Craftsman / Artist

Christopher Payne • Photographer

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A lazy week drifting betwixt jingling bells and confetti’d ballrooms.  What came to mind?  Taking a Mulligan, to borrow from the venerable game of confidence, we would post a catchy photo-montage from the NYTimes.  Start off tracing the “Mulligan” phrase to the seventeenth century.  Distract our readers from blatant thievery and possible copyright violation.  Knock a smooth three-iron over the dogleg, coming up nicely short of the green.  Chip and putt, an easy birdie.

Upon the hallowed fairways of the Old Course At St Andrews such a phrase did not originate.  No noble and dusty lineage to Messer Mulligan.  An act of Parliament such as created their Links Trust cannot change that.    

We still have the photos to introduce.  Christopher is a photo-essayist of vision and intuition.  Here he captures the esteemed General Pencil Company of Jersey City, NJ.  Practically next to Manhattan,  its location again reminds our Mid-Atlantic staff state boundaries know no logic.  As if they were drawn by the king’s whim.

With thanks to Christopher Payne, Sam Anderson, The New York Times Magazine, and the entire population of the eastern seaboard, we bring you the General Pencil Company!

Such radical simplicity is surprisingly complicated to produce. Since 1889, the General Pencil Company has been converting huge quantities of raw materials (wax, paint, cedar planks, graphite) into products you can find, neatly boxed and labeled, in art and office-supply stores across the nation: watercolor pencils, editing pencils, sticks of charcoal, pastel chalks. Even as other factories have chased higher profit margins overseas, General Pencil has stayed put, cranking out thousands upon thousands of writing instruments in the middle of Jersey City. – Sam Anderson for The New York Times Magazine

George H.W. Bush

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George Herbert Walker Bush  1924 – 2018

“You don’t see anybody trashing this president … Whether they agreed with him on certain policy positions or not, people respected him and liked him.” – James A. Baker III

He was that rare figure in Washington: a man without enemies — or with very few, at any rate. –  Adam Nagourney

We love this photo of the former president skydiving on his 80th birthday.  Particularly the way the Army parachute team is looking after their former Commander-In-Chief. – ed/pub

Bridgeport Brass

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Not too long ago we spent half our hours in smoking darkness.  Candles, oil lamps, then kerosene lamps followed.  Just in time for indoor plumbing to make its appearance.  After the glory of a home with a pump in the kitchen came water delivered via pipe into the residence.  Next, the most amazing of inventions, hot water showers!

With us just about the whole way, from 1865 at least, Bridgeport Brass Company supplied the tools, devices, and materials to make it happen.

This company was organized in 1865 to make brass clock movements, and later made hoop-skirt frames, kerosene parlor lamps and the first successful kerosene bicycle lamp, exhibited at the World’s Fair in Chicago, in 1893 . . . Forgotten Landmarks

A few years after The Great War local farmland was consumed by developers.  The new crop of housing sprouted faster than summer corn.  About the same time our pile of bricks was hurriedly stacked, a more ambitious heap was raised up the hill.  Three stories of cells, each to have both cold AND hot water.  The water pipe?  Brass pipe manufactured by Bridgeport Brass Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Shaft-mounted roller dies had stamped a repeating trade name along the length of the pipe.  Plumrite.

Decades later discovered disconnected within wall cavities, a usefulness lost to cracked threads after its three-generation life expectancy, a few feet of Plumrite are saved from the scrap yard.

Here we have a piece of c.1928 Plumrite brass pipe in use as a pipe clamp.  Certainly lends a touch of patrician elegance to the old chap, what?  Genteel, experienced, ready to fasten together the most fractious of violin tops with good manners and charm.

Lie-Nielsen Bevel Edge Chisels

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Behind many ten minute successes lie hours of preparation.  According to my dentist during a little buffing after a $200 smear of white Bondo.  Lately, at the secretive Luthier Laboratories, pushing boundaries past conventional instrument repair, we’ve found those preparation-to-execution numbers to be a bit skewed.

In this case, hours and hours were spent converting this “Sold For Parts” French violin into a viable instrument.  As we near the final cavelletti, hands and clamps in piaffe and pirouette, this early 19th century Mirecourt nears a milestone.  Sound post and tone tap, the first in 120+ years we surmise (the repairs of 1886 were never completed).

At every step, to poke, prod, shave, raise, lower, scrape, and in general convince the parts to obey,  our Lie-Nielsen ⅜” chisel is there to assist.  An extension of my fingers but with enhanced fingernails.   A2 Tool Steel, hardened to Rockwell 60-62, cryogenically treated and double tempered.

Our mortised end block holds us up no longer.  After this Mirecourt skipped the entire last century, we’ll soon be having a conversation.  Talk about dropping out!  Welcome back!

 

Violin Maker’s Plane

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Waiting for the “right job” to come up was taking forever.  I’d been wanting this compact manganese bronze hand plane upon first sight online, and began rationalizing the purchase as a ‘deserved’ luxury item after handling one at a Lie-Lielsen Hand Tool Event® a year ago.  

Opportunity came in the form of a mid-19th century French-made Sébastien Kloz violin.  She wanted a little nip and tuck fitting back into her old clothes.  With chisel and file, it could have been done.  But for precision, and in a far more civilized manner, she wants the Lie-Nielsen Violin Maker’s Plane.  Perfect results, as anticipated!  Depth of cut adjustment was exact and did not ‘creep’ after tightening.  You spend more for quality, but you get more satisfaction.  Long after the price tag is forgotten.

At about the same time, a Depression-era Antonio Stradivari copy  – probably a copy, but one never knows – came knocking for a bit of fingerboard thinning.  The Stanley Handyman again, at 9-1/4″, or the Lie-Nielsen 101, at 3-7/16″?  The USA-made vintage Stanley performs admirably but is a bit top-heavy and too big.  The Lie-Nielsen 101 finished the job with perfect control, but is a bit too small for shaping a 4/4 violin ebony fingerboard.  Maybe a Goldilocks Plane exists, juuuuust right.  The Lie-Nielsen 102?

Where the Lie-Nielsen came through with presidential prowess?  Cutting a tiny bevel along the edges of the fingerboard.  I forgot to put them in when the nut and strings were off, but the 101 is perfectly suited for close, delicate work.  Since the nut was already glued, a gentle swipe with my Lie-Nielsen scraper seamlessly finished up the last bit of bevel.

All Summer Long

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Summers come and summers go.  The Rockdale Boys made it to our local county park.  Debbie Durant never sounded finer.  The Zona saw continues trimming violin bushing pegs closer than a dime.  A pile of late 19th century built-in drawers junked near Penn campus?  We grabbed a stack of drawer bottoms.

John-Anthony dropped off his 1935 Bacon & Day Silver Bell plectrum banjo for peg fitting and an ebony buff.  John is a true trade musician, performing swing music of 1920s and 1930s on a period instrument.  Solo.

A mid-19th century Mirecourt violin made the table.  In a box.  In six or seven pieces.  We may get it back together without forgetting any of the parts.

More USA-made Juzek tools are en route.  A cello peg hole reamer and peg shaver.  We’ll be ready for the next onslaught of performing arts high school cellos.  Five sound posts, eight bridges, and all two dozen of the instruments seem to have something wrong with the pegs.

Fresh hide glue, alignment and clamping, a bit of planing and scraping, the occasional epoxy wood filler, listening to the Beach Boys wind up my summer with their summer hits.  Written when Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro were dancing their can-can across the northern Caribbean.

Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world . . . 

After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and while the Kennedy administration planned Operation Mongoose, in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.  – Office of the Historian

katrina piechnik • saggar pottery

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Our local library entrance begins with a long upward-slanting sterile hallway.  Terrazzo, stone, and plaster.  All white. Glass-fronted recesses, locked against the well-heeled vandal and thief.

Two years ago we visited garden-themed mosaics displayed in this same hall.  Today, the spotlight falls back to pottery.  Americans love their crafts.  So important in colonial America, the tradition of turning clay and glaze into objects of beauty and utility remains vibrant.

Katrina Piechnik is a local instructor, practicing a centuries-old skill of saggar pottery.  Packing materials against pottery as it is fired to produce color and texture. From her creativity another generation of artisans are born, thrive, and continue.  She opens our imagination.

Borrowed from UpInSmokePottery.com, a partial list of colorants:
Copper Carbonate – greens, blues, maroons, reds
Copper Sulfate – greens, blues, maroons, reds
Cobalt Carbonate – blues
Ferric Chloride – reds, yellows, oranges
Steel wool – blues, grays, pinks
Banana peels – greens, grays
Copper wire – can be red, black, blue, green, whites, depending on wire, thickness, and temperature of the fire
Sawdust – black, gray, blue-gray,
Cow pies – depends on what it ate; blacks, yellows, greens, grays, browns
Bacon Grease – brown/greens
Sodium Chloride – Orange, yellows, salmon, peach, gold
Coffee Grounds – browns, greens, blues
Nails – Neat blue/gray dots with halos
Leaves – brown/greens
Grass clippings – brown/greens
Red Iron Oxide – browns, maroons, rust