We (the Seed Project Artists) are creating a public art piece on enameled metal panels that will be attached to the Olson Memorial Parkway overpass bridge in North Minneapolis.
For me, one of the fulfilling aspects of working on the Seed Project is learning and experimenting with the enameling technique.
Researching the method and history of enameling helps inspire me, as well as garner an appreciation for the art form.
Enameling is the process for coloring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing brilliant colors over it that are decorated in an intricate design. Powdered glass is fixed to a surface by firing, usually between 750 and 850 °C (1,380 and 1,560 °F). The powder melts, flows, and then hardens to a smooth, durable coating on metal, or on glass or ceramics.
This technique was chosen for the Seed Project for its brilliance and durability under adverse climate conditions. (Hello, Minnesota!). Enameling has been developed over thousands of years, tracing back to the ancient Persians. The Iranian craftsmen of the Sasanied era invented this art, and Mongols spread it to India and other countries. The ancient Egyptians applied enamels to stone objects, pottery, and sometimes jewelry (Wikipedia). The ancient Greeks, Celts, Georgians, and Chinese also used enamel on metal objects, and the technique reached a high point of artistic development in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, beginning with the Late Romans and then the Byzantines.
My primary artistic discipline is that of a painter, so I see enameling as a way of “cementing” my strokes, making them permanent. I love the gloss that is created from reflecting light on the surface. This will make for a beautiful visual experience as viewers pass by the final installed piece. The unpredictability of the medium is also exciting; I like the feeling artistically of never knowing what the fire will bestow until retrieving the panel from the kiln.
There are various techniques that we Seed Artists have been exploring, from stenciling to printing. Sgraffito has been a technique I have appreciated. It consists of an unfired layer of enamel that is applied over a previously fired layer of enamel of a contrasting color, which is then partly removed with a tool to create the design. Sgraffito on walls has been used in Europe since classical times, and it was common in Italy in the 16th century. It can also be found in African art. The technical procedure is relatively simple, and the procedures are similar to the painting of frescoes (Wikipedia). I plan to combine brush painting on my panels with the sgraffito technique.
Enameling is an exciting as well as challenging medium. My goal, along with my fellow Seed Artists is to create a wonderful public piece that contributes to the great lineage of enamel artistry, and presents a long-lasting gift to the community that also honors the memory John Biggers’ original Celebration of Life mural.