{ Category Archives: studio process }

Update from Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge

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Rodeo Beach, viewed from the trail from Headlands Center for the Arts

Located on a barren bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Marin Headlands, the Headlands Center for the Arts (HCA) feels remote, like the edge of civilization, despite its close proximity to San Francisco. Founded in the early 1980′s, HCA occupies a series of decommissioned military buildings predating WW1, originally part of Fort Baker, with the bulk of activities clustered in two identical structures originally intended to house infantry.

One of the more compelling consequences of siting military facilities along remote coastline is that they ultimately serve to protect that stretch of coast from commercial development. Upon its eventual resusitation after closing as a military base in 1950, the Headlands has emerged as a major cultural and natural treasure, a beloved destination for surrounding urban communities seeking solace, recreation and inspiration. I designed my recent workshop at Headlands, Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge, to tap this desire for natural/cultural engagement by positing the potential for a former military base sited in close proximity to a major surf break to be repurposed as a research lab for the design and testing of surf craft tailored to a specific break.

The Swell Break project proved to be a huge success despite the inherent challenges of scope and time. Over the course of a Labor Day Weekend, in collaboration with my friend, sculptor/surfer Lawrence Labianca, we mentored 12 workshop participants in the design, prototyping and testing of a series of simple wooden bellyboards, designed to negotiate the break at Rodeo Beach. The project has been both a follow-up and distillation of my ongoing pursuit of collaborative, artisan-scale making informed by the unique characteristics of a bioregion, particularly when it engages boat-building, skate or surf culture.

Click here to see complete photo documentation by Hans Kwiotek.

Related projects include: Micro-Expedition, Deep Craft Atelier

Click here to read more about Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge.

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Bellyboards Galore

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Top and bottom view of my EggBellyboard in Western Red Cedar and Walnut

I’ve made a few bellyboard prototypes for my upcoming Swell Break project at the Headlands. The first batch are deceptively minimalist, egg-shaped, about 39″ long and 23″ wide, 5/8″ thick at the middle, feathering out to about 5/16″ at the edges. I cold-laminated two layers over a contoured block to arrive at the final shape; the bottom is claro walnut, and the top is Western red cedar. The next cold laminated version will use the same woods, but will be a bit longer, narrower, and with a concave tail for better speed and tracking in the surf.

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‘Fort Cronkite’, the point break at the Headlands off of Rodeo Beach

I shaped my second prototype from a solid blank of laminated pine I found at Home Depot. These 18″ x 48″ x 3/4″ pieces sell for about $18 each , which is perfect for a temporary, collaborative project involving extreme experimentation. I plan to work with the group of workshop participants to produce a series of bellyboard shapes with integral graphics that identify the boards with the natural and cultural histories of the site, suggesting a new kind of visual surf language.

Click here to read more about the development of Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge.

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Proof of Concept

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Whether the intended outcome is a new sculpture, furniture design or product idea, I often begin the ‘Proof of Concept’ phase with a stroll through the salvage yards. My absolute favorite is Maselli & Sons in Petaluma, CA. With over seven acres of neatly organized machine parts, scrap metal, salvaged tools, motors and hardware, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, and even easier to find what you had no idea existed but could not do without.

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For me, Proof of Concept involves building a working model, with the goal of establishing an idea’s feasibility. Demonstrating Proof of Concept, however schematic in form, makes it much easier to proceed with cost estimates and material requirements, the next steps in planning a production when collaborating with fabricators and engineers. It also often leads to a better idea or technique than originally conceived.

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For Spinnradl, I need to prove that a hand-cranked, acoustic music box will produce a decent sound when rendered on a monumental scale. Once I know the components that produce the sound, it’s relatively straightforward to make a repeating melody. For my first experiment I found parts to make a large scale, tuned ‘comb’ of hardened steel, like a giant kalimba. Next I’ll play with how best to amplify the sound by making an integral resonating box.

 

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Research Topics du Jour

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spinnradl2well's inclinometer

 

One of the challenges and pleasures of developing site specific, public sculpture is following several threads of research simultaneously and trying to find unexpected connections that make sense. Here is a sampling of some topics we are researching as we design a series of kinetic sculptures for the Pendleton neighborhood of Cincinnati:

 

1. Polaris

2. Spinnradl

3. Ragtime

4. Radial Moire

5. Peg Leg Joe

6. Appalachian Hymns

 

 

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Clifford E Martin and the Stanley #57

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Original patent drawing of the Core Box Plane, Stanley #57

For reasons beyond my grasp, my mother’s side of the family has always been somewhat shrouded in mystery. It was often a challenge to parse reality from myth in her stories, and in truth the two were often interchangeable. True, her mother tamed foundling birds and played ragtime piano, her father designed derrigibles and other early aircraft, but not much is certain beyond that. I knew her father grew up in Greenfield, Massachussettes and was among the first to graduate from Pratt’s engineering program. I still have his textbooks on mechanics and engineering graphics, dated 1911-1914, along with his Brooklyn street address.

Since my mom passed away just over two years ago I’ve found myself wanting to solve some of her family mysteries. I miss hearing her stories, and researching her background helps me cope with her absense and stay connected in some odd way. My detective work has led to reading Census Reports beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, and following leads as far as I am able via public records on the internet. The most startling discovery thus far is that my great grandfather on my mother’s father’s side, Clifford E Martin, has a few patents for wood-working tools.

On the Census Reports from Greenfield, Mass, Clifford E Martin was listed either as a Pattern Maker or Tool Maker, employed by the Greenfield Foundry, or Greenfield Tool and Dye. I know the company well because many of my favorite antique hand tools bear the Greenfield stamp. One of Clifford’s patents is for the Core Box Plane, a hand plane used to make precise concavities in wooden ‘patterns’ to be cast in iron, and was in production as the Stanley #57 into the mid-1940′s when it became obsolete to the industry.

The connection may seem mundane, but to me it is revelatory. I use many tools familiar to traditional pattern makers in my sculptures, making ‘patterns’ or ‘originals’ in wood that are then cast in bronze. Most sculptors work in clay, foam or wax before casting in bronze, but I’ve always preferred the precision and aesthetics of working in wood, not to mention the technology in the form of vintage hand tools, like the Stanley #57 Core Box Plane designed by my great grandfather, Clifford E Martin in 1909.

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Announcing deepcraft.com

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I recently launched my new deepcraft.com website. Though still in prototype form, deepcraft.com has five live pages that I’m hoping will generate traffic as I continue build to out its content and ecommerce potential over the coming months. For now, the site features my Deep Deck longboard, available for commission as a made-to-order item. The longboard is a kind of ‘hero’ product around which I will develop a distinct Deep Craft line, including furnishings, clothing and other essential wares that live up to the Deep Craft Ethos. If you visit the site, which you can by clicking here, please hit the ‘contact’ button and drop me a line so I can add you to my mailing list. Thanks!

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Orphan Tools

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I’ve so far drawn the line at a scale of operations I call ‘Forklift and a Warehouse’. If it ever seems like I need a forklift and/or a warehouse, I know I made the wrong turn somewhere. My current production capabilities allow me to efficiently make one-offs, prototypes and very small production runs, but not much beyond batches of 4 or 5 of any given thing per week. While I love the creative flexibility inherent in running a small shop, I am beginning to find clients for production versions of my designs, and am poised to scale operations to meet demand and still offer a competetive price point.

Investing in a few new tools will increase my efficiency exponentially, so I’ve subscribed to a handful of online auctions for woodworking tools, and scour daily posts for re-saws, glue spreaders, wide belt sanders and the like. At first, I greedily scrolled through listings, knowing exactly what I was looking for. As the daily emails persisted, I became painfully aware of how many small manufacturers were closing throughout the US, predominantly on the East Coast. I began to see the tools differently, as orphaned tools, tools that had been loved and maintained, tools that had supported livelihoods, helped put kids through college and pay mortgages. Suddenly the images had such poignancy. The images themselves are what appeal to me now, as an incidental archive of a major shift in the culture of (not) making things in the US.

I would love to make an exhibition or publication that simply collates and displays online auction house photos of tools for sale. Meanwhile, I still seek the perfect tool to expand my capabilities, but worry about the fate of so many obsolete or unwanted tools (and skilled workers) in the process.

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