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Bridging the Gap - Plique a Jour with a Profound Twist
by Bill Helwig
from Volume 21, Number 4, August 2002

Nothing is really ever new, unless discovered. What is discovered, is old, because it previously existed in order to be discovered.  It just took a while to recognize difference...and everybody wants to be recognized for their difference. 

People are looking for answers, but only the answers that they want to hear.  So they surf the electronic avenues looking for answers that will agree with their questions and get answers that have no credential or proof and assume no responsibility.  This is an example of freedom going nowhere.  When real research, honest effort, take into account hundreds of years of evidence, then communication occurs. Otherwise it becomes chatting. . .Martha Stewart style. 

There has been a sufficient amount of history and information in print for one to ascertain, by laboring, that there is more to know, than just asking questions.  It is necessary to qualify information because there are erroneous 'feathers' all over the place.  Participants in a field generally fail to realize that they should be purveyors of information that is grounded in actual knowledge, not tricks of the trade. 

Fortunately, a few pass by educational generalities by questioning and asking why. . .what. . .when. . . where. . .how and who.  Maturity is not hard to muster when it matters. 

Was it Hamilton's book, like The Royal Road to Romance; great Grandparents who endeavored through rough realities with fortitude and ethic; or just dumb luck that I loved asking why.  My parents told me, "don't talk back" and teachers generally suggested alternatives by not answering the question. 

The application of glass on metal first happened to me when I was an undergrad.  A graduate student questioned why things were happening to her thesis work.  She had followed what was written in Enameling:  Principals and Practice by Kenneth F. Bates.  How should I know?  Having never enameled before, and being only a teaching assistant's assistant.  The Bates book was the only book that we knew of and we were both in college being taught by professors. 

It wasn't until I was out of the Army and teaching in a University Craft Center that enameling was encountered again.  There were people in the community that actually enameled.  The American craft movement was on the move.  There was one hell of a lot of excitement and pushing of boundaries on both sides of the coin.  

Having come from a work ethic generation and having served my country, it was far easier for me to choose my directions.  The United States Army had served me by giving me three years of experience in Germany where grandeur of older cultures and their respect of individual difference had aesthetic importance.  It was my time to serve history by adventuring into the concepts of what it was like to achieve knowledge, then practice it.  I was on my own looking for relationships that achieved worth being remembered.  

This account is about enlightenment and relative discovery.  The soul, seeking itself, travels far.  Enamel grabbed me.  It was a world beyond belief.  Anticipations exploded like fireworks.  Expectations had never been so calm.  Paying attention at every turn, I was both child and parent with the material.  One of the beauties was that we could travel together and communicate.  Yes, there is more that could be said on this point.  

This offering is a document for Glass on Metal¨, the book that I never have had time to write.  It is the only existing publication that attempts to fill in the holes that gape over the deep cavities, created by missed information.  It attempts to be inclusive; broad minded, if you will.  When seen in bound volumes, the book form of the publication is an astounding account.  

Years back, but after getting into the whole concept of enamel and enameling, I, through discourse, became informed by Mr. Carpenter, who was a trained ceramic engineer, that copper oxide must be present for the enamel to wet the surface of copper.  The copper oxide is then taken into the solution of the glass.  Glass has a greater bond with ferrous metals and a weaker bond with non-ferrous metals.  This was before he sought to employ me.  I recognize just how little comprehension there was within the field of enameling on metal in the United States, and possibly elsewhere; he on the other hand expressed that he didn't understand how I could do what I could do with glass on metal.  In my mind was the question 'what else do those who enamel need to be aware of?'  

Having toyed with plique a jour because, as a teacher of enameling processes, it was my duty to comprehend what it was that I was about to teach as a teacher.  I tried all of the procedures promoted in English.  All failed to produce anything with a viable importance near that already historically in evidence.  None were suitable for display or further experimentation until that clue.  Copper oxide was a eureka. 'Does glass 'stick' to copper. . .they bond, but do they adhere? Maybe they just 'fit' together.  We all have seen examples of glass released from copper under pressure.  The metal surface is left very bright.  The thought was to release the metal from the glass, but not by etching.  The idea was to just roll it back, like opening a can of sardines, because copper is softer than glass. 

The assurity of my revelation about plique ˆ jour was so clear that the procedure was photo documented the first time out. 

The boundaries were pushed well beyond any existing proportion.  It was another adventure with the material; having by that time broken more contemporary enameling rules than any reader cares to know. 

The information was presented in several workshops and like most new information uncovered, it was delivered to participants who didn't really want to know.  It was just a bit of entertainment and very social.  Most of what I had to say didn't seem to fit their mind set. 

Photo 1 The first seventeen photos document a concept uncovered, or at best rediscovered, and reveal refinements would be necessary. The original piece was 18 gauge, .040 inch, copper.  It was saw-pierced without refinement.  The size is four and one half inches by three and one quarter inch, Photo 1. 

Photo 2  

Photo 2.  Copper tooling foil, 36 gauge, .0054 inch, was cut and darted around the shape. 

Photo 3  

Photo 3.  The tooling foil was burnished into the reverse on the reverse side of the front. 

Photo 4 Photo 4.  The piece was reversed and treated as a champleve for the application of the enamel.  Transparent enamels were wet-packed into the reserve areas and then fired at 1450 degrees F.  Time was relevant to furnace and piece size. 

Photo 5  

Photo 5.  The piece after firing. 

Photo 6  

Photo 6.  The piece after stoning excess enamel from the surface of the copper. 

Photo 7  

Photo 7.  The piece after a second wet-packing of enamel. 

Photo 8  

Photo 8.  The piece after firing at the same time and temperature. 

Photo 9  

Photo 9.  The piece after being pickled and stoned.  The pickle was nitric acid and water. 

Photo 10  

Photo 10.  The piece after being re-fired. 

Photo 11  

Photo 11.  The piece after being stoned again. 

Photo 12 Photo 12.  The piece after being re-fired and fumed with stannous chloride.  (This was unnecessary to the process, but why not check out the effects to garner additional information.  I had not fumed anything other than my work with Grisaille and the equipment was at hand.  The piece was, after all, nothing more than a learning adventure.) 

Photo 13  

Photo 13.  The reverse side with the foil attached. 

Photo 14  

Photo 14. The reverse side with a portion of the tooling foil rolled back. 

Photo 15  

Photo 15.  The tooling foil after it's release from the glass. 

Photo 16  

Photo 16.  The piece's back side showing the red copper oxide on the non-enamel surfaces. 


Photo 17

Photo 17. The piece, back lit to show transparency.  

It doesn't matter that the photos were taken in April of 1974.  What does matter is the exposure to such knowledge.  Last year, a workshop was taught using the 'foil' technique, unfortunately it was a construct that bore no relationship to the reality of history or progress.  The metal was too thick, the openings were too small; mica was used to support the enamel; copper foil was then used to hold the mica.  Why, why, why so much effort; and then having to flex shaft the excess was a far cry from just using the capillary action method to begin with.  It was a 'make it work' procedure that tinkered with an image unresearched. 

The size of the opening needs to be greater than three times the thickness of the metal in order for the light to pass through with ease, regardless of which of the known techniques are used. 

Photo 18a

Photo 18a is a sample piece which illustrates how the copper foil needs to be cut and wrapped to the top surface (with one 'wet-packing' and after being fired).  Note how the enamel had reservoir on the top surface in acute angles to insure that the 'crotch' would fill.  The cut foil has been burnished all the way around the thickness to the top of the piece.  The foil was also tooled on the reverse, photo 18b, to add transparent tone variations within the opening, as well as structural concavity to the enamel.  The size is 2-1/2 x 2-3/4 inches, 16 gauge copper.  The foil obviously has not been removed at this stage. 

Photo 18b

Photo 19   Photo 20

Photos 19 and 20 illustrate how the removal of every other divider can increase the size of the opening.  (Note - the metal is 16 gauge, .051 inch, and that texture has been added to the foil backing to increase greater interest.)  Size for both, 3-5/16 x 2-3/4 inch copper. 

Photo 21






Photo 21 illustrates another prototype using a locust design.  Size 4 x 1-7/8 inches, 16 gauge copper.  

(Because the original documentation and the prototypes that followed were about knowledge and not 'art', it is important for me to note that the enamels were neither washed nor screen graded nor hand ground down from air cooled cake.  I am a facilitator of information relating to the relationship of glass on metal under the conditions of heat.  Unlike many who teach, conduct workshops, and/or write books, enameling to me is the key to how the earth became so wondrous before profit-taking.  Just because I have nothing personal to express with the technique of plique a jour does not mean that I can slough off the process.)  

I chose to endeavor.  I chose to teach.  I chose to work for industry, but did not leave the first fundamental:  discover who you are and make the best of it by giving in to that which consumes your soul.  The fire must be kept inside once it is discovered.  The works will stand in evidence and history. 

Note - This was a copper to copper relationship with glass. Just look at the possibilities with different metals and different glasses.  Skip over trying to be important and just be with the materials at hand.  Take the adventure without demand and all will be given to you to see.  The difference and recognition of origin, well in existence before any of us had a thought, defines just how far acknowledgement will go.  


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