This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them. The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved.
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Moon Checkers is a workpiece of cloisonné enamel mounted on a wooden box. It was produced by a special version of the technique, known as concave cloisonné.
The conventional technique calls for completely filling the cells with enamel, then honing the surface to a flat or gently curved shape. In concave cloisonné, the cells are only partly filled with enamel, which is allowed to take on its natural shape after firing and cooling. In cross-section, the enamel surfaces within each cell are U-shaped, as the edges tend to climb up the wire wall by capillary attraction.
For some designs, this produces an attractively textured surface. Where transparent enamels are used, as in this piece, their lens-like qualities tend to enhance colors and brilliance. The finished enamel is not honed, but the tops of the wires may be evened up by this method.
This design, resembling a checkerboard, responds to a one-time request by the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, that its artists pursue a “quilting” theme. The title “Moon Checkers” was applied with two meanings in mind:
- The images of the moon, each placed in its own square in the pattern, resemble the pieces on a checkerboard.
- The plants growing in each square seem to be checking on the changing phases of the moon as a means of regulating their own blooming cycle.
Shown below is one of the earliest pieces, made in an elementary class, mounted on a wooden box, and titled “Village Wharf.” It is an example of the concave cloisonné style with mostly opaque enamels.