More Boxes, Dishes, and Mementos
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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The story of a boy riding on the back of a dolphin dates back to ancient Greece. I have never done the research to form an opinion on whether this has actually happened, and when. Nevertheless, we know that dolphins are intelligent creatures, and that on occasion they have been both friendly and protective towards people. I like to believe that the picture below depicts a true event, and that it could occur in modern times as well as in ancient Greece. Which is why the boy is clothed in swim trunks.
The enamel is on fine silver and is mounted on the walnut lid of a box with a walnut base and sides of enameled copper. Sterling silver inlays in the wood carry the wave theme beyond the enamel.
In the open box, the dark amber counterenamel on the copper siding can be seen. The edge of the copper is covered with a channel wire of sterling silver.
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The next box shows the sad face of a clown who suffers among the symbols of joy and comedy at a circus. The mood is inspired by the scene in Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci, in which the clown sings Vesti la Giubba, as he dresses for the show while mourning the love that was stolen from him.
The box titled “Nantucket” was commissioned by my sister-in-law as a memento, a gift to her partner in real estate, upon their opening of a new development named and fashioned after the theme of Nantucket.
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The music box Portofino is a memento of a happy honeymoon there. It was commissioned as a gift for the young bride on the occasion of their first wedding anniversary.
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Another music box, showing here a glimpse of its inner workings, is designed on a Russian theme in keeping with its music.
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Wooden dishes provide another attractive setting for enamel pieces. The dishes are normally produced on a wood lathe. I also had success in using a much less expensive machine, called the Bowl Crafter, in which the wood is turned slowly while the blade of an electric router does the cutting. One dish below shows bobwhites in the field; the other portrays the cottage of Anne Hathaway, born in 1556, who married William Shakespeare.
Many items were commissioned as gifts to commemorate some special occasion. Most were simple pendants similar to those shown previously. Several of the boxes shown above were likewise mementos. Some of the more unusual items are shown here.
This simple dome-shaped circular design was specified by the customer as a birthday gift for her fiancé. She was precise regarding the proportions and the colors. It was essential that the red circle reflect light well because he would be gazing into it for purposes of meditation. I complied by including a small circle of gold foil beneath the red enamel. I wondered, with a silent chuckle, just what it was that was being represented here. I soon found out, when she brought me a book on Yoga meditation. It showed exactly the design I was following, as an instrument for meditation.
Several days after I gave her the completed work, she returned in tears. She had an inscription engraved on the silver back, and the birth date was wrong. I could have made a new bezel, but I first suggested a less costly approach: I gave her the exact thickness of the silver, and asked her to consult with the engraver; he could possibly grind away the old inscription and engrave the corrected one. That apparently worked, for I never heard about it again.
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One day a young fellow brought me a single cufflink. He had proudly worn it ever since inheriting it from his grandfather. Now he had lost its mate. Could I duplicate it? Well, I was willing to try the complex design, called Blue Wisteria. It would involve the Champlevé technique, tracing the design with resistant asphalt paint, and then etching the remainder with a mordant. But I didn’t think I could match the exact color of the enamel, or the texture of the gold plating, apparently from some industrial process. I suggested replacing both cufflinks to ensure a good match. And so I did, and so the young man went off, content with the thought that he’d done the second best thing, next to not losing the cufflink in the first place.
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Finally, a memento celebrating the remarriage of some close relatives. After 36 years of a good and fruitful marriage, with three grown children, they divorced. One year later, there was a happy remarriage that lasted the rest of their lives. The enamel piece was made by a team effort. I came up with the design concept, my son Jasper developed the precise design, and my wife, Jaquelin, a novice enamelist, performed the actual work. The enamel is presented in a box-type frame.
After both of the couple had died, I received the following note and picture from their daughter. It is a response like this that fully rewards an artist or a writer, and instills a pressing desire to continue the work.
“I’m attaching a photo of the small altar I created in memory of my parents. The wood box contains mementos, letters and two small keepsake urns containing some of Mom and Dad’s ashes. I’m sure you recognize the cloisonné piece you created in celebration of their reunion when they remarried; it’s now in a place of honor and I treasure it.”
(Photo courtesy of Jaqui Freund)
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Enamels decorated the weapons of ancient Mycenaean warrior kings. They adorned important religious objects such as reliquaries and chalices throughout the medieval period. They made superb gifts fit for the most highly honored royalty, such as the Fabergé eggs of the Russian czars and their families. And throughout three millennia, enamels have furnished brilliant and richly colored jewelry for both men and women.
The simple pieces shown in this posting show that enamels can well express celebration and joy over everyday human experiences.