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Calder jewelry questions


#1

After reading about the book, Calder Jewelry, here on The Orchid, I
started researching it. I found a number of photographs from the book
(and exhibit) on Google images. I’m fascinated by his earrings,
necklaces and hair ornaments.

He used copper wire which was formed into curves and wheels and
other fanciful shapes. He flattened the wire by some method which
I’ve been pondering for the last month or so. I can’t figure out the
answers to these questions and hope someone here can enlighten me:

  1. Did he work the wire into his shapes and then flatten it? It
    seems that he must have, since whatever method he used to flatten
    the wire would have work-hardened it to the point where it would
    have been very difficult to shape, but I’m not sure.

  2. Just how did he flatten the wire? I’ve looked at the photos to
    see if I can discern any hammer marks but I don’t see them. Of
    course, looking at a photo on a computer monitor is nothing like
    having the item in front of me, but I just don’t see the evidence of
    hammer work. Did he put the wire through some kind of rolling
    device? I don’t know enough about metalsmithing to know what machine
    would do that, but in my mind it would look somewhat like a
    pasta-maker, with incrementally finer and finer pressure. How far
    off am I?

If anyone understands how he accomplished his simple and beautiful
works in jewelry, I’d be much obliged to know. Thanks in advance.

Mara Nesbitt-Aldrich


#2
If anyone understands how he accomplished his simple and beautiful
works in jewelry, I'd be much obliged to know. 

Of course it would be of little difficulty for an experienced
metalsmith to reverse engineer Calder’s pieces. And it would miss the
point entirely.

Calder was “at play” when he made these. He was not trained as a
jeweler, although he had great facility with metal. Flatten the wire,
then bend it, see what that does, or bend it and then flatten it…
differing results? Flatten it with a polished hammer against a
polished steel surface… or flatten it with a rock against another
rock… or use a rusty chunk of steel against a rustier chunk of
steel, or roll it through a rolling mill for a thoroughly boring
consistency. The point is, that, like Calder, you have the
opportunity to experiment and experience. If you were an Elvis
impersonator, the best you’d achieve would be be to allow your
audience, for a brief moment, to feel as if they were listening to
"The King" himself. But they would never really experience YOU!
You’ve got to lose yourself in trying a lot of stuff at a time in
your life when it doesn’t matter if you’ve done it using the “right"
method or not. Once you get a job working for one of us
"professionals”, we’ll probably be able to squash all your
spontaneity eventually (or not).

David L. Huffman


#3

From looking at pictures of Calder’s work and pictures of him
working, he is definitely using a hammer and anvil. There are facet
marks from the hammer face on most of his work, and there is a
picture in the book where he is holding a rather large hammer over an
anvil:

Scott


#4

Mara,

I’m not sure what pieces you’re looking at but those I’ve seen all
appear to be hand hammered, planished and polished. I can’t see any
of those pieces going into a rolling mill. Well, maybe one or two,
but probably not. Yes, hammering or even rolling them flat will work
harden the pieces but it’s easy to anneal the metal soft again to
reform or hammer some more.

I’ve done similar pieces where I form the wire into the shapes I
want first, hammer it flat, anneal, pickle, hammer some more, anneal,
pickle, and so on and so forth until I get the look I want, then
planish, polish and done. Hardly any hammer marks but still looks
hand made as the Calder pieces do.

Michele


#5
I form the wire into the shapes I want first, hammer it flat,
anneal, pickle, hammer some more, anneal, pickle, and so on and so
forth until I get the look I want 

Michele, may I ask why you “pickle” the wire in this process. I
understand annealing the wire to make it malleable again, but why
pickle it? Are you depletion gilding it to raise the fine silver? In
other words, is the “pickle” step a functional step or an aesthetic
step?

Thanks for helping me learn.
Alice


#6
may I ask why you "pickle" the wire in this process. I understand
annealing the wire to make it malleable again, but why pickle it?
Are you depletion gilding it to raise the fine silver? In other
words, is the "pickle" step a functional step or an aesthetic step? 

Don’t know about Michelle, but pickling would normally be routine
practice after annealing, if the annealing is done by means that does
not prevent oxidation. If you’ve protected the silver with suitable
fluxes or the like so it does not oxidize during annealing, then all
you need do is remove the flux, which sometimes can be just hot
water. But otherwise, if you don’t anneal, you’re working with
blackened cruddy looking metal, not silver looking metal. So the
pickling would be done just to keep the silver looking like silver.
That’s both functional AND aesthetic. Depletion gilding is an effect
you can get by repeated careful heating, generally at temperatures
not quite as high as usually used for torch annealing, hot enough to
cause oxidation of any surface copper, but not so hot that copper
starts moving around, which would tend to negate any surface
depletion from cumulatively building a thicker fine silver layer.
Normally, annealing and pickling once after cold working, even if
that whole sequence is repeated, doesn’t appreciably increase the
thickness of the fine silver at the surface, simply because when you
cold work it, you’re messing with that surface, and when you then
anneal it, (hot enough for recrystalization), diffusion of copper
during that process pretty much negates any buildup of increased
amounts of fine silver at the surface.

Of course, you don’t HAVE to pickle it each time if you don’t want.
But you’ll just make more work for yourself later.

Now, if you’re annealing without flux coating, then you are also
building up a layer of fire stain, which WILL get thicker with
repeated operations, so annealing in a manner to avoid oxidation at
all, is the best plan. This keeps the silver clean, keeps you from
having to deal with fire stain later, and does not cause any
depletion gilding because you’re not oxidizing any of the surface
copper and then removing it.

Peter Rowe


#7
may I ask why you "pickle" the wire in this process. I understand
annealing the wire to make it malleable again, but why pickle it?
Are you depletion gilding it to raise the fine silver? In other
words, is the "pickle" step a functional step or an aesthetic step? 

Depending on the material, I prefer to work clean. When I anneal the
metal to soften, it does kick up some firescale. I’d rather remove
the firescale first, then continue hammering. I’m not sure if
hammering a piece with firescale will make it harder to remove the
oxidation or not but don’t want to take the chance. Though now that I
think of it, I may play around a bit and see what happens.

Michele


#8

Calder was, indeed, at play when making most of his jewelry work.
Further, he made jewelry while he was traveling, carrying only wire,
a hammer, wire cutters, pliers and a few other basics (I assume a
file, sandpaper, etc, but don’t have the book on his jewelry in front
of me as a reference.) When he was in his own shop, he had more
tools, such as an anvil.

His jewelry wasn’t made for the art world - it was made expressly to
be gifts for people he cared about. On that note, I recommend
checking out the circus he constructed and would act out for friends
and family. It’s an astounding collection of objects made from what
would otherwise be considered garbage.

I concur that experimentation with those basic tools and whatever you
find in your daily path is the best method to understand how he
created, as well as educate yourself about how wire responds to
different approaches.


#9

Peter and Michelle,

Thank you for explaining to me why you pickle after work hardening
and annealing a piece. I do a fair amount of annealing and
hammering/ folding/etc. without pickling in between. But I hadn’t
thought about building up fire scale by doing so, and by not working
with a more aesthetically-pleasing silver metal while forming my
pieces. I’ll definitely try the pickling next time and see if I
notice an appreciable difference. Thanks again for taking the time to
answer my question.

Alice