Saturday, May 08, 2021

'An Undiscovered Plant - with a cure for cancer.'

Elora Sculpture Project - 2021
‘My. how peculiar! Just what is this? It’s not like any plant I’ve seen before. It’s so BIG. - and so strange looking…’
This sculpture is in the form of a huge jungle (?) plant. A cluster of arching stems each hold individual frosted glass ‘flowers’. Towering above these are a group of huge and complex ’seed pods’. Bundled at the base are long blade shaped leaves.

... In truth it is the title that conveys the meaning to the piece, beyond creation of the fantastic. I also wanted to be less obvious that last year’s ‘Last to Sea’, and ‘Legacy’ in 2018. The starting point here was suggested by the 1992 film ‘Medicine Man’, about an isolated scientist in the Amazon, pursuing a plant based cure for cancer, and battling the destruction of the same rain forest where the rare plant can be found.  
(from the full description, published earlier)

On Friday, with the assistance of Kelly Probyn-Smith of Elfworks Studios, I installed the completed sculpture :
Overall view, from the walkway, towards the north east with the river behind.

Looking towards the south east

'With the Artist' - gives a better idea of scale *

One of the concepts I have developed in earlier work is contrasting colour against the natural appearance of forged steel. 
In the fire, steel will take on a flat, dark grey colour, with various textures depending on the hammering process. (It is not 'black', within the modern perception of colour.) Many of the past works presented at Elora have worked directly with how various metals oxidize with time ('Layers' - 2013 / 2016) or with the use of subtle colours against surface rusting ('Spears of Summer' - 2014). 
Modern steel alloys will rust on exposure to weather, if not protected by some coating system. Most typical is the use of industrial enamel, either a flat, or most commonly a glossy black paint. This actually bears little resemblance to the natural colour and texture of the freshly forged surfaces. To my mind, a bright, shiny, fire engine red is just as 'honest' a protective coating!

Given the overall 'fantasy of nature' intent to 'Undiscovered Plant', I chose to use a base coat of a bright gloss green. You can see that it is not that much different than the leaves of the early tulips planted already around the presentation space. The leaves have a wash of a darker green on their outside surfaces, with a highlight of a florescent green applied where they wrap into their stems.

The tendril like 'stamens' that form the core of each 'seed pod' element were dip painted to a yellow. These were then highlighted using two more florescent spray paints, with a bright yellow from below, then an orange downwards from the very tips of the element. The leaves making up the exterior of each bundle were painted a darker green than used elsewhere. (As you can see, it was overcast when the images were taken, the full impact of these bright colours is not as apparent as they are in life!)
Although it is harder to see in the images, each of the top ends of the bell flowers merges to a darker green. There is a slight hint of blue in the interior of the tendrils that hold the glass bells. 

Showing one of the 'seed pods', with the glass 'bell flowers' behind.

Close up of one of the seed pod elements, showing colour variations.

The physical dynamic of forging such long / heavy elements I have found pretty punishing over the last month. The weather over the last week had been uniformly cold and wet (night times about 4 C, days up to only about 12 - 15 - with rain almost every day). This seriously effected the application of the many layers of paint required for the effects I wanted. 


Taken altogether, I am extremely pleased with this sculpture. It is visually striking, and with consideration of the title, still conveys the subtle (but extremely important) message. 

* Image by Kelly Probyn-Smith

Friday, May 07, 2021

'Wave Action' - Paisley Street Scupture Project

The Elora Sculpture Project has inspired a number of similar public art presentations (1). The original Elora project (from 2010) was expanded into nearby Fergus (under the same umbrella) in 2016 (2). The town of Haliburton would start its own version in 2018 (3) (reduced in scale for 2021 to five sculptures). 

This year, Paisley has launched its first Paisley Street Sculpture Project. They are starting with only three installations.

COVID has put a clamp on all arts work over the last year. One direct result has been the narrowing of published 'calls for entry' to submission deadlines. I had known that Paisley had been considering an artist 'loan' on fixed base mounts at least potentially in 2021, back in January. This through my close friend David Robertson, who had been asked to consult on some of the practical aspects.  At the time, I did have a flash of inspiration - but foolishly, never made any scratch drawings or notes of the idea. 

So when the actual call for entry was published, I had totally forgotten what ever brilliant idea I had...

Fortunately, my partner Kelly Probyn-Smith (who operates her own Elfworks Studios) had a great concept. We kicked this around in conversation, she providing the inspiration, me providing the 'nuts and bolts'. This resulted in a joint submission :

Wave Action

Framed by bright waves, fish jump and ducks dive, while paddlers cruise on by. Who wouldn’t enjoy a day on the river, here in Paisley!


Original (rough!) concept drawing


As our submission for the Paisley Street Sculpture Project we propose making a mobile piece powered directly by community interaction with it. The longstanding relationship that Paisley has with their unique position on the confluence of the Saugeen and Teeswater rivers, and the aspects of the community’s long standing environmental interplay with the waters, would be showcased by this work.

The sculpture is framed by a box which represents the river. Contained within the box are a number of formed metal pieces – both forged and cut sheet of varying materials, some brightly painted . These are variously attached to a protectively hidden internal gear track, with motion driven by the cranking of a central handle. Proposed potential moving elements include : waves, canoe and kayak, various fish, a turtle, ducks and geese, cattails or reeds, possibly even a swimmer. Driven by the handle, The main ‘boat’ elements travel across the top, some pieces back and forth, and some to rotate in and out of the ‘water’.

This is a collaborative effort by emerging artist Kelly Probyn-Smith, and long experienced artisan Darrell Markewitz (who has participated in the Elora Sculpture Project since 2013). An additional ‘ecological’ element will be that the gearing will be built from various discarded bicycle parts.

It is hoped that the jury can assess the general concept of the sculpture, as the exact details of the gearing will largely determine the final number and position of the final moving elements.

Scaled proposal drawing
Technical :

- The basic framing will be of welded structural angle. The ideal placement for the crank handle should be about 30 inches above ground level. This would also place the top (moving) parts at at least 40 inches high, which should keep these out of the range of vary small children. Additionally, the tip of the handle would be best placed to the same line as the mounting stone block (to keep it from projecting out towards passers by) As the exact size of the anchor block and the position of the mounting bolts is unknown at this point, the exact details of the framing will need to be adjusted.

- The enclosing ‘box’ will be made of 20 gage stainless steel sheet. This is basically weather proof, and will additionally have decorative enamel paint applied to it.

- The individual figures will be created from stainless steel sheet, forged mild steel and forged copper. Some of these will again have protective / decorative paint, while some will be left to naturally oxidize.

- All of the gearing and bicycle chain drive will be enclosed inside the framing box. The top line of the chain will run over the top of the box (but protected at front and rear by the scalloped line of the box as illustrated). The gearing will be constructed so that multiple rotations of the driving handle are required to create motion of the various elements. This will both reduce wear in the components, but also reduce any ‘inertia effect’ should anyone attempt to over rotate the system.

- Individual small figures will be attached to thin rods, to lift up and out of the box as they rotate.

1) I have contributed sculptures to the Elora Sculpture Project annually from 2013.

2) For the first year of expansion into Fergus, I was asked to contribute my 2013 piece 'Layers'

3) I contributed 'Layers' to the first year of the Haliburton project.

Friday, April 30, 2021

"... item may not be exactly as illustrated."

 'Undiscovered Plant' for 2021 Elora Sculpture project.

Over the majority of April, the shop work has been on creating my contribution for this year's ESP. I freely admit that I'm running late, as the installation date was for May 1 - which I am not going to be ready for. *

Originally submitted design.

As they say : 'No plan survives contact with the enemy'. 

As part of my initial design work, I had been inspired by a specific photograph, and had at least made a first prototype element :

As often is the case on the transformation of a drawing into a physical object, there were some problems encountered during the forging process. The major one was the raw difficulty of generating a twist in the bundled angle iron that formed the inner core of this 'seed pod' element. 

I decided for the sculpture, I would use a group of five pieces of 3/8 inch round rod, each drawn to a tapered point. These would be cut long enough to allow the upper ends to curve back down as tendrils over the outside of the outer wraps. 

So the underlined decisions themselves create their own potential problems. 

FIVE : To get an even twist of five rods around a central core, I had to make a special tool. This consisted of a set of cut pipe sections, grouped around a central. All sized to allow easy passage of the previously tapered rods. These then supported by an outside wrap, with tabs that allowed for attachment of a pair of long handles. In retrospect, four rods would have served as well - but in the overall design, I had been working with odd numbers for the other elements (3 / 5).

3/8 : As it turned out, five pieces of 3/8 take a LOT of force to twist. And the whole assembled element got pretty heavy. Remember I had to haul this whole thing out of the gas forge, swing it over to the vice, positioned vertically, then crank on that tool to create the twisting. I found I could only effectively heat and effect about a four inch section each time. The location of the vice also had limited the length of the tool handles, so also limiting the amount of effective force I could apply. In practice, each core bundle took five 'heats' to complete, each heat taking roughly 10 minutes total to complete. (times 3 elements = 15 x 10 = 2 1/2 hours **) In retrospect, use of 1/4 diameter rod would have both made this so much easier, and might also have worked better visually (?)

Long : Again, I had pretty much guessed on the length required for the core rods, which I cut ranging from about 20 through 24 inches. I was not certain how much of this length would be required for the twisting. The outer wraps had started at 18 inches, but the prototype had already indicated the final bundle would reduce to about 12 + inches. In retrospect, there was not as much loss top the twisting as I was suspecting, so overall there ended up with a lot of length remaining for the tendril forming. The rods could have easily been shortened by about 4 inches each.

In the completed elements, the tendril parts now over dominate the whole form. Although the lines are not necessarily bad, this does shift the visual balance from the core wrap to the final tendrils. Colour will help this somewhat, with the darker green on the outer wraps giving these more visual weight. 


The lower base, was not really illustrated in the submitted concept drawing.

The 'basket' of wide leaves are individually welded to a thick plate, which in turn anchors the entire sculpture to the fixed bases placed for individual sculptures. The main upright elements, each ranging from about five to seven feet long, are bolted in place through this plate. This plate is octagonal, roughly 24 inches across.

These are forged from flattened 1 1/2 web angle iron. Even at this roughly 3 inch width, and with 10 of these elements, these leaves don't create the same tight ball imagined in the design concept. 

The plate (composed of three sections - material I have on hand), is reinforced with angle (top) and T section (underneath). It is framed with 3/4 wide angle on the edges, again to help with rigidity. The edge framing will also help to keep a layer of rounded beach stones in place, which will both hide the mounting system and provide a finished looking base to the sculpture when installed. 

One of the problems of 'forging on the fly' is fitting such a large set of individual elements (10 lower leaves, 3 long seed pods, five flower 'bells') so the overall lines work visually. 

The shapes of the individual leaves were intentionally fairly random, perhaps a bit too much (??). These were placed in a circle around the edge of the base plate, with some consideration of the eventual mounting position of the 8 major upright elements to be added later. I still had to do a bit a additional shaping to ensure clearance for the uprights. In the image above, you can see the element marked moves off too far from the base cluster. This will have to be torch heated, likely just below the location marked, and folded back into the centre. 

Right now the overall sweep to the combination is to one side. I feel this combines to suggest the motion of the wind. This will suit the mounting location, in Fergus and backed against the river ravine (so mainly will be viewed from one side.) When I place the individual uprights, themselves formed into curves, I will continue with this line of motion.

The next work will be creating the baskets that will eventually hold the individual glass bell 'flowers' in place. There are five pieces of 1/4 round in each, drawn to points and ends tendril wrapped first (25 pieces x 8 - 10 heat cycles each to complete)

The heavy stems for all the individual uprights (8 in total) need to be forged to shape from 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 18 web channel. This takes two forging steps, roughly four inches at a time, with a total of 40 feet to shape (So 240 heat cycles total). Each end has been cut back into three segments averaging about three inches long, two of which are drawn to points, then all of those then forged to curves (add another estimated 70+ heats total)


Combined materials cost is about $500

Price for the completed sculpture is $4100

*    Paint! I keep forgetting paint. 

The bundle elements require primer, then two colour coats with central core in bright yellow, the outer wraps in green. The core portion will need to either completely dipped, or more likely (size!) have the yellow poured to reach the interior spaces. The green will have to be carefully hand applied (those tendril wraps!). Each of the three coats should have at least a full day between to dry. Ideally good weather for at least three to four days to allow the final paint surface to fully harden. Another week.

**     I ain't getting any younger! Honestly, these days I'm finding a single two to two and a half hour working session is all I can effectively manage. At the end of this, I have an extremely sharp drop off in capability. (Like starting to drop tools and trip over cords). Most often followed by a several hour nap on the couch. (Laugh all you want - your turn will come!)

Monday, April 19, 2021

Revisting the Smelting Area

Casting around for a direction to take in future experimental iron smelts...

Considerable work was undertaken over January through March, leading up to the EAC12 Conference. April 1 was the presentation date of 'Now with 70% less clay! Experiments with Viking Age Icelandic Turf walled Iron Smelting Furnaces' with co-authors Kevin P. Smith and Neil Peterson. (1) This included the writing of the full 73 page formal paper. 

Considering the body of work involved, a number of conclusions suggested there was still aspects of the turf stack system still to be investigated by future experiments. Primary was testing multiple firings of the full build structure. 

To that end, I will be undertaking a full construction of the 'turf cone in a frame' furnace for the 2021 smelting season. (2)

Tentative build plan (north would be to the left of lower image)

The first step is taking a look at the existing smelt working area. Typically the majority of our past smelts have taken place with at least the working crew under the cover of the pole framed metal roof. As this space itself is about 3 x 3 m, the Hals build is simply too large to fit. The previous experiments had the individual furnaces placed along one edge of the roughly 60 cm tall earth bank, with it's block retaining wall, that makes the west boundary of our normal working area. Right now the furnace base remains of our last series (Icelandic stone block) is still in place from the last smelt (November 2020). 

At this point I have already spend several sessions re-arranging and marking out areas for designated purposes : 

April 18, view towards roughly SW

The edge of the overhead is roughly at the extreme left edge of this image.

You can see the remains of the furnace base and lower stones from the last smelt, at the left front of the image. These have been photographed (scaled grid). And may be retained for recording erosion into at least the near future.

The area immediately behind this (so mid ground, left) is a disorganized pile of smaller flat stones and other rocks. My intent is to actually pull these up, sort those useful against future constructions, an collect small pieces for use as fill (south end of the pond).

To the left rear is the 8 x 8 foot deck plate. 

I have measured off the required 2 x 2 m area that will be covered with the Hals build. (also framed with red lines on this image). The pail seen marks roughly the centre, where the furnace shaft will be positioned. As it turned out, I had one piece of 'aged beyond construction use' timber that was just the exact size to help with laying out. I will be lifting all the grass sod in this area, and filling the gap created with clean sand. (The first part of this you can see in the far right corner.) This will both help gather the considerable amount of cut turf I need, and also create an obvious visual base against future examination of the working area.

The 'front' of the furnace, for possible placement of the bellow, and certainly for slag management or potential bottom extraction, will be the side closest to our view here (the north side)

Those familiar with the normal working process at Wareham will note that I have slightly re-positioned the concrete slabs (which had been underneath the sand box area created for the June 2020 'Bones' experiment. The existing slabs have been shifted slightly and re-leveled on a new sand base. There is now a north to south axis, 4 feet wide and extending six feet (use of existing 2 x 2 foot square slabs). You can see the spacing here is a bit tight, the slabs will be running right against one timber wall of the Hals build. Normally this is where the breaking frame for charcoal is positioned. On a typical weekend, usually there is a tarp on poles overhead put up to shield from sun or weather.

To the far right rear, you can see a rebuilt sand pad. This will be used to contain a new 'standard' clay cob build furnace. The intent here is to leave this furnace, within it's clear area, as a long term erosion effect experiment. The hope is for at least 10 years of annual observations.

You can also see the wooden stump that has been used for initial compaction of the hot blooms for the last several years. This stump is still in fairly good condition, and has enough clearance around it with the new stations to still allow for 3 or 4 workers.

There are a number of main purposes for undertaking this build here at Wareham :

a) By undertaking this build over some extended time, it will be possible to make detailed records (measurements, scaled drawings, photographs) of this entire process. 

b) The slower pace of work should allow for more careful control of the process. Additionally more time for contemplation, discussion and possible modifications as the build progresses.

c) Part of the experimental series being proposed includes not only multiple uses of the same furnace, but also some observation of the impact of weathering on the structure over time. Retaining the structure for at least an over winter is required.


Expect further discussion of the contributing elements towards this build and the iron smelt itself, over the next weeks...


1) The 15 minute narrated slide presentation version now available on YouTube:

2) COVID isolation requirements remain in full force in Ontario as I write, at this point there are basically NO private gatherings allowed, through to at least mid May, under the current Government guidelines. Although this certainly shifts the bulk of all the preparation work on to my (getting worn) shoulders, I will be endeavoring to have the furnace built for my originally proposed Saturday June 20 date.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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