NJBA Repousse Demonstration and Workshop
at Eric Cuper's with Rick Smith
February 2006

These pictures were provided by Tom Majewski

Report by Bruce Freeman
The February 4th NJBA membership meeting was held at Eric Cuper's studio in Easton, PA. This proved to be a spacious shop with forges, hammers, metalworking machines, and a high-water line seven feet up the wall from last year's floods. Eric assures us he now knows how to remove his equipment to high ground on a few hours' notice

Our demonstrator was Rick Smith of Southern Illinois University. Rick demonstrated sheet forming and repousse. Rick's method of sheet forming is the classic fine repousse. Rick moves more volume creating more abstract shapes and forms. It involves creating volume while the metal is hot then defining form and edges cold with stakes and planishing. Although his finished pieces on display were all quite angular - almost like cityscapes - he begins a piece by sinking it over a hollow. (Some members may remember John Rais forming a dish of heavy steel in a similar manner at a demo a few years ago at Peters Valley.) Only after the metal is sufficiently stretched does he introduce the angularity.

On the following day, about nine of us attended a workshop to explore and try these techniques. Mostly we relied on Erics equipment for this, but Marshall Bienstock and Bruce Freeman brought up a couple forges and vises, as well as some stakes of various sorts. Eric used his landlord's power shear to cut the metal into ~12" squares. We had 1/8" and 16-gauge steel available to us, but apparently most of us chose the former, which is harder to work but less likely to cut through.

As Rick had demonstrated, we first sketched our intended design with soapstone or paint pens onto both sides of the sheet of metal. Next we stretched the metal in the appropriate areas by sinking at a red heat. To define edges, we reversed the metal sheets and worked over the square, but not sharp, edge of a stake, using half-faced blows.

As we achieved defined the shapes further, we used tools Rick had brought along to better define the edges. These were typically ~1/2"-square, punch-like tools, with a slight incline at one end, and a square, but not sharp, working edge. In some cases, square edges were defined by upsetting from the two directions.

The results were quite varied. Most participants imitated the angularity of Rick's work, but few of us tried more "organic" forms. This workshop was enthusiastically received by the participants, and Rick seemed quite pleased with the progress made on projects. There was general agreement that the workshop had been very worthwhile.