Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Potter USA Machine Shop- Tucson

About a year ago I founded the Facebook group "Metalsmiths Unite!", partially as a way to feel connected to my community and partially as a reaction to feeling "left out" at a metalsmithing event. Thankfully, my bruised feelings mended quickly and I decided to take Metalsmiths Unite in a positive direction: more about creating community than griping about it.

Along the way, my little pet project has grown to a viable international community of over 260 members. Most members are Metalsmiths, some are glass lampworkers, some are business owners, collectors, enthusiasts, and students. And then there are the Machinists...working with tools as big as wildebeasts, making tools , sculpture and jewelry in their wonderful grease monkey way.....(I say that lovingly)

Speaking of machinists......Yesterday, I went to pick up my new Hydraulic press that I purchased from Kevin Potter, a member of Metalsmiths Unite!

I've been wanting a press for a long time, and have even gone so far as to purchase one from Rio, only to back out of it a day later (it was on backorder) and buy metals instead. At that time, I didn't have any time to play with new tools, and I figured that gold was gold, so I traded materials. (very strange, by the way that a small piece of 18 k is equivalent to such a big and heavy tool!)

I met Kevin through a jeweler friend, Craig Dabler (a prominent Tucson jeweler), who brought Kevin into the Metalsmiths Unite! fold, and introduced him to me at my recent open studio. 
While at my open studio we started talking about making pancake dies to cut some of my designs....it took me a few months to be ready for them, but a few weeks ago I met with Kevin at his machine shop to see his shop and make an order. ( I know,
 I could make the die myself, but at his price it was much more sensible to phone it in.) 

This was a test run for him to make these dies: he has a friend who is a hot rodder and cad draftsman who put the files together, and they sent them to another friend who has a plasma (or was it laser?) cutter. In any case, the experiment in die making was greatly successful, and I now have a new set of dies for some of my flat designs. So happy!

Kevin is primarily working as an independent machinist these days,
 working out of his own shop. But his development as a toolmaker also included years of study at the University of Arizona's (now defunct) metals department. He worked for many years as a gallery Jeweler, mostly working with Gold and precious stones. This training has given him the unique angle of understanding how jewelry tools work and what Jewelers and Metalsmiths need for tools in a small shop.
(above, My favorite tool in Kevin's shop, a 1940's milling machine that I have dubbed "the Rhinoceros")

His Jewelry tool production includes a nifty small scale Hydraulic press (because let's face it, do you really need a 50 ton press in your small shop?) he makes forming stakes, leather shot bags , chasing tools, and of course dies for the press.He will be marketing much of his tools through Otto Frei. (he is at the SNAG conference in Philly this week, showcasing his tools)

Thanks Kevin for becoming a member of Metalsmiths Unite! (and thank you for making sensible tools for my small shop!) If you see him at the SNAG conference, be sure and say hello from me-
ciao- Maureen BZ 
metalsmith/ designer 
"Cosmo's Moon"
and founder

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tuareg Jewelry event

Last week I went to an event here in Tucson that was put together by Yvonne Foucher, owner of Cata Vino's wine shop, and member of Local First, Tucson. The featured artist/group Tuaregjewelry.com was represented by their US representative, AnnElston. I was lucky enough to find a gorgeous pair of silver earrings for my collection. It is rare for me to purchase jewelry; I usually wear my work only..(like a walking billboard)... But these pieces were truly remarkable, and I knew immediately that I wanted to have a sample of the amazing technique and "soft geometry" of the designs. 

here is an image of my sample pair- remarkably, they are Hollow, and not soldered.. the piece is cut and folded into it's box shape- I believe (based on their weight) that there must be a small piece of wood in the core, to keep the light gauge silver from collapsing. I'm going to do a little research to find out if this is a technique that the Tuareg metalsmiths employ 
(I'll let you know when I find out)
in any case, these are made with stamping and repousse techniques: (with hammers and broken screwdrivers and files, as told by their rep...sounds right to me!)
repous |rəˌpoōˈsā|
adjective(of metalwork) hammered into relief from the reverse side.nounornamental metalwork fashioned in this way.ORIGIN mid 19th cent.French, literally ‘pushed back,’ past participle of repousserfrom re- (expressing intensive force) + pousser ‘to push.’

As a bonus piece, I was given a fantastic deal on a gorgeous hand sewn leather piece, which is a smaller version of the Tuareg sleep mats (mine is the size of a pillow). The hand tooling and design of this piece astounded me. I feel fortunate to have it, and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to hold many more beautiful metalworks at the event.

You never know what opportunities arise, and I am so glad that I took time out of my busy day to be in the presence of such amazing craftsmanship.


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