Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lace Crosses and Stars of David

Lace Crosses: T (L-R): Ironstone, Vert Lustre;
B (L-R): Indigo Float, Saturation Gold, Chun Plum
As most folks who know me realize, although I am deeply spiritual, I am not a particularly religious individual. By the same token, I am sincerely respectful of other peoples' beliefs and feel blessed to count among my friends and acquaintances during my life individuals who subscribe to various sects of Christianity, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Animists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Wiccans and Hindus, among others. I have had the opportunity to share in the religious observances of many of my friends and have appreciated those opportunities to share in their spiritual interpretations and experiences.

I was raised Episcopalian, going to church at St. Columba Parish (now dissolved) in Detroit and was very involved in the church for some time, singing in the choir in participating in many of the youth activities. I developed a greater knowledge and awareness of Christian theology during my Art History Classes at Michigan State University - during specific periods of western art, the church was a significant patron of the arts and religious themes were an important part of the iconography. It was also at Michigan State that I became close friends with my friend Marilyn, whose Jewish family welcomed me like a youngest daughter. During my two years in Singapore, my husband's Buddhist family shared their religious traditions with me, as well was the Muslim and Hindu people with I worked and came to know as acquaintances and friends. As a result, although I may not "connect" with the specific observances of any or all of these faiths, I have found a kernel of truth, a thread that connects them all in my spiritual universe.

Lace Crosses: T (L-R): Textured Turquoise, Frosted Melon;
B (L-R): Blue Rutile, Lustrous Jade, Pearl White
Not surprisingly, through these experiences, I have developed a respect, if not a reverence, for the symbols associated with these faiths, even though they do not have a specific place in my spiritual landscape. I have tended to restrict my artistic expression to themes relating directly or indirectly to nature and my interests in botany and horticulture; but I am also a businesswoman who is trying to make a living through her art. So, when a consignment account inquired as to whether I would be willing to make some "grown-up" crosses, I was open to the idea. The gallery already had some crosses in inventory - lovely pieces, some in a Celtic style, others suitable for baptism or first communion, but nothing really suitable for a Divinity School graduate or a wedding. The original request was couched as "more organic", a term that initially threw me, as I couldn't think of any way to apply my more naturalistic aesthetic to this new context. After pondering the request for a few days, I asked if a lace-textured cross might do the trick and received an enthusiastic, "Yes!"

Cross - Ironstone
First, I charted out a template for the form, using graph paper, then transferring it to a fused lamination sheet (in the absence of any clear mylar). The next challenge was to figure out how to relate the lace to the cross. There is one style of cross in which the central crossing is surrounded by a circle - the High Cross, as often seen in Celtic iconography; it was this motif to which I eventually referred in the design I created. I rolled out a slab of clay and positioned the cross on the slab, pricking out the center so I would know how to orient the lace, eliminating the risk of "running out of clay" for the form. I rolled the lace into the clay, centering it over the hole pricked for the center of the cross. Removing the lace, I placed the template over the design, centering the center of the template over the center of the lace design. I then cut out the entire form; I found cutting both sides of the inward-pointing angles with one cut was the most effective means to reduce the risk of odd cuts into the center. I remove the clay on the side with the least waste, rolled the other side of the canvas back over the slab and flipped the entire package over. Pulling back the canvas, the clay releases from the canvas but is still attached to the template. I can then place the template on the remaining clay - the "leftover" lace impression is on the underside, now - and fabricate another cross, flipping the slab between each one, until the entire slab has been used up. Obviously, a very "tall" slab would have more waste, whereas a "shorter", "longer" slab would be able to accommodate more crosses.

Stars of David: T (L-R): Indigo Float,
Lustrous Jade; B (L-R): Pearl Blue,
Saturation Gold, Chun Plum
Using a 1/4" hole punch, I center a hole at the top of the cross (use a piece of 1/4" steel stock to force out the waste clay, then carefully pick up the clay (with the template), place it on a grid for drying, correct any issues with its orientation and then remove the template. They should be dried as slowly as possible. They can tend to warp, so it's a good idea to check them periodically before the go leather hard to correct any issues - it may also help to dry them between pieces of drywall, a technique I need to investigate.
Stars of David: T (L-R): Textured
Turquoise, Frosted Melon;
B (L-R): Vert Lustre, Blue Rutile,
Pearl White

Once dry, the pieces are sanded to remove any rough edges (remembering that a sharp edge only becomes sharper when glazed) and bisque fired. After firing, I rinse to remove any dust, then wax the back of the cross, leaving a margin to take the glaze around the edge to the back. This leaves a space for engraving. Using glazing tongs to hold the pieces at the bottom, I pour glaze over the four arms and then place them squarely on a large stilt to dry.

Star of David, Pearl Blue
Firing has been challenging, primarily due to the fact that the pieces are quite thin, retain some of the "memory" of being moved around while still quite plastic and, as a result, want to warp. The best I've come up with so far is one large stilt to support the top and the two "arms" with two smaller stilts supporting the longer ( and more vulnerable) "foot". Another possibility is to use six half-inch stilts - one under the top and each of the arms, one at the center and two under the foot; this arrangement would provide for more even heating, which might solve the problem conclusively, but would require a great deal of attention to their placement so as to not over lap into glazed areas on the backs of the pieces.

Once glaze fired, I used leather lace, cut to nine inches, folded in half and with an overhand knot and then threaded through the hole with a lark's-head knot, so the pieces could hang. I know many artists make these sorts of pieces with a wire hanger in the back but I'm not comfortable with that on two counts: the piece cannot hang flat to the wall very well; and there is a higher risk of failure. The leather lace allows the piece to hang flat and can easily be replaced if something should happen to it.

Having had success with red stoneware Crosses finished with dramatic reactive glazes, I decided to make some in white stoneware with Pearl White, which would be appropriate for baptism, first communion or a wedding. Then I decided to to try some Stars of David, again, using the center of the lace for the center of the star. These were also very successful. All are available at several galleries throughout Michigan. I would like to investigate other motifs but I'm not certain they would adapt as successfully to the lace texture.

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