Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where do IDEAS come from?

How can the work of one artist inspire the designs of another? Especially, how do you do so without obviously merely copying another's work? Sometimes the general lines and 'feel' of an existing piece can be enough to springboard you off to a new and original direction...

A railing for Richards House - Toronto.

I had been approached back in the late spring about a possible commission for a set of front porch railings for a private home in Toronto. I was deeply involved in the Reade-Maxwell project at the time (which has been well documented here). So I must admit there was a bit of a false start, totally my fault.

The home was originally built in the 1920's in the Arts and Crafts style. The interior of the home is almost entirely original, with wide plank oak floors and trims. The owners have been able to match the architecture with matching Rennie Mackintosh styled furniture. On the exterior, there has been considerable renovating done, most especially the replacing of the old windows with the arch shaped panes. Ageing concrete was repaired and caped with ceramic tiles.

Originally I did not understand the client's urgency. It turns out that despite there being no building code requirement for a handrail, their insurance company was insisting one be installed!

I wanted to keep to the spirit of Arts and Crafts : clean lines, obviously forged elements, sweeping curves. My best work is with the more organic 'Rivendale' style, but this design called for a more 'architectural' look. Going to my source materials of historic and contemporary work, I was drawn to a couple of specific pieces by other artisan blacksmiths:

F. Christ & D. Munn
D. Miller

In terms of the rough lines of the design, I wanted to pick up on the large curve framing the porch, plus the series of smaller arches of the windows. These were the major features from the architecture. On the technical side, the construction of the brick pillars and planters framing the steps meant that (happily) there would not be the usual building code restriction for an upright every four inches or 'no climb'. I was however, concerned about the fragility of the mounted tiles, so wanted to install the finished piece against the existing brick work.

As usual, a number of potential design roughs were generated. At first I was considering working with some aspect of the mortise and tendon style seen (wonderfully) in Miller's candelabra above. In the end this proved to be to complex to well suit the specific application here. For the same reason, a layout inspired by the more organic 'bundle' design seen in the work by Christ & Munn was not chosen. The final layout needed to be strong enough to make a statement about the design tastes of the owners, but not so complex to overpower and dominate the entire front view of the house.

'Arches' Design Layout

This is my final working drawing of the layout chosen by the client. ( Shown here is the railing on the left side, as you look at the house. Note that the drawing shows both the front and left side views.) Although the lines are clean and relatively simple, all the individual elements are aggressively forged. This will allow the installed railing to stand out in a sea of cut and paste work. This quality of the individual elements will be subtle, but immediately visible - in keeping with the subdued good taste of the entire home.

The top handrails are from 1 1/2 inch thick walled square tube. This is forged down on the diagonal to create a diamond shape roughly 2 inches wide by 1 inch tall. The final profile will remain slightly irregular, a result of the hand forging process.
The individual support elements are forged from 3/8 thick by 1 1/2 wide flat stock. Each is first spread out to a tapered wedge on one (or both) ends. Then the bar is drawn out to a long taper (ideally increasing thickness as it reduces width) over its length. In final position, the individual curved elements interlace as they cross over each other.

As with the Reade-Maxwell project, I hope to document the work as it progresses, both for the information of the clients and the general interest of my readers...

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

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