Fire from the Mountain: Glass and Steel
My work in glass is a synthesis of human and mechanical form, with an emphasis on formal aspects. I am interested in playing the volumes of mass against the rhythm of the lines. I enjoy the interplay of the visual (visceral) versus the verbal (descriptive/technical). The work should challenge the eye and the mind.
I use traditional and innovative blacksmithing techniques to produce work known to mimic the look of soft fabric. The theme, inspired by my upbringing in Columbus, Ga., references feminine attire. My father worked a lot, so my sister and I were influenced by a female-dominated world. My mother and grandmother, domestic and meticulous craftswomen, sewed frilly dresses for us. They enjoyed and took pride in their accomplishments. Mother entertained us with fairy tales and stories she made up. We played with scraps of fabric that fell to the floor as they worked. I take pleasure in breaking the preconceived idea that blacksmithing is an occupation for a brawny man. In my own way, I am following the tradition of the ladies of my family. I use a hammer, anvil, torch and welders to make sculptures that reference cloth, suggest narratives and celebrate Southern women of my generation.
Bill Brown is a sculptor whose works range from nonrepresentational to abstraction. His work is motivated largely by a drive to transform observations and experiences into sculpture, with exploration of form, line or texture playing prominently in the work. Using a variety of metal techniques, Brown notably includes the use of heavy forging techniques to manipulate the material, which serves to expand perceptions of large-scale steel sculpture. Though steel is the primary medium, his sculptures have included additional materials from various metals or combinations of metal and glass and natural stone. His art works range from large-scale outdoor pieces to intimate interior sculptures.
During my 46-year career, I have been fascinated with and have rendered bird imagery into my work in various forms. This focus has sharpened in the last 14 years with the blown bird series, which is based on techniques of German flameworking. I learned these techniques when I was a young apprentice, although I brought them into a contemporary context in relation to my work. I have always combined bird and human elements in my sculptures, vessel forms, and mixed media pieces. I began the present bird series after 9/11 to counter the mood and malaise of that time period. Birds have that special metaphysical and spiritual quality, which is reflected in their colors, gestures, song, and flight. Plus, I love to invoke humor and character into these pieces, especially in the titles.
Book paper and steel are placed in different contexts in our lives. The book is appreciated as an object of education, growth, and escape. Whereas steel is often invisible, even though it is a primary structure of our constructed environment. I strive to level the playing field between these disparate perceptions and materials.
I search for harmony between paper and steel that in so many ways possess similar attributes: flexibility, history, mass, and density.
Unbound blocks of text lose their original meaning when I cut the pages from their bindings. This allows me to respond to the shape and texture of the paper and give new meaning. Introducing metal to the process gives structure and support to the loose pages, and elevates the steel – a familiar material in industry and architecture – to the level of the book – an object for contemplation. Alongside the paper, the steel becomes graceful, its subtle colors and surface heightened. Bound together, the pages and steel become something new and unified. No longer a book on a shelf, but a unique object with its own strength and story.
Having grown up on the seashore, on occasion I had the rare find of a weathered chip of glass, frosted white, sometimes green or the extra special blue which provided an untold story of its humble origins. The story was plain and simple and based on beauty. Did I find the remnant or had the remnant found me?
The first 23 years of my life were spent on the plains of western Kansas. It is my firm belief that growing up on the Great Plains has been the single greatest influence on my personal aesthetic.
Through the past four decades of sculptural exploration, working with bronze, steel, stainless steel, my work has evolved from literal to theoretical, simultaneously shifting in scale from intimate
to monumental. I am comfortable pushing the boundaries of these materials; often creating original processes unique to the project at hand.
My approach to creating public art is very pragmatic and hands-on. My design process includes careful consideration of all variables surrounding a project. I contemplate how the site is being used. Do people pass through the space, or will they slow down and relax? Is it a formal site where business will be conducted or a casual environment such as a park? Are there thematic concerns? How can the work support the architecture both landscape and structural? Can the object offer a counterpoint for the site? If the architecture is very hard edged, perhaps the sculpture can introduce soft curves. I feel this comprehensive approach gives rise to the optimal design solution.
I am very comfortable with the challenges that come with scale, from structural concerns to soil conditions. I work closely with engineers and architects, and stakeholders. I have completed projects that required every conceivable permit from wide loads to street closings.
To me, blacksmithing and forged work is about
line. Forging an iron bar for a decorative railing is a “three dimensional line” element. Most will view the work from a two dimensional space but upon closer inspection all sides of that bar have been worked by the smith. I have always thought that each element on a hand-forged gate or railing could be viewed as a line drawing or a sculptural element on its own.
This thinking has led me to look closely at handwriting and calligraphy. I specifically love the Islamic calligraphy because it is an art form based on the linear graphic. In “The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy”,
A.Khatibi and M. Siljelmassi write, “What calligraphy does is to take the written sign and alter its form and decorative style by changing the treatment of line. This plastic form simultaneously serves both the meaning of the actual statement and the composition of images, of letters that are recreated as image. The actual meaning of the statement here becomes secondary, so that the imagined reader is like a dreamer awakened, whose vision is woven within a context of art.”
While my work is not literal in any way, for this series I start with an imagined letter
form or signature and work the metal as though brushing a linear meaning. Similar to calligraphy, forging takes a bar and alters its form by changing the treatment of the line.
Most of this work is purely abstract, but a few of the pieces are replicas of Arabic letters and phrases that I found to be quite pleasing or challenging to forge in metal.
Kate Vogel & John Littleton
The collaboration between John Littleton and Kate Vogel began shortly after they met at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Since 1979, they have lived in the vibrant Toe River Arts community that surrounds Penland School in the mountains of Western
Their work has taken many directions–their recent glass and steel sculptures create a dynamic interplay between the strong bold forms of steel and transparent glass.