Sunday at the Museum

Went to see the Van Gogh, Mondrian, Picasso exhibit on Sunday. As always, I learned a great deal; I’m not much of an art historian and it doesn’t take a whole lot to impress me. The fact that the exhibit actually *was* a “whole lot” in itself, didn’t escape me, though.

For me, museums have always been like temples and cathedrals. The idea that I’m pretty much ignorant of most of what I see in them kind of misses the point. It just means that I missed that particular part of my formal education is all. My heart’s still good.

Very good. And it was very receptive during my Sunday tour of the worlds of Vincent Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso. When I was 4 years old, I used to nag my parents to take me to the Denver Museum week after week, and they sometimes gave in, allowing all kinds of creative energy from the ages to swirl about my 4 year old brain. My preferred section was down some old stairs where some photos of ancient Indians hung. One of the photos seemed very familiar, but I can only guess what that meant to the little 4 year old kid. I’ve speculated that I used to see the old man out on my favorite part of the prairie where I’d run with my dog and chase birds. But who knows this many years later? It’s a nice memory, though.

When I finished the Picasso and other Cubists exhibit, the tour led out through the gift shop of all places. As I walked through, I was drawn to one of the glass cases. There in the top, on the top two shelves were “my” pieces. I don’t really need the “” around my; I make a living with jewelry and “our” pieces were in the showcase. What I meant was, I didn’t design them; my partner did. But I was heavily involved in the creation process. The artwork that drew my attention was a five piece necklace, cast in sterling silver. The five pieces are sensous shapes that swirl down from a cabretta leather tie. Each piece is 4 or 5 inches long.

The pieces are lost wax cast,quite difficult to produce, and that’s where I come in. Each piece starts off as a wax sculpture that gets fixed to a base and surrounded with plaster. After the plaster hardens, the wax melts out and I fire up a gas furnace, which melts the sterling silver sitting in a graphite crucible. At some point, when the surface of the molten metal “looks” right, I pour it into the plaster mold under vacuum pressure. The plaster mold, hollow now, is the one that used to surround the wax sculpture of the sensous necklace shape.

Knocking it out of the mold and polishing the sterling is another long drawn out process. Suffice it to say that when molten metal cools, it’s tricky getting it to harden on the outside into a smooth, sensous shape. It has to be helped at that point by a jeweler’s polishing wheel. But not “helped” too much, because if you polish through the dense outer shell of the metal, the interior is even more porous, because it was the last to cool after the metal was poured.

Why mention all this? Because I’ve been to a lot of exhibits in a lot of museums over the years. I’ve seen a lot of incredible art work created by humans with maybe a touch of inspiration from whatever gods that be. After all the years of going to museums and all the years of producing jewelry, I’d have to say that last Sunday in the Gift Shop was the first time that it really hit me. That necklace and a few of the other pieces on the two shelves, will someday sit in another part of a museum somewhere as part of a permanent collection. I don’t think it will be in my lifetime; it might be 500 years from now. But I felt it in my gut. And there was something full circle about that. And there was something 4 year old kid about that too.

2 thoughts on “Sunday at the Museum

  1. That’s a nice story, and a great insight. So much of art is about the perspective of time.

    Michelangelo considered himself a craftsman when he did work like the Cistine Chapel. That was a job he did to earn money, at the behest of someone else. He considered himself a sculptor (his “art”), but had a hard time earning a living at that during the days he lived, so he painted on commission.

    Today, hundreds of years later, we view what he did as great art … at the time, to him, it was a paycheck.

  2. Thanks for the comment. As I walked through the Van Gogh exhibit and read about his years in the mental hospital (after drinking a bunch of oil paint) and poverty, I found myself thinking “poor man…”

    I can imagine a future scene hundreds of years from now where they learn about the caster, who, no longer able to lift the crucible, and after several years of saying, “welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order?” died penniless in a state institution where he was found frequently roaming the halls raving about, “they destroyed usenet with all that crap and they did the same thing to the blogs….”

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