Making Molds of Makkeweks

makkeweks molds1Garrett McLean makes molds of Makkeweks at Berkeley’s Artworks Foundry

I hadn’t realized how attached I had become to the Makkeweks until we took her apart and loaded her up on a flatbed for delivery to Berkeley. The studio seemed suddenly huge and empty, and the sculpture looked kind of sad and nervous on the back of the truck. Moving her was nerve wracking for me too. I had designed the sculpture to break down, and engineered an armature to retain the shape in transit,  but did not know how compressed cork would hold up under the stress of backroads bumps and highway vibration.

makkeweks molds2The underside of the head was the first part of the sculpture to receive molds.

The sculpture survived the journey to Artworks Foundry unharmed, and I immediately set to making final adjustments to the shape and texture. The foundry wasted no time making molds, carefully marking alignments, planning part lines, and cutting the cork pattern into manageable sections. After about a week working on site, we passed final approval with the City of Oakland, and left Makkeweks to be cast in bronze.

To read more about the development of Makkeweks for the City of Oakland, please click here and scroll down.

 

 

 

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Spinnradl: Final Assembly and Installation

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Verdin and Reuge work together to mount the music box.

In many ways, Spinnradl has been our most challenging and rewarding project to date. All of our projects as Wowhaus involve a degree of collaboration, but Spinnradl has been the most collaborative on several levels. All of our projects involve a degree of community engagement, artisanry and technical innovation, but Spinnradl sets a new bar on all fronts. We are very grateful to Artworks Cincinnati for inviting us to realize such a robust project and for supporting us so thoughtfully throughout the process over the past year and a half.

I spent the week before last working with the talented crew at the Verdin Company in Cincinnati, assembling and installing the sculptures. We hired Verdin to engineer and fabricate the sculpture’s housing and internal gearing. Verdin has been making clocks and bells in Cincinnati since 1842, and we designed the sculptures around their manufacturing capabilities, knowing that their presence in the Pendleton neighborhood would lead to obvious synergies. Verdin was also responsible for installation, and for coordination with other manufacturers who we had hired to fabricate other components. Indeed, one of the subtexts of the project has been working in collaboration with traditional, craft-based manufacturers, each over 100 years old.

Everything fit together perfectly.

Everything fit together perfectly.

I originally contacted Swiss-based Reuge, the world’s premier music box manufacturer, seeking consultation on building such a large music box. They loved the project and immediately offered to engineer and construct the music-making components at cost. Reuge collaborated with Verdin across the Atlantic, across languages and systems of measurement to produce the music boxes housed within the sculptures. The three engineers who designed and built the components traveled to Cincinnati to assist with assembly and installation. I acted as translator when necessary, dusting off my French as best I could. It helped that I had met two of the engineers when I traveled to Switzerland at the beginning phases of the project.

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Drawing on extensive community outreach and research into the history of the neighborhood, Ene designed the ceramic tiles mounted quilt-like to the sculpture’s exterior panels. Rookwood Pottery hand-carved the designs into relief on the tiles, creating custom glazes according to our color specifications. Rookwood has been making high quality Arts and Crafts inspired ceramics in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood since 1880, and it was very satisfying having them work collaboratively with Verdin for the first time.

I will be writing more about the stories behind the sculptures themselves soon. I should have a video clip and images from the dedication ceremony available to share as well. Meanwhile, click here to read an excellent article announcing the Spinnradl dedication, with info about the community engagement process, or click here and scroll down to read my previous posts. You can also see a slide show from the dedication ceremony by clicking here.

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Team Reuge traveled from Switzerland.

Team Reuge traveled from Switzerland.

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Spinnradl Update

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2 custom music boxes with 20″ D drums, made in Switzerland by Reuge (phote: Reuge)

Next week I travel to Cincinnati to supervise the assembly and installation of our Spinnradl sculptures, which were commissioned last year by Artworks Cincinnati.  It’s very exciting to see all of the pieces falling into place. I can hardly believe what we’ve all accomplished over the past year, and can’t wait to see the sculptures installed along Pendleton Street. The most challenging and rewarding part of the project has been working collaboratively in designing and fabricating the components with several highly skilled manufacturers, three of which are well over one hundred years old, and two of which are based in Cincinnati. Here is a glimpse of some of the components comprising the sculpture, with links to the companies who made them: (click here to read about the development of Spinnrald by wowhaus)

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(photo: Reuge)

The two music boxes, one for each of two sculptures, each play a different 30 second melody. Made and engineered by REUGE in collaboration with Nicolas Court, Jean-Michel Bolens, Cyril Glauser; Sainte-Croix  -  Switzerland, July 2014

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(photo: Verdin)

The two housings for the Spinnradl sculptures, including all interior gearing, were engineered and made by the Verdin Company in Cincinnati; Jack Klosterman, Tim Verdin, Tim Weitlauf and Larry Flores. Verdin will also install the sculptures.

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(photo: Verdin)

The tiles were custom made in Cincinnati by Rookwood Pottery, based upon Ene’s designs, which were inspired by dialogue with the community and research into the history of the neighborhood.

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(photo: KVO Industries) 

The 30″ D ceramic-enamel spinning dials for the radial Moire animations were made in California by KVO Industries, from patterns generated by Matthew Hausman.

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Makkeweks Progress Gallery

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Sculpting the eyes of the monster has been the biggest challenge, so I saved that task for last. The eyes carry the expression and are the only crisp-edged, anatomically-specific feature of the sculpture, so they are where a viewer’s eyes would naturally be drawn. The monster’s eyes need to reinforce the gesture of the body while also conveying what the creature is ‘thinking’. I knew I wanted the eyes to express a kind of serenity or wisdom but with an underlying menace, evoking the quiet confidence of predators in the wild. I also knew that the City was concerned not to display a scary creature, so gave it a kind of smile that could be interpretted many ways.

The other challenge about the eyes was to not make them too naturalistic. I want the sculpture to have an iconic, abstract, generalized kind of appeal, without being expressive or trying to resemble something real. The trick has been to provide enough specific detail to render something with presence and plausibility, something that invites close scrutiny and satisfies repeated viewings but not so much detail that it feels like a fake or a show of mastery. I want people to see it as a constructed thing but still have it communicate the feeling of an encounter with a being.

Today we received approval from the City of Oakland to proceed with delivery to the foundry, where we will connect all parts and complete all surface shaping and texturing. It’s been an intense month getting the scupture ready, and we’ve devised many experimental techniques working with cork. After shaping and faring the surface, we skim-coated the raw cork with exterior joint compound to even out the voids and make a pigskin-like surface. We then burnt a surface pattern with wood-burning irons, filled the burnt grooves with a plaster slurry, then sanded and stained the entire surface a neutral grey to ‘pop’ the surface. I’m very grateful to my crew of plasterer/texturers, including Ene, Aili, Leo Turpan (our June intern) and my old friend Matt. Here is a little gallery of images documenting the process: Continue Reading »

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Makkeweks, Ifukube, and the Return of the Ray

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I’ve flipped the creature and continue to rough out its topsides with my homemade saw

Carving is like controlled erosion. A shape emerges in response to the real and imagined forces that dictate how and where material is added and removed. My primary job as I sculpt the Makkeweks sea monster is to manage these forces, which, along with the sea monster itself, are largely my invention. My primary tools are various hand saws and abrasives, some of which I have designed and made specifically for carving and cutting compressed cork.

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Akira Ifukube, 1914-2006, composer of Godzilla soundtracks

Another essential tool is maintaining the appropriate state of mind to keep focus on the monster. I manage this two ways, one is cultural and the other natural. I have immersed myself in monster culture and listen to music composed by Akira Ifukube for the Godzilla movies between 1954-1975 while I carve. The son of a Shinto priest, Ifukube was originally trained in forestry and specialized in researching the elasticity of wood. His career in music followed exposure to radiation that left him physically incapable of the rigors of fieldwork. Somehow I can hear his experience with wood in his music. I feel a deep kinship with Ifukube, which I attribute to the love we must share for wood, music and monsters.

I also find inspiration in studying natural forms during our daily walks on the beach. It’s always thrilling to see pelicans dive, sea lions frolick in the surf, and the occasional breaching whale. I want the Makkeweks sculpture to convey the raw thrill of such encounters in the wild. The Makkeweks monster is a composite of native marine fauna, so I learn something new every day. I was recently extremely encouraged to hear of a bat ray sighting in Lake Merritt. I had anticipated this before the Lake was restored to a tidal estuary, and the possibility informed our conception of Makkeweks, whose name originates with an Ohlone sea monster myth.

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To learn more about the development of Wowhaus’ Makkeweks Project, click here.

 

 

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Makkeweks Progress

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The Makkeweks sea monster sculpture upside down, roughed out in stack-laminated cork

No matter the depth of scientific knowledge there will always be monsters. You don’t have to look very hard to find them. Politics, industry and information technology are a few obvious breeding grounds. I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters as I begin to carve my Makkeweks sea monster sculpture for the City of Oakland. Even the pile of new materials jamming the studio is a kind of monster. As I commence to carving the beast, I’m finding monsters to be a surprisingly apt metaphor for the age (as well as my mental state).

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Sketch showing the arrangement of laminations over the underlying, midsection form

The sculpture will be cast in bronze from a wax positive but I’m making the original out of solid cork. The material comes from the cork oak, Quercus suber, the word ‘cork’ being a corruption of the latin ‘quercus’. I’ve made stack laminations to rough out the shape of the sculpture from sheets of industrial cork from Portugal. The material cuts easily with a chain saw or cross cut handsaw, and carves beautifully with a wood rasp. The surface can be sanded very smooth, especially if skim coated with plaster. It can also be burned with irons to create detailed surface texture. I’ve begun to carve the underside/belly of the beast to put my tools and techniques to the test. The underside will not be very visible in the finished piece, so I’ll learn what works best before flipping the form to sculpt the top/back.

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I designed and made my own 26″ long rasp from expanded metal lath and 1 x 4′s

Unable to find a rasp long enough to make smooth contours over a large expanse, I designed and made my own. I discovered that expanded metal lath is sharp enough and has open enough voids to cut the cork aggressively. I bent a slight arc into a 26” length x 9” wide section of lath, bent the longwise edges to right angles at about 1.5” in from the ends and screwed the material around a 26” long 1 x 4, capped with a slightly narrower 1 x 4 for a grip. My invention works like a charm, and its weight makes for a steady swipe over the material for as long as my arms can bear it. The work is slow going but satisfying, a work out, and I am able to meditate on the monster as it takes shape.

I’m particularly satisfied with my choice of material. Sheets of industrial cork are expensive, but comparable to foams of comparable density. Unlike foam, the cork is non-toxic, and the scraps and shavings are biodegradable. Also, carving the material leaves crumbs about the size of vermiculite and there  is no air born particulate, so I do not need to wear a mask or other special protection.

To learn more about the development of Wowhaus’ Makkeweks Project, click here.

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Mostri di Roma

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Looking up the Tevere towards Islola Tiburina

Water flows through Rome more visibly than time. It is an almost magical presence here, an animating force that makes the Eternal City feel alive in the present. Water streams constantly from hundreds of street corner taps, cold and delicious. Some still flows over aqueducts from the Colli Albani, or from the Simbruini in the foothills of the Apinnines. The snaky Tevere quietly carves Rome’s western contour and is easily crossed on foot over ancient stone bridges many times in a day. Water is everywhere here, connecting the past with the mountains, the sky, the sea. The success of the Roman Empire begins with mastery over water. Water is the Standard.

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Jet-lagged, I wind my way through Rome’s cobbled lanes in a cool pre-dawn, drawn by chimes and gurgles to the piazzas, the centers of public life. I am here on an A1 Travel Grant to study the fantastical sea monsters depicted in many of Rome’s public fountains. I am preparing to make our Makkeweks sculpture for the City of Oakland, and am curious how sea monsters have been depicted in public places in times past, particularly by Bernini and Borromini. I learn quickly that navigating Rome by public fountain is a wonderful way to experience the entirety of the City in a short time. The fountains are evenly distributed throughout Central Rome, and they are almost always sited in major piazzas, which are often flanked by significant churches and other public buildings. The piazzas are also the locale for open air markets and the best (if most expensive) cafes, so provide the perfect respite. After a long traipse, I recharge with cappuccinos and paper cones of roasted chestnuts. Traveling on foot in a light rain in winter in the early morning is the best way to avoid the crowds.

I am as interested in a sculpture’s initial impression as I am in the technical details of how something is rendered. Or, I’m interested in how these things work in congruity, in how the initial impression, the story being told, is reinforced by the way the material is shaped and textured. My sculpture will not have anything like the narrative detail or expressive gesture of the baroque, but I still have a lot to learn from the masters. I’m paying particular attention to how light interacts with surfaces from varying distances and perspectives. I’m also curious about what constitutes the idea of ‘monster’, what aspects of their depiction transcend the time and what aspects define it. In particular, what does the monster tell us about a time period’s relationship with water, with the ocean, with the unknown.

Here is a gallery of some of the images from my traipse through Rome, with attention to sea monsters (please leave a comment if you’d like more info on any of these):

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