Friday, June 2, 2017

The Rabbit Hole, part deux

 I'm still stuck in the rabbit hole.  I thought I would be showing a process this week , but instead I decided to have a near death experience and then do online research while I recovered.  I asked a buddy of mine who is also an exceptionally fine blacksmith, and who made the bunny railing for La Fonda in Santa Fe about 20 years ago if he had any information on who did the metalwork for Mary Colter.   This is his response.

                Colter must have been an incredible force.  The bunnies ‘we’ (me) made were a railing for the La Fonda addition that became the high end guest rooms built where there was formerly a car park.  Actually John Prosser rough forged the bigger bunny butts ‘cause the 50 lb. Giant was not going to move that much material...... Lots of stories wrapped up in bunny butts.  The original bunny ash trays were made at the Santa Fe Rail Yard blacksmith shop.  I don’t know if that was in Abq or Santa Fe.  The owners (at the time) of the La Fonda or the architect tracked down one of the old farts that made them.  Ward met the old guy who apparently said something to the effect of “We hated making those fucking rabbits”, I think he used the collective “we” but I was not there.........

Since Colter used the rail line blacksmiths for the bunnies she might have utilized them for other objects. 

There you are.  I have a clue.  Yeah, I know, you wish I had a clue. 

These are the bunnies made by Harmony Forge for La Fonda about 20 years ago

This is the installed railing by Harmony Forge at La Fonda

Anyway, off I went to the Library of Congress and some other online resources to find out a little about the Santa Fe Rail Yard blacksmith shop.  I think when most people think of blacksmiths and blacksmith shops they either think of quaint little shops where a guy works on making all the things that the little town he lives in needs.  He shoes the horses and makes hinges and fixes wagon wheels.  The other perception is probably of the contemporary smith who makes really pricey decorative stuff.  Every time I go to a demonstration by some guy who describes blacksmithing, he describes one of those two things.  It's all about gates and hinges, but that description leaves out the industrial smiths.  They were making ship parts and train parts and machine parts.  They really didn't have any interest in bunnies.  So it's not surprising that the "old fart" hated making the rabbits. 

Hammering out a draw bar on the steam drop hammer in the blacksmith shop, Santa Fe R.R. shops, Albuquerque, New Mexico -- This is the title of this photo from the Library of Congress -- Photo by Jack Delano, 1943,  There is a black and white version of this too.  I don't know...

Albuquerque, New Mexico. An apparatus for shortening drawbars. The drawbar has just been taken out of the forge and is being lowered into place in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad blacksmith shop  -- Again title from Library of Congress -- Photo by Jack Delano 1943

Albuquerque, New Mexico. An apparatus for shortening drawbars in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad blacksmith shop. Repeated blows from the hammer at the heated end will shorten the bar to the desired length  --Library of Congress title -- by Jack Delano 1943

The interesting thing is, that according to the New MexicoDepartment of Cultural Affairs, the jackrabbit ashtrays were made by Walter Gilbert Wrought Iron Studio, ca. 1929.  So that's a little confusing.   It's plausible because according to Los Poblanos website Walter Gilbert worked with John Gaw Meem.     
                                  So what?,  you say.    
Well, John Gaw Meem  worked with Mary Colter on La Fonda.  So there you are.  Once again I am clueless.... ish.  

This is one of the original ashtrays attributed to Walter Gilbert (no relation) iron Studio

This is a jackrabbit ashtray made by Jim Pepperl
 about 20 years ago

I have more information and a bunch of pictures that I hope you enjoy but I don't have the full or even a clear answer to who made the metalwork for Mary Colter at the Grand Canyon.  

VIEW OF STORAGE YARD AND ASSEMBLING PLATFORM. BLACKSMITH SHOP UNDER CANVAS FLY IN RIGHT FOREGROUND - Kaibab Trail Suspension Bridge, Spanning Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Coconino County, AZ -- Library of Congress -- I just put this in because this all started with metalwork at the Grand Canyon.  This photo doesn't have a year or a photographer attribution.  It's just another trail to follow.

Also, you probably noticed that I have gone back to putting virtually pointless links in my post rather than footnotes.  Eh.  

Check back next week.  If I recover fully and haven't thrown myself into a vat of vinegar, or baking soda, or boiling oil, or whatever works,  I will have a process post.  Otherwise you get more of this crap.  Which I'm enjoying.  If you aren't enjoying it you don't need to read it....oh wait, you aren't reading it.  Ha, jokes on me.

Back to bed

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Old iron stuff and who made it ... or How I got from the Grand Canyon to Jamestown

I fell down the rabbit hole. I'll admit I'm not much of a scholar.  Takes too much attention to detail.  Plus there's all that footnoting and bibliography that has to be dealt with.  As anyone who actually knows me, primarily my children will tell you, I'm much more likely to just pull it out of my pocket. (and yes, I did clean that statement up so I could appeal to a wider audience..........?) The three of you who found this blog can go ahead and share it with your friends. 

Where was I?  Oh yeah...the rabbit hole.  Actually I didn't fall so much as throw myself in.  A week or so ago I hiked from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch and back up.  South Kaibab down.  Bright Angel up.  I had a great time and learned a massive amount[1] and really just want to go back.  NOW.  I have thanked the appropriate people in the footnotes.[2]

Anyway, part of the Grand Canyon experience is recent history and that includes Mary Colter[3], the Fred Harvey Company[4], the need for water[5], El Tovar[6], mining[7], telephones[8], and transportation[9].  This is a partial list, but you know, the junk I'm interested in, in an everyday sort of way.  And I was asked questions. I had no answers.  Perhaps there are no answers, but that is what I want to find out.  I don't know who did the metalwork in El Tovar, or for Bright Angel Lodge[10], or for that matter any of the other metalwork.  My task, as I see it, is to try to discover what I can about the metalwork of the Grand Canyon.  

So here I am.  Deep in the rabbit hole with very little information about the things I was originally looking for.  As yet I have few answers to the questions about the Grand Canyon, but I did find this.

These are architectural fragments from excavations at Jamestown, Virginia.  The excavations took place in 1934 and 1935, Jamestown Island Colonial National Monument. [11]  The excavation uncovered fragments of old wrought iron hardware.  One of the two buildings was thought to be a warehouse.  It was long and narrow, near the shore and, of course, erected in the 17th century.  Not much of it remained.  The other was a house built by Edward Champion Travis after 1755.  It is possible it stood until 1803. 

This is the description from the original report filed of the hardware in the house. I wish I could touch it.

Hardware from the house

Hardware from the house

Picture of hardware from the house

This is the description of the warehouse.  

Hardware from the warehouse. There were no pictures.

The thing is, there are records of blacksmiths in colonial Virginia. I am hoping the same is true of the Grand Canyon.  I will keep searching and will keep posting asides as well.  This will be a long and winding road. 

As I  discover more, I will share it with my fan...Hi Bob!  How's the family?  If anyone else stumbles on this, ...hey! How's it going?  I hope you enjoyed this and come back ....please.

Now back to work.

[1] The hike was with the Grand Canyon Field Institute and was lead by a geologist named Brian Gootee with the assistance of Thea Gavin who is a poet.  They had so much information about the canyon.  Historical information from geological to original occupants to later occupant, as well as, an enormous amount of knowledge about the plants, animals and almost anything you could think of really in and around the canyon. 
[2] In addition to Brian and Thea (you should look them up, although I could make them links to themselves) I want to thank the rest of the very small staff at GCFI and my fellow hikers. 
[3] MaryColter was an architect and designer who worked for The Fred Harvey Company and the Sante Fe Railroad and did a lot of work at the Grand Canyon, including designing Phantom Ranch.  This is the Wikipedia link to information on her but look further.  She was interesting.
[4] TheFred Harvey Company was basically a hospitality company that worked with the Santa Fe Railroad to create restaurants and hotels along the rail lines and in the rail stations.  Again this is a linkto the Grand Canyon Lodges page.  It has a bit about Fred Harvey.  Again...this stuff is interesting.  Go look it up.
[5] The history of water in the desert and the history of water at the Grand Canyon are way too complicated for this footnote but as part of my process and my look into technology at the Canyon, I will be revisiting this topic.
[6] ElTovar is a former Harvey House.  It has an incredible history and is actually probably the place where I found the rabbit hole.  There is metalwork and part of this is trying to find out who did it.
[7] Mining is a huge part of the history of the Grand Canyon.  On the hike down the south Kaibab, Brian showed us a breccia pipe.  This one was radioactive which I learned after I peed on it.  Hey, it's hiking.
[8] The trans-canyon telephone line is another story I will follow while here in the rabbit hole.  All I will say at this point is it in the National Register of Historic Places. 
[9] All the ways that people arrived at the Grand Canyon and traveled the Canyon are fascinating.  Again, you will have to wait for this.
[10]Virginia L. Gratton Mary Colter Builder Upon the Red Earth.(1992)  There are some artisans who worked with Mary Colter who are named.  Earl Altaire painted furniture for La Fonda in Santa Fe. Olive Rush did murals and painted glass.  Colter used a master carpenter named E.V. Birt.  Arnold Ronnebeck did sculptured tiles.   Dorothy Stauffer did a mural.  Guy Gowan was a ceramic sculptor who worked with Colter on the Fred Harvey tableware.  Colter's secretary was named Sadie Rubins.  Fred Greer painted decorative motifs of sand paintings.  Fred Kabotie painted Hopi Room in the Watchtower.  Hildreth Meiere painted murals in Kansas City Union Station.  Interestingly the tinsmith goes unnamed, and the only mention of a blacksmith is in reference to aprons being used to upholster furniture.
[11] Architectural Remains, Unit B, Sub-unit 62, Jamestown, James City County, VA. Library of Congress. (1933)  HABS VA,48-JAM,4- and HABS VA,48-JAM,3-


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Let's all get hammered

I haven't posted in a while.  Not because I have nothing to say, as people who know me will tell you, but because I haven't had the time to stop and say it.  
Recently, I was sucked back into theater...or theatre...or ...I don't know....back into making set pieces and props.  And not just for one show either, because those theat..errr people can smell blood.  Plus when you are a micro manufacturer, you can't be picky.  One of the interesting things about the experience, among many, is acknowledging the way we generally learn the craft.  I think this applies to most crafts.  Since the dissolution of guilds and apprenticeships, we tend to learn through brief and minor exposure followed by years of trial and error.  And just about the time we have begun to master our craft our bodies give out.  It's a beautiful process. 
I will be cremated.  I think it's appropriate. 

The whole mind body relationship is a joy to experience.  One of the shows I made props for includes a one woman trapeze act. are about to hear the wonderful and pointless story of my inadvertent humiliation.  For reasons known only to my less than masterful brain, I find these stories funny.  

The  trapezist in Twisted Vegas.  Go see it.  It's fun.

Anyway, I met the trapezist (that's apparently what you call that person swinging from the swing, although Microsoft doesn't recognize the word)  when she accompanied one of the stagehands picking up one of the props. ( Rolling staircase for a Celine Dion impersonator bit.  I knew you wanted to know.) A couple of weeks later, I went to see the show.  I saw her act.  My brain seriously did not register how strong she must be, because... you know, we are all strong enough to hang upside down by a toenail and then flip to standing on the swing in our minds.  After the show I was hanging out in the house waiting for my friend to finish work while the trapezist was working on adjusting her harness with a stagehand.  She does a neat trick at the end of her set with it.  Rather than hang in the air while they did the adjustments and tests, she decided that they should use sand bags as a stand in for her. 

I know you think you know what is about to happen.  You are wrong.  Also you are probably wrong about the point of this pointless story.
Anyway, she headed backstage and reappeared with a sandbag in each hand. She's 5'-2" tall.  A large and burly stagehand did the same.  I should have noted he carried the bags with much less grace.  The stagehand vanished as they will, and the trapezist turned to me and asked how many sandbags I thought she would need to approximate her weight.....Nope, I did not insult her by saying something stupid about her weight.  What I did say was "How much do you think the sand bags weigh?"  She grabbed one and started walking toward me while curling it.... and said "I don't know maybe 20 lb. I curl about 20."  This is when I should have run screaming from the theater.   My brain didn't work.   I just stood there while she said "what do you think?" and HELD THE BAG OUT TO ME......................................Giant sigh.....................................................

I swear that sandbag hit the floor at twice the speed of gravity...with me holding on.  Twenty pounds my flaming red keister.  All I could do was hope, while trying to still my fluttering heart, that when I righted myself she wouldn't be smirking or laughing out loud.  

I'm pretty sure trapezists get a lot of training and do a lot of training.  Trial and error after a short intro would kill them.  

I don't know what the first thing you learn when you want to become a trapezist is, or how long you spend learning it.  I do know, from one account I read that when there were guilds, the first thing an apprentice blacksmith learned was how to file.  He, because they were all he, would spend his first year doing nothing but filing.  I'm pretty sure after a year of filing, with constant correction and instruction, anyone can file.  There is a part of me that wishes for a return to this level of craft, but I don't really want to return to any other aspects of that time so I will just go ahead and get to my point.

Yes, yes, yes.....I'm pretty sure there is one.  

One of the things that I notice (aside from lack of attention to safety, but they are related) when I watch or even see pictures of aspiring and often working smiths is a lack of hammer control.  It's probably nothing that a year of hammering with correction and instruction wouldn't fix, but we have no guilds.  

I recently saw a picture of a "famous" smith who was holding her hammer so close to the head that I was surprised she didn't have bloody knuckles. Hammers should swing.  They shouldn't punch.  Part of the problem, I think, is that the hammer is too heavy to be controlled.  If you can't control your hammer, I don't know how you can master the craft.  It's that simple. The tool must be allowed to do its work properly. 

I asked my buddy, Jim Peppryl, who is the finest smith I know for a picture holding a hammer properly. He sent this.  It makes me happy that he chose this hammer.

The romantic attachment we seem to have with big heavy hammers is counterproductive, because if you choke up to the head you have lost the power of the momentum of your swing.  You cannot push a hammer and get anywhere near the power you get if you let it swing. 

There are some things that I think are important and that I look for in a hammer.  I have three of four hammers that I use for almost everything.  I own many more and I keep getting new ones but I don't use them because they don't have the qualities I need to have good hammer control.  Of the hammers I use, two are 2 lb and two are 1 lb.  Most people would think those are too small to be effective, but I straightened a piece of 1/2" plate with my 2 lb ball peen and a torch.  It's all in the control of the swing. What these hammers have in common is that they are all very nicely balanced, both side to side and front to back.  That means that when I hold them properly with a loose hand on the handle, they don't twist or pull.  None of them is so heavy that I need to hold them by the neck.  That means that they do the bulk of the work without my shoulder wearing out.  I'm also very careful to dress my hammers so that they don't leave excessive marks.  That means I sand off the sharp edges.  

I got this strange little riveting hammer at an ABANA conference

My three favorite hammers. 2 lb engineers ball peen bought at a garage sale in a bucket with a bunch of other stuff, 1 lb rounder and 2 lb french pattern hammer

Swinging a hammer can be profoundly satisfying and when done properly incredibly productive.  So my advice is, choose a well balanced hammer that's handle sits easily in your hand.  Chose one that's weight  doesn't require you to grip it by the neck to control it. Keep it well dressed and always WEAR EYE, EAR AND LUNG PROTECTION.  
There it is.  We aren't all destined to be little strapping trapezists.

Now back to work.