I have never been very good at saving the best for last, so it is fortuitous that these special Worry-Stones were an unplanned extension of my project, as they are indeed “the best” and also, the very last of them.
I have two different variations on my Woody project to share today (not to be confused with the larger works I am currently producing). Also, for those of you interested, there is also a chance here to maybe add one of these to your collection.
So let's start things off with the work that is by far the most unique of the bunch, the Meteorite Worry-Stone. The insert for this work is made out of a real piece of the Aletai-Armanty meteorite, which is an iron-nickel meteorite that, when etched, exhibits a fascinating crystalline structure that can be found nowhere else on earth.
The original edition of Woody Worry-Stones were initially meant as a nod to some of the natural material combinations that knife makers most commonly utilize in their craft. I wanted to utilize those material trends for the purpose of sculpture. It was a fun concept that led to a very interesting edition of works and I learned a lot about a range of different hardwoods. But as it turns out, knife makers use such a wide spectrum of materials that by concentrating only on wood elements, I am barely even scratching the surface.
So to round out the project and further emphasize my thesis, I decided a non-wood material that represents a more extreme example of the materials knife makers utilize was in order.
One of the requirements I set out at the beginning of this project was that the inserts be made of only natural materials, among the more exotic examples that fit that requirement were fossilized mammoth tusk and saber tooth, also slightly more common is Ancient Bog Oak (which is semi petrified wood). But the material that really stuck out was meteorites, and for more than just the sheer novelty of it.
Metal Meteorite is very distinct because it has what is called Widmanstatten pattern . For those unfamiliar, it is a pattern that is formed when alloys within the meteorite cool very slowly over millions of years. This incredibly slow cooling allows crystals of various elements within the meteorite to form over an extended period of time and grow very (very) large. Only rocks of extraterrestrial origin have this pattern and it is not possible to create them artificially. These crystal patterns can be revealed using an etching process, and are quite striking. While this pattern's existence has only been known for two centuries, there are other reasons that meteorites have been a prized material (among knife makers especially) for millennia.
Before humans had the technology to smelt iron ore into usable alloys, they were already making steel objects by finding the stuff lying around on the surface of the earth as rocks. Those rocks were almost certainly meteorites, as it was the only source of refined iron on the planet. Skilled bronze age artisans were some of the first to find ways to craft knives and many other objects with this strange and very strong material. Iron meteorite artifacts can be found as far back as the 14th century BC, most famously, a dagger found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun.
So yes, as a sculptural experiment that pivots around traditional knife making materials, this work certainly fits the bill. But step back a little further, and I think this work also embodies the bigger story I have been trying to tell about material progress and the ways that technologies always seem to trickle down into the arts.
I have spent my entire career making art that demonstrates how industrial processes (ones that are not traditionally thought of as art mediums) can be a primary source of inspiration for the making of fine sculpture. How if we look back far enough, many of the tools and technologies we readily accept as artistic mediums actually got their start on the factory floor rather than in the art studio. And that it is only when we are able to scale these technologies for individual use that they become more accessible to artist.
That smelting iron is such a large and unwieldy process, it would almost guarantee that it's early use would not be put to artistic ends. That skilled craftsmen were finding the stuff lying around as meteorites and shaping it into ceremonial art objects long before they could even produce the material themselves is a fascinating chapter in the history of mans material progress. Finding a way to bring that story into my own work was a welcome adventure.
Ok, with the meteorite out of the way, I also wanted to show off these very special Woody Worry-stones, which incorporate the use of a lot of different hardwoods not offered in the initial run.
The list of used materials includes Bacote, Box Elder Burl (dyed purple), Bubinga, Red Malle, Bloodwood, Rosewood, and of course, a couple of very choice pieces of Desert Iron Wood.
These were made in response to the wonderful outpouring of support I received following the release of the original Woody edition. There was an unprecedented gifting of exotic hardwoods that I just had not expected. It was exciting to get random, unsolicited packages containing blocks of material in the mail. Some came from complete strangers who just wanted to share their enthusiasm (and wood) for the project. Because of this, I just had to make a few extra pieces to show off some of my favorite hand picked pieces from my experiments with those special pieces of gifted wood.
Thank you all again for following along, and the many kind and constructive conversations along the way.
Hello Everyone. Last time I communicated, the world was full of worry and strife. So much so that while I generally try to keep the swirl of headline news out of my feed and practice, the gravity and sheer weirdness of the situation found its way in. The Woody Worry-Stone edition was born as a positive and cathartic response to that weirdness.
Not surprisingly this trend of unsettling news has continued or even accelerated. And while it is tempting (or quite justified) to be distracted, deterred, or demoralized by current events, I am committed to making my art, sharing what I find fascinating and beautiful about my craft, and keeping this a positive and focused place to inspire others. I hope most can appreciate and respect that division of creative head-space, as it is the only way I know of to find peace and joy through my art, while also engaging in the emotional hard work that must be done in other facets of my life.
To that end, I bring something interesting from the studio.
I am still very much in the middle of this project, but I am so happy with how it is going that I thought I would throw up a quick blog post to share my progress. This is the next chapter in the Worry-stone project. It is, well, a bit larger and colorful and I couldn’t help but share.
The current plan is to make eight or nine of these larger format sculptures. Each one will be unique with a carefully chosen color pallet and species of wood.
The wood chosen for this initial prototype is currently my favorite in terms of workability and range of color and figure. It is a piece of Desert Ironwood set in a blue shell with deep copper orange detail.
While I already have some history of turning my smaller editions into larger stand-alone sculpture pieces, the decision to scale this one in particular was driven more by the circumstances of building the edition rather than tradition or habit.
For starters, when I began posting about my experiments with various types of wood, the response was so supportive and encouraging that people began spontaneously mailing and donating random pieces of exotic hardwood to my work. Completely unsolicited, the wood just started to pile up!
When it was all said and done, I ended up with a diverse selection of knife block sized pieces of various exotic hardwoods, all of it begging to become art.
During the build itself, one of the steps to making each worry-stone, was to take theses beautiful blocks of various exotic hardwoods, and cut them down into smaller pieces so that I could make the inserts that would be the gem of each sculpture.
To be honest, it always felt a shame to be cutting these large beautiful blocks down into smaller pieces; their figure and details were just so much more complex and striking in a larger format that I felt I wasn't doing some fo them justice to cut them up. I just had to make a bigger one to use more of each block.
So, with a collection of exotic knife blocks in hand and a desire to preserve their texture and figure, I resolved to make a larger more sculptural work that better showcased the wood and opened the door to some incredibly fascinating engineering challenges. So I scaled my design to comfortably use a standard knife block, and then reworked it until it until I was sure that it became something truly unique.
I feel that enlarging an existing work is sometimes viewed purely as a novelty, as a way to make something new without adding any new ideas to it. I was hoping to avoid this pitfall of mindless scaling, and once I got started redrawing my original design, I quickly realized that as far as my process was going to be concerned, I was definitely in uncharted territory.
Enlarging this particular sculpture was not going to be an exercise in making the same shapes the same way, only bigger. The geometry of this larger piece presented challenges that dramatically changed the approach and processes I would need to use to fabricate it.
I had to re-engineer nearly every element of the build, so while the shape is quite similar, the road to that shape is very different indeed.
"Balance" became the theme for this entire project. Both physically, textural, and color wise, this is a piece that required care to balance elements in ways not present with the original Woody.
Because of the larger size of this work, the sheer weight of the material I used became much more of a constraint. What were originally pretty straight forward offset turning operations for the Woody (ones where the mass of the machine was more than sufficient to dampen any vibration caused by the imbalance of the part) ballooned into complex setups where weights and counterbalance were crucial to successfully turn the work at speed and achieve a good surface finish.
Simply boring the saddle shape where the wood inserts seat was a vast departure from the Woody. Creating a precise and accurate semi circular profile on such a large and long piece of stock required a rather unique set up.
My milling machine does not have the clearance to make such a deep hole in such a long piece of stock, So what might have been a simple drilling and boring operation on a mill, turned into a complex adventure of positioning the work piece on my lathe for a series of turning operations.
Balancing the whole thing using a counterweight system became my best strategy for putting an accurate profile exactly where I wanted it on the work piece.
The bronze colored pieces in the photo above are weights added to the assembly so the machine would not shake (or fall over!) while I bored the hole at the appropriate offset. The balance of the setup needed to remain within a narrow margin during the entire process, so I had to calculate their mass to split the difference between the starting weight and finish weight of the material I intended to machine.
Because weight was such a critical consideration, I selected aluminum, which is much lighter than steel, as my material. This material selection also opened the door to using anodizing and color in a way that most other metals do not.
I ran with the idea, how the high saturation color anodized aluminum might play off natural materials. Whereas the original Woody project was about highlighting the natural beauty of various hardwoods by setting it against a neutral stainless form, this larger version would be a more nuanced exercise in color theory.
Selecting the pallet for each of the works, and matching them against a properly selected piece of wood is going to be devilishly challenging. I am looking forward to it.
So the stage is set, lets see what happens.
Please keep following along if you use Instagram, it is going to be a fun and colorful ride. If not, I will check back in via newsletter when the works are all done.