I've had a thoroughly nice weekend: yesterday I went to Palo Alto, dragged Jeff out for lunch, bought the last bits I needed to start making jewelry again (flush-cutters, chain-nose pliers, butane torch), went nuts at the Redwood City Library, went to a housewarming in Berkeley and saw my friends. Today I did some jewelry work, read most of a book on blacksmithing...I went to the Diving Pelican Cafe, a nice place right on a small cove, and drank a capuccino five minutes before closing, and watched the beautiful, overcast, drizzly day, with ducks and terns and swallows and chickadees. I stayed an hour after all the employees went home: I didn't really move or make noise, so the chickadees ignored me for the most part, hopping under my chair and coming within a foot or so on the tabletop.
I'm most of the way through this book on blacksmithing (the original 1977 printing), and it's a great book, with tons of information on techniques and background and endless dozens of pictures of iron and steel pieces. Looking at all of this stuff, much of it technically quite challenging, has confirmed in me a belief lurking for years in the back of my mind:
The overwhelming majority of ironwork is ugly.Yes, ugly. Hideous. Black matte-finish sculptures with dozens of pointy tendrils going every which way for no reason, gratuitous twists and turns, artists attempting to compensate with complexity of shape for what they seem unwilling or unable to do with color or texture. Boring, dark, and ugly. For utensils, the end result is often just too damn heavy. Do you really want to eat with a fork whose handle is solid steel 1/4-1/2 inch thick? (If you're wondering, the answer is, "No, that would be much too heavy".)
But I do want to learn this art, and so I consider how I might make things out of the same material, with the same techniques, that I myself find attractive and useful. The ugliness is not inevitable: there's a lot of truly sublime ironwork out there, especially from the workshop of Samuel Yellin, who seems to have been, by general consensus, about the best blacksmith ever. He did a lot of the work for Washington Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and even if I can't figure out how it was made, I know that it's brilliant, showing an incredible sense of design and an intuition of how to make something as dark and heavy as iron seem light and natural.
I'm quite certain that, when I learn, I will end up making many, many, many ugly things. *smile*
(For the record, according to the blacksmithing teacher at The Crucible almost no one actually works with iron any more: mild steel at least as workable, more readily available with better quality control, and stronger.)
The new jewelry piece is coming along. It, too, may be ugly, but this is something I'm doing for myself, and to make stuff to give to people. So they can tell me how much they appreciate the thought and I'll try to do something less ugly next time. The nice thing about jewelry, especially silver which is so easy to work, is that I can almost certainly un-uglify a piece somehow, even if it means taking it apart and doing something radically different. I'm not doing anything that can't be swiftly and cheaply undone.
I met a nice girl at the party last night. Almost certainly not going to go anywhere, but by God I'm going to ask her out to coffee and try to find out.