Friday, January 28, 2011

Steel, Glass, Wood, & Recognition

It’s not even February yet, and it feels like Spring. Sun is shining, days are pleasant, and even some of the plum trees in our alley are already blossoming. I haven’t had to turn on the heat in my studio for nearly three weeks. Global warming? Maybe, but it’s probably the old California La Niña weather pattern in effect again. Of course, that may also be why the eastern half of the country is having so much snow and freezing weather.

Recent Events

DPN-Winter-11-coverI have to toot my horn here. Yesterday, I got probably the biggest surprise of the last several years. One of my dulcimers, “The Lady With a Checkered Past”, is in the Winter, 2011, issue of Dulcimer Players News (scanned cover on the right), in a lovely article written by her owner and professional banjo and dulcimer player, Mary Z. Cox. Not only is the article interesting, but flattering. I feel honored she wrote about the dulcimer and complimented me on my work. Of course, the biggest surprise was when I opened the envelope the magazine was mailed in and saw “The Lady” on the cover! If your local book store doesn’t carry Dulcimer Players News, contact the DPN website to get an issue. It’s a wonderful magazine, and there’s always good articles on both Mountain and hammered dulcimers.

Baulines ShowA couple of weeks ago, I attended the artist reception at the Baulines Craft Guild Master Annual Exhibit at the Marin Community Foundation, 5 Hamilton Landing (2nd floor), Novato, California. The show runs to March 17th, and the Foundation offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. The reception was great fun, and very well attended, including a school group of young teens who seemed very interested in the crafts. There are around 250 craft pieces on display around the large building, which is a remodeled hanger that used to house planes when the area was the Hamilton Air Force Base. I have six instruments on display, and my Summer student has two. The works of other Baulines Craft Guild members include fiber art, ceramics, glass, metalwork, and,of course, woodwork, including pieces by legendary Gary Knox Bennett and TV host and instructor David Marks. See the show if you can. I think it’s pretty spectacular.

Chandelier in processIn my last post I mentioned I was getting ready to start a Cabrillo College extension course on Lighting and Warm Glass. Well, I did it. Even with the head and chest cold I was carrying around the first week, I was able to design and build a new chandelier for our dining room. For years my wife and I hated the cheap and ugly chandelier that hung over our dining room table but were never able to find a replacement we both liked. Now we have a new “old” chandelier we love. I did some research on medieval and renaissance lighting fixtures and found one that fit the bill. New Chandelier-final hangingHowever, it was all metal, and I hadn’t worked with metal (cutting and welding) for nearly 35 years. Also, the type of metal cutting and welding at the class is much different than what I used to do back then. Cutting was done using a plasma cutter, which, when used correctly  can make fairly intricate, fine, and decorative cuts (it took me a few days of practice). I was working on it right up to the last minutes before the “artist” reception the evening of the last day. I spent quite a bit of the last day adding special “rust” patination to the piece. It really makes it look medieval. The next two days after the class was over I spent wiring and installing the chandelier. With the dimmer on low, it looks like candle light shining through the sandblasted glass. (Yes, I also learned how to bend and sandblast glass.) It was an intense two weeks, but fun and rewarding.

My autoharp at SCALFinally, last week was the reception for the Santa Cruz Art League Members’ Show (A – K). I have one of my newest instruments on display there: The Dolgeville Autoharp, Model 1. It’s a reproduction of the original 3-chord 1885 Zimmermann autoharp. The Zimmermann Company started out in Philadelphia, and by 1890 had moved to Dolgeville, New York. It’s most famous autoharp, the Model 73, is still made (in China, unfortunately) by the Oscar Schmidt company, who has made it since the early 1900s.

On February 12th, the second half of the Members’ Show (L – Z) begins, with a reception on February 19th, 3 to 5 pm.

In the Workshop

Nearing completion (finally) is my Chapter House Portative Organ. I’m now rubbing out and polishing all the parts, and just finished putting tung oil on the pipe surfaces. This project has been going on for more than a year (close to two years now), and I’m pretty excited to be on the home stretch. Photos coming soon.

Box trestle table carvingsAnother long-running project (only 6 months or so), is a box trestle table. This is my design based on a German table from the 1600s. The legs and the top and bottom of the table are complete. I’m now carving the sides of the box in a style similar to the original. This WILL be done for the Santa Cruz Woodworkers Show at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), which starts July 30th.

Wood Chandelier cutting


My newest project is another lighting fixture. This one is square, but made out of wood. It will have a similar design to the metal one I made at the Cabrillo College “Lighting and Warm Glass” extension class. The sides will be joined with box joints, and it will also have frosted (sandblasted) glass on the bottom and sides.


Franz Schonfeld zitherThere are, of course, several instruments in process and others waiting to be started, and I’m still working on fixing and restoring antique zithers. I just finished one, and I have one more to do in February. The completed one is a Viennese concert zither by Franz Schonfeld, from around 1880-1900. It has Brazilian Rosewood on the front and back, and what looks like an Indian rosewood on the sides. It’s a pretty instrument with a warm, full tone.

Well, it’s another sunny day, and it’s time for me to get back to work. Rain is forecast this weekend, and it’s supposed to get chilly again. I’ll go out and make hay (or rather sawdust) while the sun shines. Onward…

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Welcome To My Workshop: 2011

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Well, actually, it was firecrackers and sky rockets celebrating New Years. And now, here it is January 2, 2011, already. For me, it’s a new year with new ideas, new arts & crafts, and new things happening…, and both of us here have colds. Ugh!

But I refuse to let it get me down. I still spent a day in the studio, trying to get as much done as possible before my two weeks of intensive education at Cabrillo College. I’m taking an extension course on Lighting/Warm Glass. As the Cabrillo blurb says, “…a 2-week intensive course [for]students of any level--beginning to advanced--will learn the construction of working light fixtures and table lamps utilizing a variety of materials. By the end of the course you'll have a working light source of your own design. The course will cover beginning and intermediate techniques for fusing and slumping glass, safety, wiring, types of lighting, bulbs (Incandescent, Halogen, LED, Low Voltage, EL Wire, etc.), You'll have an opportunity to work in metal, wood, glass, paper, mica and found objects. Instruction will include: hot and cold metal forging, welding, soldering, patination, glass cutting, layering, drilling and grinding.” I’m looking forward to it, and hope to design and build a medieval style chandelier for our dining room.

Our colds are probably the result of our Christmas vacation in San Francisco. We spent time around a lot of people in museums and the crowds around Union Square and the stores there. Our first day in the City was spent at the DeYoung Museum, where we got to see the Musée d’Orsay Post Impressionist exhibit. Being face-to-face with VanGogh’s “Starry Night on the Rhone” was breath taking, as was many of the great and wonderful paintings by Gauguin, Cezanne, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Unfortunately, the place was incredibly crowded (cough, cough), but we wormed our way through to see everything.

Ron at Hotel Rex Lobby BarWe stayed at a really nice boutique hotel called the Hotel Rex. We ate at a really nice French restaurant there a couple of times (it’s closed now) and always thought it would be nice to stay there. For our San Francisco Christmas, I was not only able to get a room, but we were upgraded to a lovely fifth floor “executive queen” room that was large and included a nice comfy sofa. The windows looked out the back of the hotel onto a nice interior garden space. Lovely!

Old City of Paris Dome in N-MarcusOn Christmas Eve, we toured the stores around Union Square. My wife found a great custom yarn store that spun and dyed all their own yarns, and a huge fabric store where we both found some items to bring home. Later we went into the “regular” stores, including Neiman-Marcus, where the great “City of Paris” stained glass dome still resides. The original City of Paris was built in the late 1800s and was partially destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. It was rebuilt, with the huge rotunda dome, in 1910. Unfortunately, the wonderful old building was torn down and a non-descript “mall-looking” Neiman-Marcus built in its place. Only the rotunda and dome remains from the original.

On Christmas day, Chinatown was hopping. Almost all the stores were open. You could even get a haircut there if you wanted to on Christmas. It was a rainy day, but we bundled up and walked through Chinatown into North Beach and back. Across from the Chinatown gate is a wonderful French restaurant, Café de la Presse, where we stopped for lunch, then back again the next morning for breakfast. We got a little chilled and wet that morning, which probably helped us get our colds.

Ron at SFMOMA Wine exhibitThe day after Christmas we walked down to the Ferry Building and walked around as all the shops were opening up. We then walked back up Market Street and cut over to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not at all as crowded as the DeYoung Museum, but just as fascinating. We spent a good four hours walking around viewing the huge collection of photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson, strange erotic and some disturbing photos on “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870, an interesting exhibit called “How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now”, and great modern works in the museum’s collection for its 75th Anniversary show by Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Frida (Frieda) Kahlo, René Magritte, Jackson Pollock, Paul Klee, and Claus Oldenburg, and many others. Another breath taking excursion.

In the Studio

Ron Carving away2We haven’t been home that long, but I jumped right back into the studio to continue working on my pipe organ and box trestle table. Today, being the last day of the “holidays”, and before my two weeks at Cabrillo, I spent the whole day carving (and coughing) on the sides to the trestle table’s box. This table is my final and biggest piece I’m creating for the July woodworking show at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH). As I’ve mentioned before, this show will have many works by the members of the Santa Cruz Woodworkers. I finished carving one side and have three more to go, which I’ll have to take up next weekend and try to finish one more side.

The Chapter House Portative Organ is actually nearing completion. After 13 or 14 months, I have several parts ready for finishing with tung oil. A few days ago, I made a new organ pipe to replace one that was too short to tune properly. Unfortunately, my replacement didn’t work that well, so I ended up ripping more maple and made four more pipes, three that turned out great! I now have a full set of tuned pipes. Yes, I finally tuned them to a diatonic A Major scale. I also finally made the bellows, which I’ve been reluctant to do for months because I’ve never done anything like this before. They actually work!!!

So, tomorrow is a new chapter in my life: a new class at Cabrillo that might put me in a new artistic direction… or not. Who knows? Afterwards, its on to new and better instruments, furniture, carvings, and… who knows? My list of “things to do” keeps expanding. Oh, and…

Onward through the fog!