My work in enamel on gold began in 1977.
I conceived of a medallion of the Grateful Dead logo in silver with enamels,
sort of in the style of those Lions club pins. I searched and found a die
cutter/engraver who said he could help me bring a third dimension into the
design. He didn't have a 3d engraving machine, so he cut the face by hand.
The resulting design is the first die of the GD medallion series. I contracted
with him to produce a total of 250 pieces in silver with opaque enamel.
Unfortunately he was unable to produce the quality to match the sample that
he had furnished me with his quote. After returning 60 of the first hundred
for remake, I decided to end the series with only 100 pieces made. The silver
was .925 Ag, which is Sterling.
I now owned a die, so I thought that I would learn how to do the enamelling,
and make some pieces in gold with transparent enamels. I chose .9999 pure
gold as the material. I enrolled in a course in enamel jewelry (cloisonné)
techniques. I found out very quickly that no one knew how to use the enamels
anymore, since there had been a lacuna in the time between Lalique and Fabregé,
and the resurge of interest in enamels as a hobby on copper in the forties.
So the techniques taught in the class were the ones derived by modern jewelers
from the copper enameling milieu. Obviously it would be necessary to try
to find out how the early masters did it. This turned out to be very difficult,
and I gave up the search and turned to the enamel themselves for the answers.
I began to use a 10 power binocular microscope while working with the pieces,
both as an aid in the surface carving, but also to better see what the enamels
were doing. They were doing a lot, as it turned out, and not all of it was
Enamel must be ground from the lump form to the powder used in filling,
Immediately before placing it in the little cells in the gold. As little
as 10-16 minutes with certain colors will cause drastic deterioration in
the quality of the glass. The purity of the water is extremely important,
as is the requirement to have a mortar and pestle which cannot contaminate
the enamel. I have worked with a friend, Alan Rhodes, an expert glass worker
to design and construct a special kiln, which I like to call the Ultrakiln (jpeg/75k) It is made of fused quartz, and
has a special high-tech controller to set the temperature. It heats from
room temperature to 1450 deg. F in 45 seconds and is stable to 1 deg. This
stability at temperature is a requirement for certain colors, not met by
any other device that I have ever seen. I allow no metal of any kind in
the kiln (other than the piece, of course).
The Dead medallions were the first of the enamel pieces that I made. In
1979 I began to carve original designs in gold freehand (the Dead pieces
are die-struck). The first was a champlevé rams head. I have made
nearly a hundred different designs by this time, with only a few repeats
of popular ones. Usually these are animals or plants or people, as I prefer
figurative to abstract images. Some are shown on the enamels page, and more
will be made available as I get the time to process the pictures into a
form suitable for the web.
The Dead medallion was completely redesigned in 1981. I made a model in
clay of my own reinterpretation of Bob Thomas' original line drawing of the Logo, which
is a kind of cartoon skull. My task was to try to make a correlation between
the cartoon tricks of perspective and a real skull. I was fortunate at the
time to have Bob sharing a house with me, and we discussed each of my changes.
I added the winged sun-disc to surround the symbol as a reference to the
Egypt trip. I had to invert the wings to get the design to look right. I
asked bob to make a sketch of a stylized Tudor double rose and heart for
the back, which I then interpreted into the design which I put on the punch
for the reverse of the medal. I was able to include my initials in the design,
a necessity given that there was no more space on the back for my stamp,
barely room for the .9999 mark. The medallion now was cut by a highly skilled
engraver who had a modern 3d engraving machine, and I had a 3-piece die
set made for the job
Now the art was more to my liking, and there was only the problem with the
process caused by the metal fatigue induced in the dies from the extreme
pressure to raise the metal. I was producing a sculpture with a coining
technique! Coins have a "lift" of .01" per inch, but my
pieces require .120" per inch, and the dies just self-destruct after
a limited number (50-60) of strikes. So we make new ones, and change the
size. The current one is near its end, and is the fourth of the series.
Other medallions which I have made with this coining process are a sun and
a moon, each of which are made as either enamel or plain metal in .9999
gold and the moon in .9995 platinum or .9999 silver as well. These have
also gone through several die sets.