Saturday, June 09, 2018


GRB Bells recently participated in our VIVA [Vashon Island Visual Arts] Spring Tour the first two weekends of May. [Our Holiday Tour is the first two full weekends of December.]

As part of the studio's presentation I demonstrate wax injection, one part of the process of the bells' manufacture which I am capable, within the constraints of time, to demonstrate simply. I am thus encouraged to explain here the process of making the mold into which the wax is injected.
Here are the castings made from my original wax carvings for several designs plus their clappers. I call these the "masters" & I securely archive them in order to be able to remake any of the rubber molds which might break or wear out. They are also the best form of copyright, since the molding process will shrink the design slightly & all bells made from them will be smaller. 

You see them sitting upside down on their "sprues", which are the rods which were the channels through which the molten metal entered the temporary plaster mold to make the casting. A bell has at least two pieces -- and the clappers must be made separately, of course.

This group includes The SEAHORSE Bell with its unusually complex, three-piece clapper on the left. [The two bells on the right are the SUFI SURF & the CLOUD PALACE Bells]
This is the raw silicone rubber, which is soft & resembles a dense putty. It comes in strips protected with peel-able plastic on both sides. I cut it to size with scissors & pack it around the master in an aluminum mold frame, with the sprue touching its interior side. At this stage I must begin to think "inside-out" as I work to fill the negative space around the bell with the positive rubber.
When the mold is filled I label it with a thin aluminum or brass tag into which I emboss its name with a stylus. The mold press has two electrically heated platens between which the mold is sandwiched. A heavy screw with a large handle tightens to press it all tight. 
Under that pressure its heat of 350 degrees 
vulcanizes the rubber in about an hour.
The result is a solid block of harder rubber completely enclosing the master, squeezing a slight excess, which insures that all the details of the master have been captured. It shrinks a bit as it cools, freeing itself from the sides of the mold's interior. 
I trim the excess with scissors & peel out the tag, 
leaving the name permanently as part of the mold. 
Next comes the difficult part! I use a scalpel to very carefully cut the block apart to free the master, while also making "keys" to secure the fit when the mold is put back together.
It is fascinatingly puzzling to dance between thinking positively about the negative! It requires bringing the cuts from the bottom of the sprue ever closer to the still invisible master, prying the dense rubber apart with the help of a hook mounted to my desk. It is important to land the cut at the best place on the design to make the mold function well, both to promote the escape of air pushed ahead of the molten wax & for ease of removing the cooled wax.
The mold stretches & wants to snap closed. I must use brute strength of one hand while keeping the other facile enough to aim the blade cutting delicately into narrow-sighted space dancing between positive & negative space...
These photos show the process arrested by being held open with toothpicks... Each piercing in the design must be cut cleanly so as to efficiently re-close, recreating that detail in wax. 
I cut down from around the skirt of the bell to create a core which is pulled from the interior of the master, with another tricky part involving the clapper loop which clings, being filled with rubber in the top of the bell's interior, difficult to reach with the blade. Even with a collection of tricks over years of experience, I often still struggle with this part of the process!

Below you can see that core sitting-up in the center, atop the left & right half of the mold, which shows the positive wax which was injected into it. 
Outside are the halves of the second mold containing the 3 clapper parts.
The wax injector is a heated pot filled with wax under about 5 pounds of air pressure. 
Near-liquid molten wax is injected into the sprue of the mold when pressed against its nozzle, thus engaging the pressure sensitive valve behind it.
 Here is a video of an actual injection:

The result is a wax replication ready to be cast into metal to make the bell I will sell.

Monday, February 05, 2018


While Amsterdam is another city built on an ancient system of canals, it could hardly be more different than Venice.

The spatial aspects of both cities are unique in spite that each is flat to the sea. The Dutch, coming from the land, built yet more land. Venice... perching precariously on pilings anchoring only a few small unstable prehistoric islands, squatting in the shallows of a lagoon...

Protected by all those walls we walked in Croatia... Venice arched inwardly upward, hoarding the spoils of world trade well before any Dutch expansion.

The periods during which each reached maturity have much to do with their differences. Older by many centuries, Venice plyed the classic shipping trade routes inside the warmer enclosure of the Mediterranean, connecting Europe to the mid-east, the Indian sub-continent, & ultimately China. Its smaller size amassed some sense of the mysterious enclosure characterizing an “Oriental” quality. 

The Dutch, building later, in the chill of the North Sea, discovered the distances of the larger world by circumnavigation
 outside the antique model of the world...
miniature inside the cincture of Gibraltar. 
That Mediterranean hothouse-classique
launched quintessential herbal seeds... 
plus rich cultural spores into the global garden.
... the city's slogan is...
i   A M S T E R D A M
The canals here are wider than Venice & were originally even wider yet... facilitating the floating movement of people & goods around a bustling trading city by float. Now the waterways are more for recreation, having been mostly filled-in to create space for the comfortable streets of wheels... more bicycles than cars.... more than the population!

Wide sidewalks on either side allow pedestrians to stroll abreast 
while dancing with cyclists walking their rides home. 

I find both cities imminently walkable. 
We’ve been two nights walking the older central part... 
a visual delight!

We are staying with our friend Joost 
in his 1930’s row house just inside the “ring” of canals... 
 Steep stairs are ubiquitous. 
This space has been keenly attended 
in the remodel he's making mostly himself!
His location is served by the city's efficient system of rail trams. 
There is plenty of auto traffic, but all is rather subservient to the obvious first choice to ride bicycles… evidenced by the fact that there are more bikes than citizens!

Specific, well separated lanes are dedicated to bicycles & one must honor that or be threatened & cursed for being in their way! The cross-walks become sometimes complicated to get to the center islands where one waits to board the trams. Electronic tickets, touched at sensors upon both entering & leaving the car, calculate the fare for the distance being deducted from the balance. Oh! that we could learn such easy good sense in more of our cities in the States! 
We spent time in the Rijksmuseum on Sunday… busy with the throngs wanting to see the revered paintings of the Dutch Masters, which I too was happy to experience, of course. I enjoyed seeing the icons of my art history courses in the real. While there were crowds, if I lingered, there were also rare moments...
This is a stately old building, bridging over the main street which runs through & under its facade into a vaulted foyer echoing with Vivaldi.
Musical ensembles play outside modern entrances up into the museum... or down into the new depths enlarging antique spaces to accommodate essential modern facilities... I like this improvement's mixing of clean functional lines with the original Gothic Victorian.
 Juxtaposition abounds...
At sister Alice's insistence we headed toward the Van Gogh museum, a short stroll through a lively urban park... This contemporary building surprised me by becoming an almost religious experience… I realized how little I actually knew about him. He is no longer simply impressionistic curiosity as I resonate better with his quest toward color. My long-lost painter groked his gooey pigments in a wistful way.

To be able to see almost the entire oeuvre of an artist who accomplished so much in only a decade chides my career, which began [& still dreams] in paint while getting side-tracked by the fantasy of jewelry before the whimsey of bells.

I could yet again drown us in photographic memories
proving only inadequacy
 I Am-sterdam!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Our room has rich silk brocade on the walls in a stylishly remodeled building where Stephen had stayed a decade ago. It is smaller than expected... not the same upper room he thought he had reserved. But we have all of Venice... probably our favorite city... just below the window facing the facade of the church. On the hotel's top floor is a sitting area offering chilled prosecco adjacent to a roof-top terrace overlooking Saint Stephen's Square.We spent several sunsets & late evening finishes there, sometimes with other guests.
The window just below the small railing was our bathroom...
Walking to the Vaparretto (water bus) stop we remembered adventures we had had
inside the central smaller arched window... on a previous visit.
I enjoyed this view on our way down the stairway to the street.
Wrought iron grills always seem more romantic in Venice... 
This piece spoke to me... I was awaiting having my cataracts fixed upon my return home...

We are here to swim in the vast visual sea of an art event known as the Biennale... having been held for a season of months every second [odd] year for more than a century... since 1895.

While the whole city becomes involved, with scattered national, private & corporate galleries... often requiring treks up numerous stairs into the upper floors of ancient palazzi...

 Yet, one provocative example reached out of the canal waters...
There are two main venues:
The Giardini is a more formal park with a collection of permanent national pavilions, sometimes brashly fresh but often if not rather stiflingly antique, seeming rather tired. 
The Arsenale... is an even more antique form,
while being an infinitely more aesthetic & functional space for exposition.

The Arsenale itself became fascinating to me... often eclipsing the art it housed.  Part of Venice's historic naval base, this hugely long building was a ship-building facility of extraordinary capabilities. A ship in a day! The present building is simply handsome in rather a more Renaissance manner than its incredible description as being Medieval.

The vast spaces where Venezia built her ships now offer fabulous venues for my imagination… not to mention that it offers the same for curating such a plethora of rich contemporary creativity. The long colonnade, with various patterns of brickwork exposed through broken stucco, supports an immense beamed roof.
The center wooden floor no doubt overlays the mechanique & iron tracking on which the vessels being built were moved along between numerous transepts housing workshop bays specific to that particular stage of production, many having additional tracks from exterior delivery ports supplying material for the various crafts.
All this puts a beautiful lie to any notion that the assembly line was invented by Henry Ford!
These hundred brick plinths became sentinels & sentries,
characters gracefully holding raw space for a cultural dance...
Ample space encourages gardens of visual ideas inside conceptual forests.

Fibers are integral to outfitting ships with essential need for sails & cordage... used here to make an airy tent form inviting meditation & play.
Suddenly fiber becomes bales of color!
Shipping becomes metaphorical & dreamlike...
Boxes of mirrors precisely reflect unexpected presumptions...
Stories require imagination...

Visual technology abounds...
 ...while also presenting the eerie experience of climbing up into space
holding a mirror of shallow suspended water reflecting the rafters...
inviting reverie... perhaps on sea-rise.
 An unexpected dessert of Chinese intricacy in several media followed an exuberant introduction of laser-cut sheet-metal [brass or anodized aluminum?] 
A later ton of not-dissimilar paper-cuts...
Making a wall...
 Embroidery was abundantly featured as a third medium.
Not at all "forbidden stitch"...  but a lusciously long impasto of stroke-able silk...

Ireland presented an arresting video atmosphere presided over by a gorgeous crone...
Bones of Lucy do indeed bridge...
New Zealand's space presented a hundred foot screen showing a statically painted mural... scrolling, right to left, which movement triggered vignettes to become animated as they processed, being gradually replaced by a next story, all handsomely stylized in an idyllic manner
triggering inherently residual memories of colonial comfort.

Arrival at the end of the building invited celebration...

This alley, parallel to the building & pacing toward the exit, invited... at the conclusion of an intense day... absorption & distillation.
Time to contemplate a martini at Harry's!
I wrote in my journal: 'The Giaradini was a bit disappointing yesterday."
That after the Arsenale & before deeper cogitation...

The Giaradini's central building suggests being four-square... having an octagonal dome...
Four pieces by John Waters, hung thus in each of the corner vestibules,
 observing succinctly the games of the art world
which happily I mostly left many years ago.
Peeking into the cafe was dizzying!
Balanced by...
This first glimpse of the Hungarian Pavilion piqued satisfaction inside
its portal of Nouveau exuberance.
Gondolas are becoming rarer, but this stalwart example battled some rough water as we passed on the vaporetto... the larger boats which are the city's water bus system...
This long post does not begin to share the full experience of Venice, so I am planning to later make several shorter posts about those details. This verbose writer is continuing a life-long practice learning literally to communicate... 
Patience Please!