- What is Metalsmithing
Artist Biography: Bill Baran-Mickle
The short of it is this: Bill has worked with metal in some form or another and exhibited his work for over thirty-five years now. He works from his home-based studio on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is married, and has four children.
Bill found his way to jewelry while in high school. There he won an art scholarship and won the first place award at the countywide High School art competition. He enjoyed making jewelry enough to continue on a more serious level. He did that at the California College of Arts and Crafts, earning his BFA in 1978. He devoted a year after college to making jewelry and smithing projects, a process he picked up mostly through self-taught tinkering. However, because he really liked smithing so much, he decided to learn to do it right and returned to school.
Following graduate school at the School for American Craftsmen (Rochester Institute of Technology) he remained in the Rochester, New York area for two decades. He taught some, made art independently, exhibited in galleries around the country, and volunteered on art panels locally and statewide. In this period he earned a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and one of the last “National Endowment for the Arts – Mid Atlantic Regional Fellowships” to be awarded. He also won the first (and only?) “National Art in Architecture Competition” which was co-sponsored by the American Crafts Council and Hines Limited Partnership. The winning artwork, a six by six foot metal wall relief sculpture titled “Along the Way,” is permanently installed in The Chemed Center Building Lobby in Cincinnati, Ohio. A chapter in the book, Art for the Wall: The Designer’s Sourcebook 11, (1996) is devoted to the Competition.
Bill also enjoyed writing about art, which allowed him get out of the studio and meet other artists he admired. Around the time he decided to go back to school for art history, he learned he was to have twins. In fact, he happily missed the opening of his first solo exhibition at an art museum to be at the birth of his twin boys. Bill continued to attend Syracuse University at a slower pace, and took even longer to complete his thesis, officially earning his MA in Contemporary Art History in 1997. He considers the 1990s the decade during which he wrote a lot, and most of his articles, reviews and essay, numbering nearly forty, were written and published in journals such as Metalsmtih, American Craft and Sculpture in this time period. To date Bill has been included 9 books, including Author William’s 2005 encyclopedia, The Sculpture Reference Illustrated, wherein Bill’s work was selected to represent and illustrate “Fabrication.” He has had eight solo exhibitions, and participated in over 100 other exhibitions from two and three person, to group shows across the country and several European countries.
In 1998, when his oldest children were eight, Bill moved to Bainbridge Island, WA. Having grown up in California, this was at least the West Coast again which felt like home. In the following fifteen years, he continued to make art and increased his involvement with foundations and arts organizations. Bill was a founding member of the Kitsap County Arts Board (the county’s 1% for Arts Commission) for six years, with four of them as Chairman. Most recently, he has been a Founding Director of the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, and Chairman of its Education Committee. BIMA opened its doors in June of 2013. Bill is also a Founding Director for BARN, the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network, an artisan center and school that is in its formative stages. Spanning both the New York and Washington timeframes, Bill has spent nineteen years as a Director of the Laird Norton Family Foundation, with six of those years as its President.
Recently, Bill has enjoyed exhibiting in several international art biennial exhibitions. Of the three in which he has participated, he won Third Place for Sculpture from the European Confederation of Art Critics in the Chianciamo Biennale, at the Chianciano Art Museum in Italy in 2011, and First Place in Applied Arts in the London Biennale of 2013. In 2013 alone, he will have participated in eight exhibitions: from London to a two-person exhibition near home. In addition, Bill was asked to be a representative for CCAC’s exhibition celebrating 100 years of the Metals Department, and a mix of group shows in New York City, Miami, Seattle and Las Vegas. Currently, after a five-year planning process, he is just about to begin work on a twelve-foot tall, ten-foot wide Equatorial Bowstring Style Sundial project for the Battle Point Astronomical Association on Bainbridge Island to be installed in the spring of 2014.
A general description (by Bill Baran-Mickle)
Metalsmithing is similar to silversmithing and goldsmithing. These practices are definitely a choice, as they entail a lot of very fine labor. Jewelry is the most common pathway to discover metalsmithing. This was my path. Jewelry is also a generic term, and can encompass a vast array of methods of creation. Of course jewelry does not need to be made of metal at all, and, increasingly, is made of alternative materials and methods.
A UNIQUE ART
Smithing implies you are moving metal from one shape to another, from flat, formless sheet to a volume, a shape, a form. Forging implies a similar movement. These tend to be slow processes, especially for larger forms. The forming takes place one hammer blow at a time, and tightly controlled to push the metal in the desired direction.
Goldsmithing places an emphasis on very precious materials (gold and stones) and very refined techniques. Silversmithing implies a larger scale than Goldsmtihing. It uses a fairly precious material (silver) and traditionally was for functional use (bowls, teapots, etc.). Silversmithing work these days is now more sculptural than functional. Metalsmithing uses much more pedestrian materials (such as brass and copper) which share similar characteristics to silver, and allows for a greater variety of scale and expressive use of materials. More “chances” can be taken when overall costs are lower.
TOOLS and Techniques
Because of the increased size of metalsmithing over jewelry making, the most common tools necessary are hammers, stakes and large tree stumps, larger annealing and soldering set ups, cleaning and polishing, larger drills, heavier vises, tables for assembly, and so forth. There are so many wonderful, intriguing techniques to use that it can be overwhelming. An artist is usually inquisitive about many techniques, but must be selective as to which ones he or she will concentrate on. However, in ever-changing modern times, tools are as likely to be plastic, and shaping metals may involve whatever tools the artist has developed or thinks may work for what they are trying to achieve.
Ultimately, use of tools and techniques are extensions of the artist’s imagination.
Every artist will have a wealth of personal stories that are embedded into their style. It tends to take a while, with lots of trial and error, to find the techniques and materials that mesh best with their personal expression and style. This is an expressive journey, one that continues to change and evolve over a lifetime.
MY OWN JOURNEY TO METALSMITHING
How I Got There….
Most of my current work, since 2005, has involved forming and fabricating deep wall reliefs, also called “Haut Relief Sculpture” when over 2 inches, and “Bas Relief Sculpture” when below 2 inches. My own path to the “metalsmithing” I am doing now has been long (over 30 years) and has covered many techniques and formats.
I was a jeweler, I worked first with lost wax carving and casting. I experimented with forming and fabrication. When I explored smithing it was mainly self-taught. The first college I attended had the tools but no one teaching the techniques while I was there. I availed myself of specialized training in summer courses, such as Jim Mazurkowitz from Cleveland, and as a special student of Victor Reis at his studio at the Jewish Museum in Berkeley, CA. When I left with my BFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts or CCA), I took a year out to create both formed and fabricated jewelry and silver hollowware. I got lucky and found two gallery outlets in New York City; each had a city and suburban location. I also found a gallery in San Francisco.
I found I was drawn to the forming of metal, with hammers and steel stakes, and the larger fabrication challenges. However, since I was largely self-taught, I decided to return to school. I learned silversmithing from an amazing teacher, Hans Christensen, a Danish silversmith who had been a former model-maker at Georg Jensen Silversmithy of Copenhagen. He was a legend in the field. I learned the formal, yet creative approach he had mastered. To balance Hans, the department also offered Gary Griffin as a teacher. Gary has been a leading edge contemporary jeweler and sculptor who recently retired.
Two years later, I began the real work of creating my own work, selecting what techniques felt best, developing a style while trying to find a balance between being selling work and personal artistic integrity. I have gone through many “phases,” or styles, always evaluating and shifting. Some times the shift is momentous, as when I figure out that a particular direction is unsatisfying and why. Then I begin again, but with greater knowledge, seeking to reflect something more true to myself. In the end I guess you could say I am ultimately selfish, needing to make work that satisfies myself first and foremost.