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Starting off with Enamels: Part 2

Cloisonne enamel on copper with enamel stones and silver chain.

Cloisonne enamel on copper with enamel stones and silver chain.

This was the final project of my first metals class: enameling. As someone completely new to metals, even simple things like drilling and sawing out interior shapes had a sharp learning curve, but I loved metals so intensely and so instantly that even the most mundane things were less like work and more like exciting revelations.

This was the first piece in a series that feature spinal columns and sacra, often combined with dragonfly wings. I have had problems with my spine for years, but this particular year the problems multiplied. I badly bruised my spine and threw out my back by slamming into the pointed corner of a steel dumpster, and the x-rays from that incident revealed undiagnosed scoliosis and the beginnings of degenerative disc disease. Several other friends and acquaintances were also struggling with back issues, and later that year one passed away from complications with spinal fusion. Unsurprisingly, the imagery found its way into my work as I attempted to work through these emotions.

I combined the spines with dragonfly wings because I felt like I was looking for an escape, and in my mind the wings represented the idea of some relief from these issues. By combining enamel with metal, I wanted to create a piece that was at the same time strong but fragile, only needing one sharp shock to send it crumbling to pieces. For me, this dynamic perfectly represented the feeling I had of constantly hanging on by a thread, of being so close to physical ruin at any given moment, and how beautiful the hope of rising above it all can be in those situations.

Starting off with Enamels

Cloisonne enamel on copper with silver chain.

Cloisonne enamel on copper with silver chain.

Cloisonne enamel on copper with silver chain.

Cloisonne enamel on copper with silver chain.

Cloisonne enamel on copper with silver chain.

Cloisonne enamel on copper with silver chain.

A few years ago, when I was in the last semester of my BA degree, I took a metals class to fill my final elective requirement and I was instantly hooked. Even though it would mean staying an additional two years beyond the graduate program I had just been accepted into, I decided I had to continue to pursue metals. I had found what I was truly passionate for.

My first metals class was Enameling, with an amazing and inspirational French woman named Elise Preiss. With a former background in painting and drawing, enameling was a medium where I could not only integrate my experience with line, color, and imagery, but also begin a gentle transition into three-dimensional work while still keeping one foot planted in my two-dimensional comfort zone.

Enameling is a process by which glass is fused to a metal surface by heating enamel powder in a kiln. The silver or copper cloisonné wires are fused to the ground coat of enamel, and then additional layers are wet-packed on top until the enamel reaches the height of the cloisonné wire. After stoning the enamel down to a flat, even surface, the piece is flash-fired to quickly re-gloss the surface.

I worked on all three of these pendants simultaneously, although only two share similar imagery. The first two have power lines and telephone poles, to represent different feelings that living in an urban environment can inspire. The final pendant was an representation of a nuclear cloud.

Health and Wealth

Cast silver and bronze spikes and syringes on a silver rod.

Cast silver and bronze spikes and syringes on a silver rod.

Back of necklace. Cast silver and bronze spikes and syringes on a silver rod.

Back of necklace.
Cast silver and bronze spikes and syringes on a silver rod.

This piece was one of the last I created before I entered graduated school, and it was one of the biggest projects I ever undertook, with a total of fifty cast pieces. Having spent a large part of my life dealing with illness of varying degrees, and the last year in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices, I wanted to create a piece that explored the system of inequality that runs rampant in modern privatized medicine.

To create this piece, I first molded a syringe using silicone ear bud material, to create a mold that I could pour hot wax into to create hollow-backed syringe forms. Using those waxes, I created syringes of various lengths, and used them to cast the silver syringes and a small bronze syringe. I used a vulcanized rubber mold to mold the smallest syringes and spikes, so that I could create lots of multiples using a wax injector. I added the tubes in wax before casting to cut down on soldering and finishing times. Once all was said and done, all that was left was a massive amount of clean up and to cap off the end of the rod with jump rings and an s-hook closure, from which dangled a chain with additional syringes and spikes.

I wanted the piece to have the feeling of a noose tightening around your neck, because I believe that there is no positive end to the situation we find ourselves in with for-profit health care.