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Descriptions of Repousse


#1

In history books which describe ancient metalworking in passing, I
have often run across the following type of comment regarding
repousse: “…repousse, in which the artist gently hammered out
relief forms from the back of a thin sheet of gold. Experienced
goldsmiths may have done simple designs freehand or used standard
wood forms or punches. For more elaborate decorations they would
first have sculpted the entire relief design in wood or clay and then
used this form as a mold over which to shape the gold sheet.” Although
I personally have done almost no repousse (and certainly none in
gold), I do not sense that the above is an accurate description of
how repousse is done, since it omits any description of the use of
pitch or some other type of backing. In addition, I think I remember
reading somewhere else that the idea of using a mold is a denigration
of the artistry of the goldsmith. Also, wouldn’t the use of a "mold"
present additional problems in producing the final product in sheet
gold? Can any of the goldsmiths out there give me an evaluation of
such descriptions?

Thanks in advance!
Judy Bjorkman


#2

Hello Judy,

As far as I can recall,repouss� is the counter technique for
chasing.While by repouss� the metal is forced from the back,chasing
is (strictly speaking) done from the front of the piece of
art.Repouss� is the frenche word for “projection”. Although,differents
names are used I believe that repouss� is a combination of both
technique’s,used to give the final piece a nice and sharp clear
outlined image. The use of making a mold is -to my humble opinion- a
cheeper version to make a number of pieces from the same stamp,let’s
call it mass production.However,somebody needs to make the mold and
this person (in honnor to his work)must be a very skilled craftsmen
in order to make this stamp of course without cadcam program. Hope
that this will bring some clearness about the repouss� art.

Regards Pedro
Palonso@t-online.de


#3

Dear Judy, It is pretty common to find an inaccurate description
of the repousse technique in art books or articles on metal. In
ancient times goldsmiths often used a bronze matrix over which
they hammered a thin sheet of gold. That was the more primitive
version of what we call today “stamping.” In the 19 and 20
Century silver companies produced loads of mass production using
stamping as a substitute for the far more expensive and time
consuming repousse work. With the help of wooden and brass
punches, one can easily duplicate the design of the bronze
matrix over a piece of thin metal, but there is no artistic
skill involved in this process and therefore there is no
artistic value in the produced piece. Preparing the matrix
itself requires much more skills, and fine craftsmanship. The
real repousse works done by pushing and raising the design from
the back of the piece is what people treasure and appreciate
today. In a time when so many things are done by our computers,
I am happy so see the revival of this beautiful technique.
Valentin Yotkov

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#4

Hi Judy

I’m guessing that if your book was only mentioning ancient
metalworking in passing it didn’t feel the need to go into great
depth about techniques and materials.

If you are repeating forms in repousse there are various ways to
aid in the repetition. If it is your own form and your own design
it shouldn’t compromise your artistry. It can be as simple as
piercing out a ‘matrix’ die in whatever is the best available
material. The best being determined by how many times you intend
to use it, whether you need it to be consistently accurate, how
much you want to spend, how much time you have… The die can be
used to ensure that the outline and size of your repeated design
is consistent. I use this technique when I’m making a hollow
form. Maintaining a consistent outline is a great aid to being
able to line up the edges for soldering. I use a die just for the
outline and do the rest free hand. I like working this way, but
it certainly isn’t the only way.

I haven’t used a clay form to work with. It wouldn’t work with
the guage of metal I use and my steel tools. However, if I was
going to work in extremely thin high carat gold like the ancient
Egyptions then I could ditch my steel tools and try the clay. End
grain wood has a limited life for accuracy (especially when used
with steel tools). This isn’t a problem if you’re only using it
a couple of times. Or its life can be lengthened by giving it a
metal edge. Or, if the outline doesn’t need to be accurate,
just very similar, it can be allowed to alter with use. Elizabeth

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#5

Judy, I’m no goldsmith, but I do know wooden molds for simple
repousse are still in use today. To get an idea of how it’s still
done, check out Oscar T. Branson’s books on Indian Jewelry
Making, Vol. I and II. Another method was to make a wood model
(male), fire harden it, then plunge it into a molten lead block
or Kirksite. These were used before repousse dies were
manufactured, and still used today.

Repousse molds were used as a production method. This was
generally confined to a main component, which previously or
subsequently was etched, engraved, inlaid, chased, and further
fabricated into something unique. Take for example a rather
recent use of this method with the traditional conchas of the
Southwest, and the Spaniards who brought it. A concha mold was
for the primary part of the concha, which was fluted. From there
it was domed, stones added, chased, stamped, wire and other
elements added. You only have to look at a good book documenting
the silver work of this area to see what each individual artist
added to the basic form.

As far as the method being “artistic” or not, is in the eye of
the beholder. I can’t see much difference between these methods
and hydraulic die forming, other than using pressure to form it
into the block vs. wooden dowels or sandbags. Would anyone dare
call Tim McCreight, Susan Kingley, James Binnion and Lee
Marshall, to name just a tiny few, anything less than bonafide
artists because they use these methods?

So, if something works, if you produce something beautiful
and/or meaningful with the method, does it matter whether it was
produced by low-tech or technologically advanced methods? Will it
endure? Will it be passed down through the generations? Will it
be cherished? Throughout history, mankind has missed a lot of
talented artists because they (artists) didn’t want to do things
the ordinary way. Will we squelch some aspiring artist because we
feel a method they use disqualifies them as an artist?

I love working with anyone who has a skill I don’t have, whether
they are a native person working with the most simplistic tools,
or of international fame. By the way, guess which ones are
usually more willing to share their knowledge, and honored that
you asked them to learn? K.P. in WY

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#6

Some are missing the obvious point that stamping with dies is
just that - stamping with dies. It isn’t repousse, the two are
different techniques and shouldn’t be confused nor should the two
terms be considered interchangeable. Repousse refers to a very
specific technique as has already explained by Mr. Yotkov, one
of the world’s most recognized authorities in this field. In
principle, forming a concho with a stamp and die involves
manipulating the metal in a somewhat similar fashion, with a
hammer and a punch, but that does not make it repousse, and
therefore the term should not be misapplied to this type of
work.

As another example, If small spheres of metal are applied as a
design and then soldered in place it is known as applique, and
even though the result may appear similar to granulation, it
isn’t actually granulation because it doesn’t involve the fusing
technique which distinguishes the true granulation from a
soldered applique.

We would not call an item with machined engraved designs a piece
of hand engraving, because it was not done by hand, operating the
engraving machine doesn’t constitute hand engraving.

A lithographic print isn’t an original one-of-a-kind hand
painted sheet, and could therefore hardly be considered to be
similar in quality, aesthetically or otherwise, and it wouldn’t
be acceptable to label it as such.

Some may say it is merely a matter of semantics in either case,
but technically and technique-ly they would be wrong on each of
these accounts.

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#7

I am not sure it is that clear cut. It is true that technicaly
repousse refers to a very specific technique. If however, while
I’m doing repousse I turn the piece over and work it from the
front to get more detail, technically I am now doing chasing.
Chasing and repousse are different techniques that are often used
in cunjunction with each other on the same work. When both pieces
are used together it is common to refer to the piece as repousse.
I am currently working on a project where I have a design element
that is repeated 16 times. In the interest of time and aesthetics
I created a stamp and die and that element is die stamped. The
rest of the piece is repousse and chased. It is not obviouse to
the viewer which technique was used where. I think it is fair to
assume that I am not the first artist faced with a similiar work
order who thought of mixing the techniques. If a piece is die
stamped it should be refered to as die stamped. If it is not
easily evident how the piece was formed I think it is acceptable
to refere to the piece as repousse. Just my humble opinion.

Epaul Fischer
Gryphon Song Creations
Phoenix AZ currently 103 degrees F and beautiful out

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#8

Indeed, being able to learn from an accomplished artist in a
difficult and demanding and beautiful craft like repousse is
indeed a joy. Recently I had the honor of attending a 3-day
workshop taught by Valentin Yotkov, whose virtuosity in this
medium is to be seen in his elegant work. To learning what is
involved in this art is to appreciate the years of dedicated work
it takes to achieve his fluency of expression. That he is also
dedicated to teaching and sharing his knowledge is something to
be treasured.

“By the way, guess which ones are usually more willing to share
their knowledge, and honored that you asked them to learn? K.P.
in WY.”

Artists who have the confidence of having done their best work
for years, who care about keeping the craft they love going and
growing through the expression of others as well as themselves.

Valentin Yotkov is an artist in the true sense, a skilled and
generous master of repousse who is also a gifted teacher. Having
worked with a great master throughout his youth, he honors his
teacher by sharing with others what he has learned and also what
he has discovered himself. We have much to learn in our time of
the care and dedication of people who spend their lives
perfecting their art and passing their knowledge to others, not
hiding their “trade secrets” but sharing all they know.

Others have mentioned the joy of Mr. Yotkov’s intensive
workshops in chasing and repousse. I would like to add my voice
to theirs, and also to say that I look forward with great
interest to the book on which he is working now.

Colene Abramson Massachusetts USA

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#9

I just wanted to thank Michael David Sturlin, For putting so
well, what is in fact correct about the fact that stamping and
repousse are NOT the same thing. As a traditional silversmith my
self, who does on occasion consider using alternative methods to
achieve my goals and aims, I always consider and recognize that
the differences in these techniques are vast, and should not only
be remembered, but also be disclosed. To call something that is
stamped a repousse piece, is a flat out lie. Yes the metal has
been moved, and perhaps to a shape that originally would have
been done BY repousse, but that does not mean it IS. It is the
loose use of terms like this that is causing the traditional
crafts in this country, like jewelers, silversmiths, and
goldsmiths, such difficulties. (and for those of you who do not
know, a jeweler, silversmith, and a goldsmith are not the same)
It is important for those of us in these fields to be clear an
honest, and to present the skills and techniques used in these
fields accurately and honestly. If we and others don’t do this,
we will undermine our own value, and give over what little hold
we have left on the market to those products being mass produced
overseas. If we as craftsmen and artists, can not tell the
process by which we make things, how can we expect the public to
do so. And once the public has no on these timeless
crafts, what do we have to offer any longer that can not be mass
produced for less overseas. once again, I thank you for
recognizing and putting down so well, that there are differences,
and that these are important, even if the end results can some
times be different.

A. Austin
Silversmith

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#10

I didn’t consider earlier that there may be many reading these
posts who have not yet become acquainted with the technique of
repousse, which is currently being discussed. Many of the gold
antiquities from diverse locations all over the globe were
produced by the ancient goldsmiths through the application of
chasing and repousse. A colleague of mine in Austria provided me
with the following link to a dialogue on chasing and repousse
which contains very accurate and detailed descriptions of how
this technique is executed. To learn more about this art-form go
to http://www.artmetal.com/brambush/forging/proj04/index.htm and
enjoy the discussion of the technique by several well known
contemporary artists still utilizing this procedure.