the ancient masterworks. Without the advantage of the eons he sought to decipher and build upon the past. "You can't get a big head when you compete with the masters… much of their mastery is impossible to achieve, and one must simply praise the greatness of the past." He repeated processes endlessly, until they became effortless, until they "flowed". "Only when everything is flow can you get in harmony with the plastic possibilities of your tool. Only at that point is there the possibility of bringing it to new territory, and making it your own."

Economic necessity compelled Fike to hone his skills in the defense and automotive industries. As a result, he was one of the first contemporary American studio jewelers to reject naïve, crude workmanship and instead execute subtle feats of engineering. The university environment fueled his intellectual curiosity, and propelled his research and understanding of metalsmithing. Rather than ransack history he chose to pick up where they left off. Early on, he established a sure-footed method of working and he adhered to it faithfully. His slow, studied, incremental growth, built upon the classics and compounded over fifty years proved to be his most potent formula.

Niello Compendium, 1977-78, sterling plate, 65/100 x 511/16 x 3⅞", Photograph by Jerry Anthony

Phillip George Fike's philosophical underpinnings, long range vision, deep commitment to research, and interest in technology created a uniquely American brand of metal work and ornament; work which is reflective of its time and place, yet saturated with historical understanding and artistic vision. His taste for structural purity, coupled with hi Wisconsin roots, assured he was a original through and through, a never repeatable amalgam of artist, engineer, metalsmith, scholar, teachers, and communicator.

His last piece, in progress at the time of his death, harks back to his first. Duck Fibula seems to say it all. It calls attention to the noble fibula, the amazingly versatile duck, and the sure hand of a master metalsmith. "The duck is special because it can walk on the land, swim in the water, feed under water, fly in the air, migrate intercontinentally, and mate for life". Even unfinished, cast in 14k gold, the sight of this piece made me catch my breathe, just as I did when I saw my very first and still unforgettable Etruscan duck fibula, dusted in granulation in a museum in Rome. Like the Etruscans Fike learned so much from, the artist revered all living forms and shared a deep kinship with them. It seems fitting that the amazingly multi-talented duck, just like Fike, should march on forever after on the rib of his final fibula.

Fike cultivated a deep sense of wonder for the vast and mysterious continuum of which we all are a part. He dedicated his metalsmithing career to advancing our understanding of niello, the fibula, the inverted spring coil, the comb, bi-metal casting, and the sheer beauty of engineering. The farther he looked back in time, the greater he could see forward, instinctively sensing that one needs to know history in order to create it.

Phillip Fike deserves to claim his place among metalsmithing's Modern Masters. His work will continue to inspire generation after generation of metalsmiths. They should be allowed the opportunity to see and handle his work, just as I did his, and as he did the Etruscan works that inspired his life's work. In a speech at the 1981 SNAG conference he said "I wish to thank all of my forebears, or those mysterious forces back there, and now all of the new Gods, or whatever these life surging qualities can be called, for saving me to have this time in orbits."

"It shall become clear that I am fated, and consequently so [are] my interested associates, to be unable to say or write what I profess to know the same identical way as time proceeds. The individual caught up in this art and its practice may use this information freely, with my wish being only that they give generous latitude to alchemy herein. May the adventurous prevail and be shared by all." - Phillip Fike

The author wishes to thank Fike's many friends, colleagues, and current and former students, who agreed to be interviewed, and the librarians and archivists who assisted in this project, and in particular Marian Pritchard.

Jan Yager is a fulltime artist/metalsmith living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  1. This same alliteration "slipped off the tongues of students" every time Albert Paley showed Fike's slides to his students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, c. 1970. Author's conversation with Sharon Church, March 3, 1997.
  2. Author's taped conversations with Phillip Fike, April-October 1997.
  3. Author's conversation with Mary Ann Scherr, May 1997.
  4. Philip Morton, Contemporary Jewelry: A Craftsman's Handbook, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1970), p. 37.
  5. Author's conversations with Phillip Fike.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Cass Technical High School had three metals teachers (Greta Pack, Louise Green, and Mary Davis) in 1936 when Harry Bertoia graduated with a scholarship to go to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts School. He then won one to Cranbrook Academy of Art where he re-established Kirk's shop and began to teach metalwork in 1939. (Bertoia's Chronology).
  9. Author's conversations with Phillip Fike.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Susan Jones Marilyn Nissenson, Cuff Links, (New York, 1991), 13.
  12. Author's taped conversations with Fred Fenster, June 6, 1997.
  13. Charles Sercombe, The Citizen, (Hamtramck, Michigan. Feb. 5, 1987).
  14. Author's conversations with Phillip Fike.
  15. Author's conversation with Heikki Seppa, June 4, 1997
  16. Gary Griffin, Taped interview with Phillip Fike, 1973, Tyler School of Art, Metalsmith Archives, Elkins Park, PA.
  17. George Frederick Kunz, Rings for the Finger (1945), pp. 219-220.
  18. Author's conversation with Sharon Church.
  19. Author's conversations with Phillip Fike.
  20. Robert L. Cardinale, Copper 2. The Second Copper, Brass, and Bronze Exhibition, (Tucson: University of Arizona Museum of Art, 1980(, pp. 18-19.
  21. Phillip Fike, Artist Statement, (April 9, 1996).
  22. Phillip FIke, Notes with the Photograph, (November 1997).
  23. Author's conversation with Fike.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid,
  26. Fike's "Ultimate Bench Pin Handout".
  27. Author's taped interview with Heikki Seppa.
  28. Author's taped interview with Stanley Lechtzin and Vicki Sedman, (March 21, 1997).
  29. Stanley Lechtzin, "My Teacher- A Tribute" (December 11, 1997). Read at a service honoring Fike in Detroit, Michigan, December 11.
  30. Author's conversations with Fike.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Phillip Fike speech at SNAG Conference, (1981).
  33. Phillip FIke, Niellow Workshop Handout, (Portland Maine, November, 1990)
By Jan Yager
Metalsmith Magazine – 1998 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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