Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Ethics in Casting

Had a conversation last week that got me thinking…

what is ethical in casting?

Some are obvious – like you wouldn’t mold another person’s work.

Objects from nature seem okay to mold.

Those are the easy ones.

What about things like manufactured plastic objects?

What if the point is to use a common item that everyone would
recognize? Does it matter if it’s art or if it’s a production
jewelry item?

What do you guys think?


Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

   what is ethical in casting? 

You pose some interesting questions that I’ve thought a lot about in
the past year or so.

Here’s my take on it…

  1. Objects from nature are sources for a lot of my work. I think
    they reflect and transform the beauty we see around us, making
    people even more aware of the easily overlooked beauty in nature.
    My PERSONAL approach is that each item from nature is an original.
    I don’t mold them and replicate them. Mother Nature created each
    one to be unique, so who am I to say there should be a thousand of a
    particularly nice leaf or twig? Within my art, that adds to the
    perceived value of each piece, as well.

  2. Manufactured plastic objects can be used in some circumstances.
    Again, the issue is transformation and respect for copyright. For
    example, I would likely get into deep doo-doo if I used plastic
    Monopoly markers as sources for my pieces. They are highly
    recognizeable and part of the copyright of the game; additionally
    the company markets various Monopoly pieces in metal and such. So
    this is an area I’d definitely stay away from.

Having said that, there have been times when a component of a
plastic modeling kit has been the “perfect” item to use in a design.
As an example, an odd-shaped torpedo component from a plastic
modeler’s kit of a submarine worked out beautifully for a shape I
was having a devil of a time replicating in a piece. The component
outside of its intended context and use would be completely
unrecognizeable and I don’t feel that I’d be infringing in any way
upon the copyright of the original model maker.

Likewise, some items are so common as to be “outside” of
copyrightability. The examples that leap to mind are a generic,
clawfoot hammer or crescent wrench. I can, of course, spend the
time to carve it out of wax, or I can purchase a plastic model that
is already the right size/shape. The design is generic and the
result would look the same no matter which way I obtained it to
cast. So I don’t feel at all that there’s a problem using it.

No matter what, you will be transforming the object in some way.
That’s your art. That’s the point of using a common object everyone
would recognize – to introduce some type of incongruity in its
presentation (presenting something in metal that everyone is used to
seeing in plastic, for example). Claes Oldenburg was the great
champion of this approach in art (the Clothespin, the Spoon Bridge,
and other works); he used size as his transformation medium instead
of material, but the underlying artistic principle is the same.

And as to your final question, I don’t make a distinction between a
one-off piece and a production piece. If done right, both have the
potential to be seen by many people, thereby indelibly attaching the
"ownership" of the design – or any questions about its authenticity
– to me.

Make sense?

Karen Goeller

Dear Karen,

I almost never throw away any small plastic object which has even a
remote possibility of becoming a part of a design in jewelry. I have
no qualms about copywright. Unless you are duplicating the FUNCTION
of the original application I fail to see how you might be
compromising the design. Furthermore, if you do an organic burnout
of a natural object what you are doing is a tribute to the
miraculous diversity in nature. Natural objects are a product of
random replication: they are not individually created products of

Creativity in designing jewelry should never be constrained by
perceived inhibitions…it is always much easier to imagine reasons
for NOT doing something than it is to DO something. Conservative
people rarely do anything that amounts to creativity…they are too
busy trying to suppress the activities of the people who are

Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.