My Visit to Wolf Myrow or Thank You Nehemiah

Elwood: It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.

Jake: Hit it.

The Blues Brothers

OK, maybe our trip to Wolf Myrow didn’t start off with snappy dialog, but I was game as soon as a friend suggested we take a break from Clay ConneCTion 2012 in New London and head to Wolf Myrow in neaby Providence RI.  “And don’t wear good clothes,” he added.   I had never been to Wolf Myrow before, but I’d  heard about it and was eager to go.

Some  background: The U.S. costume jewelry industry was born in Providence, Rhode Island 1794, when Nehemiah Dodge, a local goldsmith and watchmaker, developed a gold plating process that opened up the jewelry market to  mass production.   Providence became  a major player in the costume jewelry industry and, at one time,  employed thousands in its factories. In fact, New England was once filled with factories from the looms of Lowell  to the textile mills of Lawrence and the paper mills of Maine.   Hardly any factories exist anymore but one can spot the abandoned buildings with their stone walls and multi-paned windows  near the cities’ outskirts close to rivers and railroad tracks.

Wolf Myrow is a left over from those heady manufacturing days.  It buys and sells jewelry findings and beads, mostly discontinued or  old and items left over when a factory closes.   Poking around the vast  Wolf Myrow  inventory gives a feeling similar to exploring your Grandmother’s attic;  the sense of mystery and discovery is heightened by the plain paper packaging and boxes that hold  most of the items offered for sale.

We approached the ware house from hilly street on the edge of town, parked the car on a narrow gravel driveway and entered through a heavy fire door.  The air smelled musty and old.   We  made our way down a narrow hallway over ancient wood floors worn smooth from years of use.  Then I entered the main room and felt like I had walked into a store in Diagon Alley. 

It was crowded with rows of towering rusty metal shelves and every shelf was piled with  cardboard boxes bearing faded type written labels.   I saw a yellowed newspaper lying on a massive dark wooden counter next to an antique cast iron scale.  I felt like I had walked back in time.

And everywhere I turned, I saw a door to another room.  There are so many rooms that they kept the lights off to save electricity, but the light switches were clearly marked in case anyone wanted to shop there.   Each room I entered contained  rows of old metal shelves piled with dusty cardboard boxes.

I walked into a room and switched on the light.   I felt like I was the first person who had entered that room in years.   As I made my way down an aisle I stopped for no reason,  pulled a box off a shelf and opened it.  I saw scores of a brass stamping that reminded me of a brooch an aunt wore when I was a child, a memory I had forgotten.

When you open a box, you might pull out copper bracelet blanks.  Or brass chain.  Or glass pearls.  Or Swarovski crystals wrapped in crisp paper packets.

 

Customers are required to purchase items in bulk and most things are sold by weight. If you go with a few friends, you can swap  purchases with one another and come away with an assortment of products .  The staff is nice and extremely helpful.

Press here for a link to the website and catalog that will give you an idea of that Wolf Myrow sells. But take it from me, there is no substitute for a visit to the warehouse in Providence.  Thank You Nehemiah.

Real Steampunk

     The Steampunk  genre (or more correctly, sub-genre) encompasses moviesclothingartfiction,  jewelrysculpture and more.  It draws heavily from old fashioned technology and appeals to those of  us  interested in technology, fantasy, and exploring mixing materials from different times and places. 

     I never really thought about why Steampunk is called Steampunk (as opposed to Technopunk for example) until I visited the Treadgar Iron Works in Richmond Virginia.  Tredgar churned out ammunition for the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also manufactured steam locomotives and other new inventions of the Industrial Revolution.   The  perfection of the steam engine changed everything and took large parts of the Western World from an Agrarian to an Industrial Economy.  Hey-sometimes it takes me a long time to see the obvious, and then I see it everywhere.

     Here are some pictures I took of the old machinery at Tredgar.

 

     The first museum exhibition of Steampunk design will take place at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University later this year.   This is appropriate in so many ways.  Be sure to check out the blog devoted to the exhibit.

Inspiration is Everywhere

I find inspiration in the strangest places. I spent a day in a boring seminar at the Philadelphia Convention Center staring at the patterns in the carpet and spent the night making geometric canes. The outside light sconces on a neighborhood apartment building are evolving into a pair of earrings in my brain. Patinas on weathered metal gates and fixtures make me think of new ways to finish metal. Bark on a tree can look like nubby raw silk fabric. Plaster ornamentation on old buildings makes me wonder about the workers who put it there and what their lives were like. I like to roam around taking pictures of odd bits of Philadelphia. I see something new whenever I look. I love to travel, but there’s plenty of inspiration in my own back yard. Maybe these pictures will inspire you to start looking more closely at your everyday surroundings.

Plumpton Says Patina

I have been experimenting with patinas on metal. You can buy patina chemicals, but you can also use things from around the house, like salt, rust, and ammonia.  My feline companion Plumpton  and I sometimes collaborate on artistic projects.   Here are two examples of copper buried in Plumpton’s litterbox.  

Why buy iron oxide when it grows wild everywhere? Yes, iron oxide is another name for rust. Take a rusty object and put in into a plastic bag with a few drops of water and the metal object you want to have a rust patina. Here is a what a steel washer looks like, before and after.   

The next items are salt and ammonia and the process is called fuming. I cleaned brass and copper with a wire brush and wiped it clean with alcohol. Then I filled a small jar with white ammonia and put in inside a big jar. I sprinkled salt in the big jar (not in the ammonia), put in the metal, and screwed on the lid.

At first, the brass started turning black from the edges and I didn’t think anything interesting was going to happen.    

Then I got this.  Kewl!

Here is the same process repeated on copper.

More experiments to follow . . .

A final note – I took “Forming Lasting and Meaningful Attachments” with Robert Dancik last weekend with the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild last week. The class covers cold connections and is one of the best classes I ever took. I didn’t make a thing, but I don’t care. I learned so much it will take time to process it all. Take this class if you have the chance.

Some Web Sites I Like

For interesting takes on Metalsmithing and Metal Jewelry,  check out the work of David Paul Bacharach, Barbara Briggs and Connie Fox’s wonderful site, Jatayu

To learn to make just about anything, check out Instructables and the Ready Made Magazine web site.

No matter what kind of art you’re into, you’re sure to find something that interests you on Wet Canvas.

Happy Surfing!

My Lust For Rust

I came upon Altered Curiosities by accident. It’s not the kind of book I would usually buy. But boy, I am so glad this book made it to my door. Don’t pass it by like I almost did. It’s packed with information on all kinds of crafts that seemingly bear no relation to one another. Yet author Jane Ann Wynn pulls them all together, with unconventional materials, and makes art. I didn’t try any of her projects, but I read through the book more than once and am taking inspiration from it for my own work.

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For example, I love the look of rust (but not on my appliances, please! ) and patinas. I picked up a rusty washer on the street the other day and struck up a conversation with it. When I was finished, I had this pendant. I added a silver plated spoon hammered flat, gold filled wire, turquoise and copper. I think that Altered Curiosities got me thinking in a new way.

While running errands today, I found all these cool rusty bits on the sidewalk. These are going to end up in something. I’ll wait for them to talk to me first, like the washer did.

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If any of this appeals to you, check out the art of Annette Tacconelli’s Urban Artifacts. If little washers talk to me, bridges and pieces of buildings talk to her. Not only is her art beautiful and hard to forget; it will stoke your creative juices even more.