Metalsmithing department one of biggest in area

Metalsmithing department one of biggest in area

Metalsmithing department one of biggest in area
May 01
01:05 2014

Matt Wood // Staff Writer

A series of metallic clicks ring out as an orange tongue of flame lashes out from the torch. Pieces of metal are doused in the heat, bonded by liquid silver to create ornate designs in UNT’s art building.

Rows of jeweler’s benches, which are taller than normal desks to allow close-up work, are littered with clamps, tweezers and hammers.

This workshop houses the beginning metalsmithing class at UNT, part of the biggest program of its kind in the entire Southwest. Jewelry and metalsmithing has existed as a concentration within the studio art major at UNT for more than 40 years.

Five or six students graduate from the jewelry and metalsmithing program this semester, program coordinator Ana Lopez said. About 100 students are enrolled in its classes, half of whom are majoring in the concentration specifically.

The other half is made up of art students who were curious about trying something different, such as ceramics junior Hannah Lupa.

“I’ve been trying to see if I can take what I’ve learned here and see if it’ll apply to ceramics,” she said.

Lopez said one of her favorite things about metalsmithing is taking a rigid, unyielding material and forming it into a workable state.

“It can become really plastic,” she said. “You can hammer form it, forge it, change the thickness and change the contour, and still end up something that looks like it’s always been that way.”

Lopez, who majored in jewelry and metalsmithing, teaches the beginning metalsmithing class in her ninth year teaching at UNT.

The distinction between blacksmithing and metalsmithing, Lopez said, is the kind of metal used. Blacksmiths use iron-bearing metals, while metalsmithing uses metals without iron that are much more malleable.

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Picking apart the process

On this particular Monday, students are at work to create a “medal of gratitude” for a UNT faculty member. Lupa made a Celtic roach medallion, which is the symbol of Bruce Hall, for hall director Josh Brown.

First, she carved the mold from a block of pliable wax. Then she cast a mold around the wax with a material called investment, which is also used by dentists to create crowns and fillings.

Once the investment surrounds the mold and hardens, it’s fired in a kiln, an oven designed for ceramics and metals that can reach volcanic temperatures of 2,000 F.

The wax melts out of the mold, leaving a cavity. The mold is then placed into a centrifugal casting machine that is used to fill the mold with molten metal.

To do this, metal beads are placed in a ceramic crucible that holds them while they are heated with a torch to assume a liquid form.

“The torch we use for casting is like the dragon of torches,” Lupa said as she pointed to the different torches.

From there, a metal arm rotates rapidly to force the liquid metal from the crucible into the mold. Lupa said the full process is extensive, but that holding your end product is worth all the effort.

“In the process it looks kind of ugly, because there’s gunk on it and it’s not really beautiful,” Lupa said. “But when you’re done and it’s lacquered and nice, it’s like ‘I made this awesome thing.’”

Elsewhere, communication design senior Helen Oldham places three oval-shaped pieces of metal together and melts silver to create an adhesive.

Oldham, a tour guide, is making a flower-shaped medal for a coworker.

“She has a tattoo of lotus, so that’s kind of the image I’m going for,” she said.

Oldham said she enjoys taking the classes to take a break from working with computers. The course calls for her to work with physical objects, a welcomed change-up.

“I like to take these classes to do more tactile work,” she said. “They’re kind of my relaxing times.”

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Career endeavors

The metalsmithing program’s advanced classes emphasize a focus on one of three possible metalsmithing professions.

One field centers on creating unique artwork, which Lopez said used to be the most popular focus but has since declined.

A second focuses on commissioned work, where buyers ask for a specific product from a metalsmither.

The third field is multiple productions, with the intention of selling the product to the public in retail outlets or an online store. Lopez said the distribution between the three fields is fairly even.

The program aims to have students prepared with a business plan they can use while trying to find or create a career.

“We want them to really think about how they can make a living doing this, when they go out there,” Lopez said.

Center photo: Ceramics junior Hannah Lupa, (right) attaches a pin to her metal project on Monday afternoon in the Art Building while metals junior Sydney Kirk, (left) helps Lupa to make sure the pin is straight. Lupa is making a medal of honor for Bruce Hall hall director Josh Brown. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

Bottom photo: Interior design sophomore Ashley Enfield prepares two crochet hooks to be heated by an acetylene torch in the metalsmithing lab in the Art Building. Each of Enfield’s classmates is making a project that honors a UNT staff member for making an impact in the student’s life. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

Feature photo: Interior design sophomore Ashley Enfield heats a pair of crochet hooks on Monday in the metalsmithing lab in the Art Building. Enfield will give her final project of the semester to her design two teacher, studio art Masters student Alexandra Epps, honoring Epps for making an impact in Enfield’s life. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

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