Tuesday, May 3, 2011
WHAT IS REPOUSSE', ANYWAY?
I have never been comfortable talking about myself, or even writing about myself. However, for lack of a brilliant topic idea at the moment, I will write about repousse' and chasing, my favorite metal working techniques for making jewelry. These are ancient techniques, which date back to the Bronze Age. Objects produced by repousse' and chasing are becoming increasingly rare, since they are entirely done by hand, and therefore time consuming.
Repousse' and chasing are processes of of surface modeling done on sheet metal, using a hammer and punching tools. The preferred metals are silver, high karat gold, and sometimes copper. Repousse' is when one works from the back, or reverse side. Chasing is when one models on the top side, or face, of the work. In both techniques, the tools do not cut through the metal, but indent it. The designs are created on the metal free-hand; no pre-existing forms are used.
During the working of the metal, it must be supported on a material resilient enough to give in to the hammer blows on the punches that form the metal, as well as hold it in place. Traditionally, the material used for this purpose is pitch, a mixture of wood resin, tallow, and plaster. Pitch retains the necessary amount of plasticity and adheres to the metal when cool, thereby anchoring it in place during the work. The pitch is heated and melts slightly when the metal needs to be removed.
Last September I was fortunate to travel to Italy and visit the last remaining shop in Florence that makes objects using repousse' and chasing. I was humbled when I viewed the fantastic creations in the shop. Not only was there jewelry, but also serving platters, bowls, and goblets. All had hand-hammered depictions of flowers, leaves, bunches of grapes and other designs. For me, it was as though I had entered Aladdin's cave of treasures.
Repousse' and chasing have a magical feel to me because they allow one to make an object out of a flat piece of metal. I hope these techniques will not become a lost art, and that other people will continue to experience the magic.