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Sterling silver, brass, iron slag
This series consists of ornamental wrought iron motifs recreated with sterling silver, and lumps of iron slag.
The necklace was entered into the 2014 International Precious Metals Institution's yearly design contest. It won second place, and was auctioned off.
I have always loved European wrought iron work; I think that there is something beautiful about forms which consist of a large number of smaller parts coming together to form a larger, more complex entity. Moreover, I find it fascinating that these objects were very expensive symbols of status- larger, wealthier cities and towns had more extravagant iron grates, fences, lamp posts, etc. and wealthier citizens had more embellished iron gates, banisters, and railings in their homes or estates.
What is important to note about this is the material that is used- iron. Iron is one of the easiest metals to harvest, as it is usually found very close to the surface of the earth. It is extremely abundant too; in fact it is the sixth most abundant element in the universe. These factors help make it an extremely inexpensive metal. So unlike most metalwork, what is valued here is not so much the metal itself, but the craftsmanship and the time invested by the makers. This stands in pretty stark contrast to other forms of metalworking where there is a very important hierarchy of materials that, by and large, determines how valuable the work will be.
I want to play with this hierarchy by pairing two materials with drastically different values together. The primary material is sterling silver. Silver is a considerably valuable metal, as it is used in thousands of practical applications, and has long been valued for its luster, workability, and mythological purity. The other material is iron slag. (Which is sometimes called "Scoriæ.") Slag is not a metal at all, but rather the by-product of smelted or cast metal. It is a lump of glassy coal-like impurities which are separated from the desired metal during smelting. To be blunt, it is the lowest of the low when it comes to metallurgy.
I have chosen to create jewelry using these two materials along with some brass for visual contrast. Formally, these pieces incorporate imagery from wrought iron structures such as gates and fences. The "spiral" in the neck piece is a very traditional blacksmithing form used to embellish handles and chandeliers, the straight posts flanked by two curves is a re-occurring form found in a vast majority of early European fences, and the "violin scroll" curves used in the ring and neckpiece are often used to break up empty spaces and lend structural support to gates and fences.
In effect I am using the image of a process which was valuable, but I am doing so using a material that comes with value already placed on it. Furthermore, I am encasing another material with little to no value inside these valuable silver forms. The "spirals" on the silver neck piece for example have a piece of this iron slag trapped inside them. Due to the thick metal bars and the work hardened state which it is in, it would be very difficult to remove the slag from the necklace without distorting or ruining the form. By doing this, the slag becomes a very permanent part of the whole piece- and perhaps this suddenly changes the iron slag's value.
I like the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I think this idea holds true not just in art, but for many aspects of life- even if some parts are widely considered useless.