Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Diary of an Antiquary, Part 2

Welcome back for episode two in the 'Diary' chronicles...

Once I had gotten the hinge working on the enclosure, I began to see it as a housing to hold something removeable. As I was sitting with the stucture talking about it with my partner Irena, she held it off to the side of her stomach and commented that it would be interesting for it to hang low, and it got my mind racing - her feedback is always right on target, I'm a lucky man. Soon I came around to thinking about girdle books, which had always fascinated me. Once quite common, only about 25 have survived the centuries; these were books bound to be hung from the clothing - here are a few examples.

(Girdle book from the British Museum)

The piece was now in high gear, as I began to envision a small book to inhabit the low-slung box. That would be a whole different set of problems, as I'd never bound a book myself. I'd have time to mull on that - there was plenty on my plate first. I found the title for the piece at this point, from a newspaper from about 1870. So the next step was to create a plate for the top of the box that would incorporate the title, as well as some kind of hook and eye closure. This jogged my memory to 2004 when I photographed the incredible armor at the Metropolitan Museum in NY. I had taken many images of interesting metal connections, and this supplied the inspiration for the catch I was about to fabricate.

Getting ready to etch the brass plate.

Etching in cupric chloride.

The closure begins.

The design for the plate.

Coming together...

Creating four brass 'bumpers' to protrude from the front and back of the box.

Ready to tube-rivet the hook mechanism.

The top plate complete, with fresh-water pearls set under the swinging hook.

The box nearing completion, I now would turn my time towards creating a really special chain for it to hang down to the 'girdle'. The next post will show you the very unconventional solution to that next challenge - and would find me chalking up another 'first' in my repertoire of making.

Until then, ciao!

Your feedback is most appreciated.


  1. I find your attention to detail amazing Keith. That ornate cutting in the brass plate (I think it is brass) is such a concentrated effort to achieve. Takes much patience I am sure. It was interesting to read from where you got your inspiration - girdle books! Brilliant! Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. This progress/process series of entries is excellent. Very inspirational. Watching the delicate quatrefoil emerge from the chunky brass stock is intense! I know HOW its done,which is why I am so amazed. I am now conjuring images of the future belt, or chain from which this reliquary will hang...

  3. I wonder Keith how many saw blades you go through cutting such an intricate piece. It must take forever. Do you have a plan before you start, knowing exactly how it will end up or do you design it as you go?
    It's certainly going to be another future heirloom piece.

  4. I used many blades in making this one, Ro - though the real difficult sawing came not at this stage, but making the pages of the book, as you'll see later - they probably chewed through 50 blades and took a solid 12 hours of sawing. The brass I use is a very heavy gauge, so it has the depth to be able to shape it three-dimensionally.

    I never know where these pieces are going - that's the delight in making them. As soon as I'm trying to get to a specific place, the process slows to a crawl, but when I give up trying to dictate the materials, to work with them as I go, they carry me off with them. I just finished the piece a few hours ago, and I'm pretty much as surprised by it as someone who sees it for the first time. A great feeling.

  5. Keith in response to your last comment, I agree that allowing the materials and the finished piece to evolve is much more satisfying to the maker; its as though the piece uses the artist as the tool to emerge in its true form. Great post and some fantastic inspiratioin. regards Dave.

  6. Keith Im speechless( afirst I know) your work and attention to details are truely amazing.I thank you for inspiring us all and showing us that anything is possible in our art.
    Thank you

  7. All I can say is, "whooosshhh!" You keep stepping up the bar, Sir! How in the world are any of us supposed to catch up? ;)

  8. Thank you for sharing the details of your process. What an amazing piece, I look forward to the next installment.

  9. I think the comments above say it all. I am so in awe of you making every little thing - including the magnificent hook. Your work is breath taking and I too am so grateful for you for sharing the process with us.

  10. Here it is almost a year later, and I'm reading it again, for probably the 4th time. I can't thank you enough for sharing your process here. Amazing.

  11. And again.. probably the 7th time. Love this piece and the process. SO MUCH! Thank you (again!) for sharing.