Slag Brooch Redux

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

February, 2016
Sterling silver, brass, nickel, iron slag
8.7cm x 6.4cm x 1.3cm
(HxWxD; measured at the thickest point.)

In my first year of grad school I made a series of jewelry which incorporated iron slag into forms reminiscent of traditional wrought iron embellishment. I felt like the concept behind these pieces were worth exploring further, and that they fit well within my MFA thesis. And so, I refined these ideas both conceptually and formally to create this brooch with a silver structure which is reminiscent of a wrought iron awning or signpost, with a silver “cage” hanging from one side. As with much of the previous work, this cage encapsulates a black, glassy piece of iron slag. The following is a section of the written thesis which relates to this brooch:

Traditional wrought iron found throughout Europe and older pockets of the United States inspired the creation of this brooch. These structures are highly ornamental in nature and served as expensive symbols of status. Wealthier cities would utilize wrought iron decorations wherever they could: apartment buildings, communal hubs, parks, gardens, estates, manors and so on. This decor came in many shapes and sizes, ranging from large and imposing gated fences surrounding manors, to the accented street lamps and benches present within the main thoroughfare.

I developed the design for this particular brooch as I was reading a book on early European blacksmithing: in addition to the accents forged for street lamps, fence posts, and chests there were also several illustrations of highly ornamented sign posts. What struck me was the fact that these wrought iron accents were, by-and-large, much more interesting than the signs which hung upon them. It occurred to me that this was most likely a deliberate tactic used by the business which owned them, as the wrought iron structure ornaments the building and draws attention to the sign which hangs from it.

Utilizing this historically iconic language, I created a brooch reminiscent of these signposts. Using a miniature anvil, a tiny forging hammer, and some silver solder I made a signpost of my own, except instead of advertising goods or services I sought to point out and highlight the material hanging in a tiny cage I had fabricated: iron slag. For those unaware, slag is the by-product of smelted or cast metal; it is a lumpy, glassy chunk of impurities that are skimmed off the surface of the desired metal during smelting. It is the lowest of the low in terms of metallurgy.

In effect, I am using the image of a process that is valuable, with a material that comes with value already placed on it, and encasing another material with little to no value within it. By doing so, the slag becomes a very permanent part of the whole piece—providing a commentary which shows that there are many ways to impart value upon something.