Rachel David

Roots of Form with Rachel David

Session 6, August 19 through August 30

In this class we will look at forms developed in both traditional and industrial societies, examine their nature, practice their execution, and use them as a basis for a group built sculpture to be installed at the New Agrarian School. The class will feature demonstrations along with intense work together to forge and assemble the final piece. The instructor will present the basic design concept that will be tailored to incorporate the ideas and abilities of the participants. Students should come with and open mind and be prepared to work hard. This class requires some previous forging experience.

In this class, we will build a sculptural signpost for the New Agrarian School, it will be a whirlwind two weeks.

We will look at forms developed in both traditional and industrial societies, examine their nature, practice their execution, and use them as a basis for a group built sculptural signpost to be installed for the New Agrarian School. The class will feature demonstrations along with intense work together to forge and assemble the final piece in the two week class.

The design will be skeletal for class planning purposes, fleshed out with input and feedback from the class, once it fills but before it starts, incorporating students experience and interests, the site and the inspirational mission of the school. Demonstrations will focus on skills we will need to make different parts. They will be participatory and part of our group building experience. Some students will assist in doing the demonstration and the parts demonstrated will be incorporated into the piece. Skills demonstrated for this class will include the use of the industrial hand held pneumatic air hammer for both hot repousse and some solid forgings, calculating material needs for required operations, striking, tool driving, many mass isolation techniques, teamwork, order of operation strategies and assembly options. Blacksmithing is a team sport, in other words, and often executing shapes involves several peoples assistance, it will be lots of fun. The design will be contemporary and abstract in nature, but, as art is inherently referential, it will have some focus on the history of shapes.

Forging is an ancient and international/ pre-national practice. Many ancient and industrial era functional forms influence contemporary sculptural shapes and references. I think it is important to give credit where it is due, and for artists, it seems imperative particularly in this world where so many people are able to profit from ideas generated by systematically oppressed populations. For example, the beautiful shape of a west african hoe, which Jeffrey Funk introduced me to the beauty of. This form can be used not only as an elegant and functional gardening tool, it can be translated and distorted to lamp shades and decorative aspects focusing on the simple elegance of a clean transition from strong spine to thinner blades. Each form can inspire many iterations, but the root of the form comes from somewhere. The issue is not the use of form. The issue is not crediting the inspiration.

These historical forms and tools evolved and translated into industrial forgings for an industrial society, best illustrated by JW Lillico’s bible, Blacksmiths Manual Illustrated. This book will be referred to many times as we use those industrial forgings and techniques as the basis of our artistic efforts. The development of industrial techniques is rooted in the increased need to execute any given function with repetitive and consistent efficiency. As society industrialized, becoming more demanding for carbon based fuels, steel machinery, and earth moving projects with the goal to continue the cycle of “growth”, smithing and metalworking evolved to fulfill these larger needs. An observer following the forms can see their transitions and evolutions from traditional societies’ forgings to industrial. Back to the strong spine of the hoe, translate that to the spine of the bucket of the back hoe. Now we as blacksmiths, in this current luxury economy, we are faced to reason with why we make, why we do these difficult things, and what it all means and implies. This school’s mission dovetails with the intentions of this class. In exploring traditional rural crafts, specifically blacksmithing, there is an inherent nod to the creativity and ingenuity of past smiths. They created forms, machines and practices that served their purposes and have practically obsoleted the entire field, relegating it to a field of luxury service providers, with a slim shadow of previous practitioners.

We will take the historical practice and turn it on end, creating a sculpturally functional piece to complement the pristine surroundings and the ethos of the school. We will work together, incorporating and exploring shapes inspired by pre-industrial and industrial forms and techniques to make this signpost.

In the well equipped shop at the New Agrarian School we will be able to forge the shapes at the scale necessary to make a statement piece to welcome students and the cycle of making from history to contemporary.

While it’s not required, below is a short list of recommended readings in no particular order.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert

The Mande Blacksmiths: Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa, Patrick McNaughton

Life Force at the Anvil : The Blacksmith's Art from Africa, Tom Joyce
Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari

Ugly: the Aesthetics of Everything, Stephen Bayley

Coal: a Human History, Barbara Freese

1491 and 1493, Charles Mann

The Crafts Reader, Glenn Adamson

The Nature of Art and Workmanship, David Pye

Smithing with the Hand Held Pneumatic Hammer, E.A. Chase

Blacksmiths Manual Illustrated, J.W. Lillico

The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben

The History of the World Until Yesterday, Collapse, Guns Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond

The Global Warming Reader, Bill McKibben