{ Category Archives: studio process }

My Bonfire Coat

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My Bonfire Coat dries by the fire, draped over a shovel handle

My Bonfire Coat is a herringbone Harris Tweed from the 1960’s. I found it at an AMVETS in Chicago in the early eighties and wore it everywhere for about the next decade when I moved from city to city to country to city. I built a house and a boat in this coat one very cold winter in upstate New York and cleared land and burned brush in Exeter, Rhode Island that spring. I met my wife while wearing this coat at the Aldrich Estate in Annandale-on-Hudson on October 1, 1988. I’ve kept the coat in my woodshop since we moved to California and mostly wear it on chilly mornings while I get a fire going in the woodstove. I also wear it for our annual bonfire, a seasonal ritual born of accumulated apple prunings, wood scraps and giant fallen ‘widow makers’ from the redwoods. The coat keeps me dry in a light rain while shielding the sparks and intense heat of a roaring fire. This year I noticed a disturbing cluster of moth holes and was tempted to throw the coat on the fire as it burned down. I think I’ll give it one more year.

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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 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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Arborigin

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Arborigin is a collaborative project that brings together artists, designers and artisans to produce fine products from a single elm tree salvaged from Chicago’s urban forest. We invite those interested to submit a proposal to use some of our inventory of cured lumber and hope to bring the finished products together for a pop up store in Chicago in 2014. In simple commerce we aim to incubate ideas for ongoing partnership.

Arborigin is akin to the farm-to-table movement in food. The project asks us to consider what kinds of products a single tree might yield when the means of production, distribution and sales are highly localized. What stories and values become embedded in everyday objects when we know exactly what they were made from and who made them? Arborigin asks us to think differently about trees, about things and how they are made and used, about the relationships that connect us to place. 

The Arborigin Team seeks proposals that model an approach to designing and making that celebrates the inherent attributes of wood from a single tree. We hope to produce products that are multiples; affordable, repeatable objects, that are both useful and artful. Proposals will be solicited by invitation and through an open RFP. Proposals can be for either: 

• Fine Art: sculpture, painting, conceptual work

• One-off/prototypes

• Design/ Craft:  preferably small multiples of everyday objects such as furnishings, housewares, toys and games, instruments, or other functional objects.

To learn more about Arborigin and register to participate, please click here (www.arborigin.com).

To read about the development of the Arborigin Project, please click here and scroll down.

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Return of the Glass Banjo

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Glass Banjo, 2001, hand-blown glass, aircraft aluminum, marine plywood

My trusty Glass Banjo will be included in Southern Exposure‘s juried exhibition, This Will Never Work, on view in San Francisco from November 22 – December 14, 2013. I made the piece over twelve years ago and it’s never been exhibited, rarely even seen, so I’m anxious to see how it will be received.

The Glass Banjo is part of a series of ‘field equipment’ I made to support site specific projects in remote destinations, particularly a progression of treehouse structures I orchestrated on either coast beginning in the late 1990s. After a long day in the tree and foraging the forest for materials, my volunteer crew and I would relax under the boughs, admire our work and plan for the next morning. Our twilight reverie would inevitably require libations and music, so I thought to make an all-weather banjo for impromptu song-making. I thought it’d be interesting if all project documentation were limited to made-up banjo songs.

I based the proportions of my Glass Banjo on a late 19th-Century fretless Haynes Bay State model I had purchased in the 1980’s on Bleecker Street. I reduced the number of parts to the barest minimum, choosing materials and engineering the structure to withstand outdoor living. The hook at the back of the head allows the instrument to be hung from a tree limb, within easy reach should inspiration strike.

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Experiments in Wooden Planing Hulls

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Top and bottom of my latest bellyboard, laminated from cedar and walnut veneers.

I’m a purist when it comes to riding waves. Or maybe a minimalist. Or both. I grew up bodysurfing on the Jersey Shore in the Seventies, learning about tides and wind, sandbars and swell. We surfed beach breaks exclusively, daily, no matter the size of the wave, which rarely raised higher than overhead and generally capped out at chest height. Some used surfboards and boogie boards (which were just finding their way to the East Coast), but the break was never very far from shore and the set up was generally over a sandbar, where a bodysurfer could often stand to catch a wave unaided. With a little swimming over the gully, you could ride the bigger waves all the way to shore, catching the second break when the tide was just right.

I’ve continued to bodysurf since we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area over twenty years ago, adding a wetsuit and fins to suit the more extreme conditions. I’ve flirted with standing surfboards but have yet to get past the learning curve to really enjoy it. I also just prefer direct body contact with the wave, especially given my lack of dedicated time in the water. I began to research bellyboards as a possible alternative a few years ago, and have recently been making experimental prototypes as an extension of my skate deck manufacture. I use the same laminations cut from local woods I’ve milled and dried myself, molded over improvised forms and hand shaped for optimal hydroplaning and adequate buoyancy.

My latest design is a hybrid of traditional Hawaiian Alaia and Paipo shapes, informed by the hydroplaning experiments of naval architect Lindsay Lord. Measuring about 3′ 6″ long by 19.5″ wide, the board is composed of a sandwich lamination of two cold-formed layers; two 3/16″ thick, book-matched claro walnut veneers on the bottom, and three 3/8″ thick veneers of Western red cedar on the top. The specific gravity of the cedar, left to its full thickness, adds to the board’s buoyancy. The relatively hard walnut veneers are shaped to taper to about 1/8″ or less at the edges, making for a sharper edge and abrasion-resistent surface. The combined stability of each layer, combined with the slightly cross-grained lamination, prevents the finished product from undo warping or cupping.

 

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