Blog

"Are we outside?" Our relationship to everything else

The Sleeping Lady

The Sleeping Lady

This winter I had the opportunity to see "The Sleeping Lady". This is a small ceramic figurine found in Malta in the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a prehistoric underground burial site.  She is dated between 3600-2500 bc.  This sculpture is snapshot of a person from this planet, our same home, who lived more then 4500 years ago. Her face, her hair, her shape helps us to see these people. Her body position and the visible strain of her weight on the bed give us clues to how the artist thought. The construction of the bed and the pattern of her skirt along with the figurine itself give us insight to the tools and techniques used. How were these sculptures made? What was life like for these people? These artifacts give us a little peek into the world that existed thousands of years ago.

Are we outside?

I live in rural Humboldt county. My house is on a dirt road and when you go outside you are standing on dirt, or rocks ,or grass and looking at trees. I grew up in San Francisco but my kids grew up  in the country. When my daughter was about two and a half years old we were visiting grandma in “the city”.  We went for a walk to the corner store. As we walked hand in hand down the street my daughter looked up at me and asked “ Are we outside?”. 

Are we outside? 

That is such a good question and it has dogged me ever since that day. How do we fit in this world? We have been here a long time. We have been drawing pictures and making sculptures for more then 50,000 years. That gives us occupancy of this place. We are indigenous. We are supposed to be here. The cement on the city sidewalk is just as natural as the haystack of wooden sticks that make up the woodrat’s nest behind my garden shed.

I know, I know, this sounds like an excuse for all of the shitty stuff that we have done and keep doing. That is not my intent. For goodness sake, because of us, now even the Dusky-footed woodrat is in trouble. 

 But I need to explore this connection. Everything here is made from the same building blocks. We can manipulate the elements but everything is constant. We are part of the closed system. 

When I take a piece of manufactured steel and forge it I feel like I am crossing time, reaching backwards to the place where  people dug iron oxide from the earth and melted it into iron. My goal for the next few months is to try to pull figurative art from manufactured steel by forging.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Victor Thomas Jacoby Award- Humboldt Area Foundation

 I am so excited to say that I have been chosen as one of the recipients of the Victor Thomas Jacoby Award by the Humboldt Area Foundation. Following is part of my application.

IMG_0082.JPG

I listen for the tone of the fire to drop when the metal is at a heat just below welding. The bar is white, glossy and almost dripping. Punch it, stretch it, twist it and meld it back into itself. If the alloy is old, smelted before 1920, the iron will split and tear showing the grain pattern of the faggoting and folding technique used to make it. Further heating and folding while changing the amounts of carbon and iron will create the beautiful pattern of Damascus steel. A sweet smell rises in the warm air as the metal turns from orange to red. The surface of scale peels and pops as it cools. There is a release of tension at a high heat that gathers itself back into a stiff and guarded solid when it falls below a thousand degrees. Cold steel is obstinate. Hot iron is soft and seductive. The iron and carbon are timeless.

Ancient iron hair pin 900bc

Ancient iron hair pin 900bc

Thousands of years ago humans began experimenting with carbon and iron. The ingenuity that has allowed us to turn a lump of iron into a skyscraper is the same resourcefulness and drive that is responsible for the rapidly expanding extinction of over a thousand other species, the over heating of the atmosphere and the acidification of the oceans. Humans are the most successful, ingenious and adaptive life form on the planet. Man, the tool maker. We evolved here. There is evidence of that. But there is also overwhelming evidence that we are doing irreparable damage here. The more we study ourselves and the world around us the more we learn how similar we are. Our DNA, the elements that make us, like carbon and iron, are common to every other thing in this universe. The only way forward is through a deeper understanding. I want to explore this.
I have done some experimenting with the vast possibilities offered by this medium in my architectural work but the exploration is always hampered by the needs of the job and client. If given this opportunity I will have the freedom to develop these ideas. I will be able to take the time to incorporate the amazing versatility of the material into art pieces that will speak to our complicit relationship with what is going on here.

If you are in Eureka tomorrow please come by.

If you are in Eureka tomorrow please come by.

The Whole Shaped The Parts

IMG_8798.jpg

What is it for? I love it when someone asks that question about a piece I have made. Yes, what is it for? Why did you make it? At first I was happy just making things. Things that have an obvious function. But blacksmithing is an unusual craft. It is a skill of discovery. The metal will do almost anything. It is incredibly strong. It will take the form of skin, bones, water or stone.

Steel is made up of carbon and iron. Carbon is the forth most abundant element in the universe by mass. It is a common element of all known life, the second most abundant element in the human body. Carbon is the ultimate shape shifter. It is responsible for the hardest and the softest natural materials known. It is stardust. Iron is the most abundant element on earth by mass. Dig iron ore from the earth, apply enough heat and it becomes metallic iron. Different processes and different eras dictate its strength, softness and texture. 

sunflower.JPG

In a mechanical system the parts shaped the whole while in an organic system the whole shaped the parts. goethe

I walk around outside and I see all of this beauty erupting everywhere. How intentional is it? Does a tree concentrate on the fibonacci sequence when it sends out leaves?  No, it just happens. Call it what you will, it is life on this planet. I am life too. I must have, inherent in myself,  the ability to create beauty. We all do.

I want the iron and carbon to show me that I belong here. That I am part of the natural system. But I am a form of life on this planet that has intention so I have to assume that my intention, my determination, my purpose is going to play some part in the beauty or interest that I generate.

Yes, you must take the next step.

No matter where you are or what you have done, your only option is to take the next step. Steps and stairs are mysterious, exciting and troubling. I have begun a series to explore this idea. In this series I am making the steps so that they are removable and can be rearranged. You must take the next step but you do have some options as to where and when. These two examples combine pieces of steel in its manufactured state with forged connections. I want to couple the ingenuity of industrial steel with my basic instinct and the material's natural reaction to my hammer.

 

 

 Click here to see more of these sculptures

 

First Step

First Step

Second Step

Second Step

The Artist Blacksmith

In the steep meadow, trees cast long shadows across the path in the early morning light. Far off, below an abundance of blue sky, three black cows walk away from me in descending order by size.  They walk on the path through the broad field of tall golden white brittle grass followed by a hanging cloud of brown dust.

I could have taken a picture. There was something beautiful about the scene. I was riding my bike and thinking about different ways of communicating. The wind flowing over me on a warm summer day, I didn’t want to stop. I can take a picture with words. We speak the same language. I can put words together from my memory that will describe the scene. But will you see the scene as I saw it? 

I am a blacksmith. I forge items from iron and steel. How do I talk to you through a three dimensional hand forged object? Asking this question defines the artist blacksmith. Taking the step from communicating with words to communicating through an object takes observation and intention. In thinking about this picture in my mind of rolling hills, of dry grass, I realized that it was the grass itself, the oat straw, that always caught my eye. The long thin stalk bending with the weight of the oat seeds catches the light and seems to defy gravity. This is where I begin. With an image and a feeling. From there I go to the anvil.