Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hoyaneh in Bronze

"Haudenosaunee, (Iroquois) 'chiefs' are called 'Hoyaneh' and on their headdress they wear the antlers of symbolizes that the people depend on that leader like they depend on the deer for sustenance." **

It is with a feeling of pride and a deep sense of historic continuity that I present my first artistic expression rendered in bronze.

I am excited to see my conscious and sub-conscious ideas and passions melded together in this sculpture. This union of the artistry from the New World combined with the Old World tradition of bronze art manifests the mystique I have always felt for our ancient world and the whole of human history.

This sense of reverence and appreciation for historic cultures began when I was five years old the moment I found a beautiful stone arrowhead. It was lying in a patch of dirt, surrounded by grass as though it had been framed for my personal education. I was so young that I'm not even sure I had ever actually seen a real Indian arrowhead before but I instantly knew what it was and I had a feeling then that the land upon which I lived held many mysteries from the past. It was a magnetic moment; the past was drawn forward into my time. It remains one of the most indelible memories from my childhood. And to this day, I want to pull the past forward by bringing it into the future through expressions of contemporary art.

For this first venture into bronze, I decided to create a very limited number of sculptures -- only six, plus the "artist's proof." By utilizing the ancient "lost-wax" casting technique, every minute detail and grain texture of the original burl-wood carving has been captured and translated into each bronze sculpture. I have learned that it is rather unique to cast a bronze from an original carving made from a lasting and precious material. Most castings are traditionally made from impermanent materials such as clay or wax. I chose to custom patinate each bronze myself in order to create a unique coloration that most closely resembles the character of the rare black ash burl.

Although they are cast from the same mold, each bronze is unique in many subtle ways. As with the original Hoyaneh burl-wood carving, (see July 31st 2010 blog entry) I have attached real deer antlers in the same manner as the early European artists who incorporated organic materials such as ivory and various metals to accent their bronze sculptures.

Each bronze is adorned with a pair of handmade sterling silver ball & cone style earrings hanging from the stretched earlobes. I did not randomly select this style of earring. Ball & cone earrings are a very ancient design and they were a favorite trade item of Native Americans, worn by both men and women. The "ball & cone" is also the overall geometric theme of this sculpture.

My sculptural bronze works are available exclusively through Lord Nelson's Gallery Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

My most sincere appreciation goes out to John and Shannon Watts for their support of my work, their enthusiasm toward my inspirations, and their encouragement to help me see this project through. I would also like to thank Thomas Poyser and staff artists of SinCerus Bronze Art Center for their talent and advice. Lastly, thanks to Patrick Kipper, master patineur and author of "the book" on bronze patina.

It is all about the process. Everything is a process.

** Quote of what a Hoyaneh represents by Michael Galban.


It's a hot July day in Indiana, not just hot...humid. Here I am; long sleeves, trousers, apron, rubber gloves, mask. I've been at this for hours. The gas mask is percolating with my own humidity. The air is toxic with fumes from Cupric and Ferric acid generated from the propane torch that roars in my head like a jet taking off...and I am in bliss.

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to create bronze castings of my burl work. My burl carvings are so time consuming and the burl so scarce that I wanted to see if these sculptures of mine would translate well into bronze. The castings have far exceeded my original expectations....and so has the effort required to make it happen. A year ago, I was totally ignorant of the bronze casting process. I had never given much thought as to what the process, the effort required. My ignorance was probably a good thing...what is that old saying about fools go where others fear to tread?

The foundry that made the castings for me could not apply the patina I desired due to safety concerns with the toxic chemicals of the formula I selected. I wanted the bronze to appear as much like the original burl carvings as possible. I was left with only one choice, learn as much about the process of bronze patina as I could as quickly as I could. Again, here treads a fool....but I've discovered something of myself. If I'm not learning something, I'm bored.

Not to bore you with all the details, the process of patina went like this;
Buy a book. Consult the experts. Order the equipment. Choose a patina formula. Order the chemicals. Create a work space. Bone up on chemistry. Experiment. Practice.
Take a leap of faith. Slow down. Concentrate. And some days, the magic works.

I'll post images of the finished bronze soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mishi Peshu (Underwater Panther)

Title: Mishi Peshu
Materials: Black Ash Burl,Copper,Bison Horn,Deer Antler,Quahog Clam Shell,Pigment.
Size: 17"tall, 20.5"long,5.5" wide.
Date of Completion: May 2011

Mishi Peshu (Underwater Panther)

It was my sincere effort to render this cultural effigy in a way that not only possesses artistry and craftsmanship but also a sensitivity and respect to those who hold this design as sacred.

Mishi Peshu is only one of the many names in the Algonquin language for the entity known in English as the Underwater Panther. For some of the tribes near the Great Lakes and surrounding regions, Mishi Peshu represents the physical manifestation of and the ultimate metaphor for the mystery of the Great Lakes and a symbol of the power and danger of nature.

The Underwater Panther is a deity that has been honored for many centuries through offerings of tobacco into the waters in hopes of safe passage and as a sign of respect. By what I have read and understand, the Water Panther is not a malevolent entity, no more so than nature is malevolent. Indeed, some days the weather and the waves are violent, but never to be considered evil.

I drew my inspiration for this sculpture from a variety of early Woodland Indian sources. I have always loved the Underwater Panthers depicted in quillwork, beadwork and twine-weaving on early Indian pouches. There are also a number of 18th century effigy pipes and ball-headed clubs that depict what may have been intended to represent Underwater Panthers. The universal features that I understand to depict an Underwater Panther are: a cat-like torso, buffalo horns or deer antlers, and an unusually long tail. These features are commonalities shared among many different tribes. There are also charactoristics that are unique to various depictions, such as a "human-like" face and a tail terminating in a fish fin. This effigy is so ancient and shared among so many different tribal groups that many variants are to be expected. This deity is also known as having portions of its body composed of copper. It was thought that the chunks of copper ore found along the shores of the Great Lakes were parts of the Underwater Panther, being pieces of its hair or scales broken off during a battle with a Thunderbird.

My favorite pre-historic image of Mishi Peshu is painted upon the rock cliff along Lake Superior at a place known as Agawa Rock. There are more than a hundred effigies preserved upon this cliff face and they are estimated to be 500 to 3000 years old. Alongside the Underwater Panther painted on the rock are horned snakes. Snakes are often associated with this deity; some of the depictions appear to be a hybrid of the classic Water Panther design combined with the body of a snake. I do not pretend to understand all or even most of the significance of the spirituality of this iconography. What I have learned in this study is but a starting point.

The shape of the tail was suggested to me by the illustration (see top image) rendered by Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, the first official cartographer in Canada and it dates to the 1670's. Franquelin drew this image based upon the description by the missionary Father Marquette:
"As we were moving along the side of these dreadful rocks - for their height and length - we saw on one of these rocks two monsters painted which at first scared us and on which the bravest sauvage dared not set eyes on for too long. They are as big as a calf, they have horns like deers, a dreadful stare, red eyes, a beard like that of a tiger, the face as something of that of a man, the body covered in scales and a tail so long as to go all around the body going over the head and coming back between the legs ending as a fishtail. The green, the red and the “blackish” are the three colors which make it. These two monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe them to be authored by a sauvage because the best French painters would have a hard time to make them so well and that they are so high on the rock that it is difficult for the painter to reach them. This is roughly the shape of these monsters as we have traced them."

I forged the tail, spine, necklace and claws from solid copper. I find the marriage of copper and burl visually harmonious. Historically, black ash was the species of burl often used by the Great Lakes tribes for making both domestic and spiritual artifacts.

I am not certain that the scalloped design along the back represented spines; it may have been an abstract way to depict the power or energy radiating from the deity. I like to think of this pattern as a representation of water. Many of the tribes surrounding the Great Lakes incorporate this same wave pattern into pipe stems, pipes, pottery, birchbark and engravings.

The silhouette image I included above illustrates the negative space, one of my favorite aspects of this sculpture is the harmonious play of geometry, being almost entirely composed of repeated elliptic curves, spheres and cusps.

My sincere appreciation and thanks to Scott Meachum for his insight and guidance throughout this project as well as his help in drafting this body of text.
I would also like to thank Steve Delisle for his exact French translation of Father Marquette's historic description.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Double Effigy Feast Bowl

Effigy Feast Bowl
Black Ash Burl
16.5" long
12.25" wide
5.75" height

Here is my latest creation just completed in April. This piece was a collaboration between my friend Mike Combs and myself. Mike carved the black ash burl bowl and left blocks of wood at both ends for me to carve these effigies, I then applied the coloration and patina. There is more time in carving the effigies than in carving the bowl itself...and almost as much time in the finishing. I created the effigy carvings over a period of 4 weeks. One reason why this bowl took so long to create is that the burl was well seasoned and was perhaps as hard as any wood I've ever carved. Applying the patina was a 3 day process and involves a great deal of burnishing with a bone. After a project like this, it takes me a few days to rest my hands before I'm able to pick a tool up again.

This is not a reproduction of any known historic bowl but the design stays within the compass of style, design, material and method of bowls made by Woodland Indians from the Great Lakes region during the 17th and 18th century. These effigies were made to represent male and female entities.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maple Burl Pipe

It was this pipe what got me started on carving burl. About 12 years ago I was leafing through the Magazine Antiques and I saw an ad for the original pipe. It was made by Woodland Indians in the late 18th or early 19th century and I thought it the coolest Indian artifact I had ever seen. I called the dealer to ask about it's history and learned the pipe was still available...I can't remember the exact price but it was princely sum and well beyond my reach. I thought, hum, for that amount I think I can make a copy and have tens of thousands of dollars left over to make a stem to go with it.

Finding the burl was the first order of business in making the copy. Luckily, I found sugar maple burl on the Internet. Once it arrived I set to work and didn't come up for air for many hours. I wanted to make it in as authentic a manor as possible, using only hand tools. One thing I always do is begin with scale drawings...perhaps not the way the original maker would have done. It was Winter time and I spent many evenings scraping and carving the recesses for the lead inlay. When I was young I worked for a living history museum and part of my job had me casting pewter spoons. I became rather good at fussing with the heat and flow of the soft metal so I had this prior knowledge to help me in casting the leaded pewter into the carving. In about 2 weeks of evening work I had my pipe and I thought it every bit as good as the far as I was concerned, it was better, I was a fortune ahead and I didn't need to keep mine in the safe.

While pondering the decoration of the pipe I wondered what significance the design elements might have. It was suggested to me that the barbed designs might represent corn or even turkey tracks. The crest of the fin might be a representation of water and the half circular piercing the sun or moon. Was all of this to tell a story, were these mnemonic devices? I am inclined to believe so. I don't believe Native American artists of the past were prone to, l'art pour l'art.

The photos are of the pipe as it would have looked new and as it appears now with patina applied.

I have yet to find time to make the stem!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Average Woodland Ladle

Not fancy but but typical of the average eating ladle. I was so pleased when I found this early elm wood ladle, not just because it was in my price range, ($30.00) but because it is what I believe to be the typical late 18th early 19th century Woodland Indian eating ladle. It's 8.5" long and the bowl measures 4.75" across. No effigy, nothing fancy, just nice lines and very well used.

The dark spot on the handle is the pith of the tree. You can see another dark pith spot on the bottom lip of the bowl. This tells me just how the grain of the wood runs in this ladle.

Besides a few mouse gnawings, the ladle suffers from the rim having been worn down smooth and blunt. When it was first made I expect that the rim of the bowl had a crisp edge but I don't consider this as "damage", just natural age and wear from use.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Title: "42"
Size: 9.5" tall
Date of creation: 2010
Materials: Black Ash Burl, Copper, Brass, Pewter, Shell, Iron, Leather, Glass, Gold Leaf, Marbled Paper, Battery Powered LED Lights.

This was truly a labor of love, a gift for my daughter who introduced me to an art movement that I much admire. The art movement has been dubbed,"Steampunk".
I describe this piece as; What H.G. Wells might have commissioned from Roycroft Studios sometime before WWI.

The title, "42" is a bit of vintage Sci-Fi humor ala "Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe"'s the answer to the ultimate question. I consider this the ultimate jewelry box of my creation. I have no fewer than 200 hours in putting this all together, and I enjoyed every minuet of it. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the work was to forge the copper legs. I started with 1-1/8th inch copper pipe that I formed into a wineglass shape using a ball peen hammer... I must have annealed those legs at least 50 times in the wood furnace. Another challenging aspect of the work was the latch. It being contrived from parts of an 1840's brass cabinet lock and a flintlock gun spring. (see the brass button looking thing just above the foreward raygun array.) Making the lock function well was fussy work. To top it all off, I made the windows from translucent shell beads. I chose them for their appearance of Tiffany glass. Behind the windows, inside the box are mounted 8 push button LED lights that flash...this gives it an other worldly effect.

Without realizing it, I guess I've been a "Steam-Punker" since I was a kid...before there was a name for it, before it was considered an art form. Certainly before it was cool I was wearing old time clothes, hording bits and pieces of geared machines, antique radios, obsessed with zeppelins and biplanes. My first car at age 15 was a 1936 Dodge Coupe... come to think of it, I owned a top hat too. My favorite childhood pastimes were going to the town dump and to estate auctions...both places had the coolest stuff on earth....contraptions that were obsolete.

Now I have an itch to make a Ray-Gun.

"The last sound on the worthless Earth will be two human beings trying to launch a homemade spaceship and already quarreling about where they are going next."
WIlliam Faulkner