Don’t Fake Defunct

You wouldn’t know it from this joint, but there’s been much afoot here at corporate headquarters and elsewhere lately.

To begin with, I’m several months into a new position as writer-and-photographer-in-residence at Fish & Game, which I wrote about here and here. Since the menu changes every week, I have been going at least once per and taking copious pictures and notes, amassing an archive and beginning to tease out ways in which the information could be usefully and beautifully conveyed. I’ll be posting some pictures on their blog for those of you too far away to come enjoy the food in person. It’s an excellent forum in which to hone my chops, and I think the project will bear good fruit down the road.

This last week found me back at Salem Art Works, where I made the sunflower labyrinth in 2008. This time around, I made a stained glass window using an old spoked steel tractor wheel that had been sitting around for years. I had a bunch of help all week, without which there’s no way I could have finished it in such a short time; one assistant wire-brushed all the rust off while another cut most of the triangles that I welded around the perimeter so the result looks like their saw blade logo. It felt great to weld and grind and work with steel again. I need to blow the dust off my welder and put a 220 outlet in the garage.

We poured all the glass, using fifteen different colors of frit to create the gradients which constitute the basis of my work, regardless of medium. I took a semester of glass in college, and it felt good to be back in a hot shop, especially once it stopped being Indian summer and turned to chilly, rainy fall. There’s a profound and fascinating pleasure to be found in manipulating a semi-liquid at 2400˚.

The torch keeps the outside from cooling too much faster than the inside, which can lead to cracking. Fun fact: that jagged piece of steel we’re casting the glass on is the same 1/4″ sheet we cut the triangles out of. Patrick (in red) welded a thick piece of channel underneath it for stability and thermal mass. It served us well.

Once the glass cooled overnight in the annealers, I got to work with a rented tile saw cutting the 165 different triangles (technically, it was 150 triangles and 15 trapezoids) that make up the pattern. My hands are lousy with dozens of tiny cuts; they’re stinging as I type. This took a very long time, especially since the spokes are slightly irregular, so many pieces had to be recut slightly when it came time to glue them into place. I developed a complex love/hate relationship with the saw over the course of our three days together; on the one hand, a diamond-tipped blade cuts glass like butter, making an impossible task (cutting dozens of pieces with exacting precision) easy, and on the other it’s noisy and wet and requires vigilant concentration as well as eye and hearing protection.

The other side of the wheel—there are two layers of spokes, alternately spaced—got fitted with long triangles of wiggly privacy glass like you might see in a shower stall. This is the side that will face outside, and mercifully I had the shop where I bought it do this cutting to my measurements: something like seven different sizes to fit all the various distances between spokes. I glued all the glass with industrial strength silicone, which lasts a long time. It felt gratifying to set the last piece in place and step away from the wheel, drop into a folding chair, and stare at it for a few minutes. It was a hell of a week: long days of various physical tasks, working with all manner of tools and materials, solving problems on the fly, and trying to maintain a high level of craftsmanship. I’m exhausted.

It occurred to me that this piece is not unlike one of my from-scratch meals; rather than simply order colored glass sheets from somewhere, which would have been perfectly uniform in both thickness and color, the act of pouring the slabs and then cutting them made for all sort of irregularities which informed the effect of the finished piece. It’s much more of the place, since all the parts of it were made (or found, in the case of the steel wheel) on the site where it will be installed. That’s terroir, of a sort, and I think it will resonate more because of it. There are also about a dozen people who all had a hand in its making, helping out a different stages, so it was very much a group effort. Without all their help I would still be up there, toiling away with no end in sight.

Food at SAW is communal, and everyone takes turns making dinner for the group. I didn’t have time to join the rotation, but I did contribute a couple of loaves of bread during the early days when I had a few minutes to spare. I also brought up some salsas (fermented and smoked) and the wheel of Bethlehem that Mother Noella (see previous post) gave me. They were well received.

Stay tuned for another post in a few days after I go back and we install the window high up in the barn wall, in an opening recently cut and fortified to accommodate it. And who knows? Maybe I’ll write about my dinner again sometime soon.

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One Comment

  1. October 10
    Reply

    This post was at least as much fun to read as your food ones – maybe even more. The creative process amazes and impresses me and it’s always fascinating when an artist reveals it.

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