World famous jeweler leads local workshop

| 30 Sep 2011 | 08:24

Center for Metal Arts hosts Lewton-Brain, inventor of fold-forming process Florida — Internationally known jeweler and educator Charles Lewton-Brain gave an information packed chasing and repousse workshop at the Center for Metal Arts in Florida recently. Lewton-Brain, who invented the fold-forming process of working with copper and other sheet material, was available on short notice for a trip into New York from his studio in Calgary, Canada. The center pulled together this last-minute three-day event, with students flying in from as far as Washington State. In Calgary, where Lewton-Brain teaches at the Alberta College of Art and Design, students fly in from as far away as Hong Kong and Australia to take a workshop like the one given here. Thousands of metalsmiths internationally have adopted methods he developed, and use them in their work. His invention of foldforming and other fine metal techniques are taught in jewelry programs around the world. Lewton-Brain, who received his initial training in Germany at Fachhochschule fur Gestaltung and later earned an MFA from SUNY New Paltz, has always been on the forward edge of contemporary design. Long before Make Magazine and, he was an original “maker,” inventing processes, methods and tooling. Growing up in East Africa, where his mother set up hospitals and his anthropologist father taught agriculture, Lewton-Brain learned early on how to be inventive with whatever is at hand. He is able to see entirely new uses for ordinary objects, from bowling balls as rotating pitch bowls to thrift store leather bags filled with sand as work surfaces. Charles Lewton-Brain, who is frequently showcased in contemporary jewelry books, has a reputation for being generous with his body of practical knowledge. From retrofitting chasing hammers for a better ergonomic design, to workarounds for studio set-ups in small spaces, he provided a steady stream of solutions, ideas and demonstrations of technique in the three-day workshop. Students filled rapid page after page of notes and sketches, and the cameras were out to capture pitch setting or the precision of finger positions for tool-holding. As a bonus to the information-packed class time, Lewton-Brain presented each student with a CD copy of his personal Chasing and Repousse presentation files that he is working on for publication. Students eager for bench time By the third day of the workshop, students were eager for bench time, and the center was ready with supplies to make a series of tiny, precision chasing tools. With the studio space adjacent to the fully-equipped fine architectural metalsmiths’ fabrication studio, students had all the tools and equipment necessary to build their own chasing tools for working in silver, copper or other metals. At the weekend workshop, Lewton-Brain provided a hands-on look at his prolific collection of books published through his studio and more recently through Brynmorgan Press. From his trademark early books like “Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop,” “Depletion Gilding” and “Patinas for Small Studios” to his recent classic, “Foldforming”, Lewton-Brain has produced 29 books and CDs of solid information for the contemporary jeweler. A recent book “River Trip,” based on a trip through Thailand, is a retrospective of Lewton-Brain’s own “Cage” series of work. In the book he writes, “The grid, as metaphor for cultural, personal and societal structures has been a focus through my career. Part of my work over the last twenty years has involved larger objects in the context of the body, working with the sculptural and contextual issues of wearable art, sometimes as performance work. These pieces were often of non-precious materials, and used the metaphors of cage (and grid) as self-imposed, chosen constructions, personal architectures of rules, of heritage, family and culture. They inform my jewelry work.” A traditional part of the center’s workshops is the sharing of portfolios, and students brought their own work to show, documentary portfolios, and of course the laptops came out to show off recent work. From jewelers to cabinetmakers and metal sculptors, there was plenty to show and tell as students got introduced to one another’s work. Lewton-Brain will return to the center for another workshop, perhaps sometime next summer, and as always, the time will be announced on the Web site. The Center for Metal Arts holds weekend workshops throughout the year in blacksmithing at all levels, power hammer work, copper foldforming, welding and other metal arts.

Chasing and repousse process
Chasing is the process of forming sheet material—gold, silver, copper or iron—by incising lines into the surface. Repousse is done on a soft surface called pitch, moving the sheet material into three-dimensional form. It is a process that was once taught in every shop class, and Lewton-Brain demonstrated the finesse and detail that can be created to make fine jewelry or sculptural forms, and how to work from the back as well as the front of a piece.