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‘Do you remember,” I asked my father, “that crazy guy you used to tell me about? He and his buddy took all the photo fluid from where they worked and distilled the silver out of it to sell. And then they got in trouble because they did it without asking?”
“Yup,” said my dad.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“Me.” my dad said.
Earlier this month, I showed up with my lovely and talented family at the Oil City Transit Artists studio to take a intro to metal clay class with Alice Walkowski. The cost of the class, since we’re working with pure silver was pretty steep – about $250 for the three of us. As it turned out, it was a bargain.
Metal clay itself is pretty magical. It consists of very small particles of precious metals with an organic binder and water. these particles are found in film developing fluid, as my father’s failed grey market business suggests. Metal clay can be shaped just like any soft clay and fired in a variety of ways including in a kiln, with a handheld gas torch, or on a gas stove. The binder burns away, leaving the pure, sintered metal. Since the binder burns off, the piece shrinks. This sounds like an issue, but this actually allows you to produce very fine detail.
It’s alchemy plain and simple, creating the valuable from dross, and I found myself more intrigued by the process than by the actual crafting.
It had been a long night the evening before, and while I hadn’t touched a drop, I felt like I was coming off a three day bender. When I found out that Walkowski is a retired teacher, I got worried – teachers tend to get used to being in complete control and I chafe in a classroom setting (ironic, I know). When Walkowski said the first hour would be lecture, I felt the bottom of my stomach fall out. It turned out not to true. Instead we got a hands-on sort of teaching, with her leading us through the use of tools and the handling of the clay itself. She’s a student as well as a teacher, taking classes to keep up on the latest techniques – an important sign of a competent artist/instructor. (one of the cooler things she had was an “education bracelet’ a piece of jewelry she made and updates, adding new pieces as she learns new techniques):
An hour and a half later, around 10:30, and after several caffeine ingestions, I started feeling vaguely human again and really began to enjoy myself. Even though my work was dramatically awful, Alice Walkowski kept encouraging me and leading me through it. My wife and daughter faired much better, forgive the low quality of the photo, there were…issues, the day I set up the light box:
The class was all day. We started around 9 am and rolled out around 4. Class size was small – our three, a young teen and her older relative, two twenty sometime women, and an interesting ex-Army Ranger hippie-ish motorcycle guy/jeweler. It was a nice, comfortable mix and after lunch and more coffee, I actually engaged in small talk – not my strong point.
At the end of day, I walked away happy, each of us with two completed pieces, a huge amount of new knowledge under our belts, and a desire to learn more. And that, as I said before, is a bargain.
Alice Walkowski’s blog can be found here. She teaches classes at all levels and offers Art Clay materials for sale at her studio, as well as her finished pieces. She also offers custom work.
Walkowski’s physical studio is in the Oil City National Transit Building, part of the Arts Revitalization project. You can also buy her work from her etsy storefront.
Nervous Existence is looking for video or photos from Saturday’s show at the Cornplanter Firehall.
Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitsch is on sale at Amazon for $1.99
The Cornerstone Festival has released its band schedule including Bread and Circuses, David Bazan, Illogical Spoon , Los Lonely Boys and many, many more…
The New York Times wants to know what effect is the economy having on your life and work as an artist, writer, actor, or musician? E-mail email@example.com.
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