Art in Context

Cloud Gate, Anish Kapoor

The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City has reinstalled its American Art Galleries. Here is an interview with the Curator of American Art, Margaret C. Conrads, conducted by Judith H. Dobrzynski. Art in context.


The Sinister Vise

The left hand vise. Just to the right of the vise is a small circular item; a rare earth magnet. To the right of that is a brass dog. The large screw eye on the leg is for hanging an air nozzle.

The combination of three brass dogs, and three magnets, supports a shelf board, fitted with steel plates for the magnets to hold. I clamp sticks of molding in the vise for various operations; planing, molding with planes and a scratch stock. The vise is a small quick action vise, using a lever to operate the action.

This photo shows the base of a Flex Arm Lamp; it's some copper sweat fittings that accommodates the base of the lamp, and fits into the 3/4 inch dog holes. It is isolated from the vibrations of work by some foam doughnuts. It can be moved to any of the dog holes.

The bench in work mode.


Mr. Spuddy 1992 - 2009

Mr. Spuddy died the other day. He was a wonderful person, elegant gentleman, defender of the turf if needed, and a gentle soul. He didn't chase birds, or harrass wandering hamsters, was tolerant of the dog, and gave rescue and shelter to a feral kitty his last few years. She returned the favor, being his constant companion. He will be missed.


Millenium Park, Chicago

Cloud Gate, Anish Kapoor

The popular title for this work, "The Bean", is more fun, but the formal title works, too. I like this photo for the "flying rat", center top.

OK folks, just to your left is the real thing. Oh, never mind.

Under the bean. Somewhat disconcerting at first, the swirls of reflectivity. A wonderful addition to the grand public art in Chicago.


The Main Vise

My main vise, aside from all the little ones.

A Wilton Rapid Action Vise, #79A, their big one, with a front jaw that pivots 12° to accommodate irregularly shaped pieces, and a front jaw that moves vertically 9/16" to act as a full-width dog. The back face of the vise is buried in the bench under wood; the front face is wood screwed to the metal vise face. The Rapid Action part: 2 spins of the handle counter clockwise, and the vise can be pulled open or pushed closed to it's full extension.

Showing the vise face raised, and the dogs raised.

The Dogs are brass, and have cushions that slip over the ends to prevent marring work, though I hold frames in a slightly different manner.

Photo showing a molding being held.

I use a piece of plywood as a wide dog, held by the brass dogs, and caught between the raised face of the vise. This keeps the frame flat, so it can be clamped at the opposite end. I work on frames that are assembled, and with this method I can carve a complete corner, and well towards two other corners.

Carving tools, files, rifflers are in a cabinet and racks just to the right of where I stand, at the far corner of the vise, though I do move around, quite a bit.

I designed and built this bench with this vise in mind. A good source of ideas and info on benches is "The Workbench Book" by Scott Landis. There are many different methods of holding work; my way being just one of many. One aspect of bench construction that is very important is the surface height; mine is 39 inches, which allows me, as someone who might hit 5'9" on a very good day, 5'8" mostly, to be able to work standing straight. Good for the back. A traditional wood working bench, where a lot of hand planing is involved, might be as much as 3-4 inches lower, so more force can be applied to the plane. I do far more carving, etc. etc., than planing, so I have a high bench.

Next post I'll explain how I hold stick stock, for planing and shaping.


The Work Bench, or How To Hold Stuff

My bench, 74 inches long, by 13 inches wide, 2 inch thick top, sides of top 3 1/4 inches. The base is trestle construction, floating tenons in runners, with bolts and captured nuts pulling it together. The feet are bolted to the floor. The top gravity rests on dowels in the top feet.

Just to the right of the foot on the right are two paving bricks; there to rest a foot on, just change the stance when standing at the bench for a while.

My studio is a wooden framed house, so I have the luxury of standing on wooden floors; more forgiving than concrete. What is left of my knees thank me.

The bench has been fluffed for its appearance on the interwebs; I removed the worst of the paint, a light sanding and a quick "oil and wax", though I've replaced the oil with shellac. I try and treat my equipment carefully, though to do a job, sometimes slobbering happens. Easy to fluff up, every "Blue Moon".

More to come on the vises, and actually holding work.


On Viewing Art

Georgia O'Keefe and Orville Cox
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937
Ansel Adams

Saturday I managed to visit a museum in spite of having my 2 daughters with me. Museums are uncool and boring, saith the preteen. We were in Kalamazoo, MI, where my wife was jurying an art fair. The Kalamazoo Institute of Art, has a nice Georgia O'Keefe exhibition, organized by the MFA of Boston. They also have an adjunct exhibition of Photos of her and some of her colleagues and contemporaries, which the photo above, scanned from the cover of the book "400 Photographs", Ansel Adams, included for illustrative purpose, is from.

The above photo I'm familar with from reproduction, but I've never seen an Ansel print of it. I was struck at how strong the real thing can be. For me, it's a given that paintings need to be seen in person; no reproductive technique truly does them justice. There are a few exceptions, but if you would know art, take every opportunity to see the real thing, in person.

This is apropos, due to a recent blurb in Art Journal, mentioning that art students don't attend museums, as they get all of the images from books, or the interwebs. Art is not just an image, but an entity that transcends the visual, and reproduction is fallible. Art also needs context; most mere images have no frame, no wall, no viewers; lifeless. I find this very difficult to comprehend.

For a picture framer, who has so few opportunities, even in reproduction, to look at frames, where else but museums? It is more than just crafting a frame; as context, the interplay of frame and art are essential. About 25 years ago, when I worked at the Terra Museum of American Art, there was a painting from, I believe the Met, in NY. An unusual Jackson Pollack; some calligraphic strokes on a raw linen canvas, soft black on brownish gray. It was framed in a gold leaf, renaissance, sgraffito frame. (On frames, sgraffito is a scratched, incised and punched form of decoration). I doubt there is a photo, and the combination may not even be together any more, due to the vagaries of curators. It was, however a beautiful symbiosis, balanced, powerful, and elegant.

Go forth, look at real art. ( I skipped the Art Fair, too crowded.)



That's me, chief bottle washer for this operation, getting no respect, with the Junior VP in charge of Bounce. Photo by the Senior VP in charge of Pre-teen Angst. Somewhere in the heart of Kalamazoo. See above.

Frame from the front.

The front of the frame, see here. This is a frame I carved in early 1998.