Sculptor Piers Watson first encountered the metal casting process that would take over his practice and thoughts in 2008 in rural India. He traveled there specifically to see "if there was anybody still casting metal using the ancient methods."
On that initial trip, he spent a month in the Bastar District in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh learning a method that dates from the 10th century that he would come to call the luted crucible technique. In this pre-industrial metal casting practice, Watson says, "Essentially what's happening is you're taking a clay crucible and a clay mold with your wax object inside of it and luting the two together; joining the two together with more clay, and that's creating the object called the luted crucible, with the mold on top and crucible with the metal on the bottom."
He returned to India in 2012, he says, after "four years of 100 percent failure rate," and stayed another month. His fascination with the ancient technology led him to spend the next decade "trying to figure out a process. … It completely took over the creative side of art-making and it became all about how to make this process work."
Watson has since taught the technique in 36 workshops in six different countries. He gives an artist's talk on the luted crucible technique at MAKE Santa Fe on Saturday Oct. 27, which launches a series of events in November that joins Watson's ancient method with more contemporary 3-D technology, culminating in a Luted Crucible Meets 3-D Printing Workshop on Nov. 17 and 18.
In short, participants will have the opportunity first to 3-D scan original objects, and then later render them into a more permanent form using Watson's casting method.
Watson himself has been using 3-D scanning in his work. "For me, it's great," he says, "because I was starting to get a little frustrated with what I can do with beeswax. … We made some things the other day that I'm excited to try to cast. … It's opened up a whole new way of approaching the casting process for me." The technique is particularly suited to smaller objects; Watson, for example, has been using it to develop a jewelry line.
Andrew Woodard, MAKE's education coordinator and a sculptor himself, says the luted crucible technique is particularly attractive because "it's easy to replicate and very low-tech"—it can be done anywhere with just a few materials. The process also allows creators to forego working with foundries and instead have a hands-on experience for the entire creation of their work.
This autonomy also makes for an exciting creative process, Watson says, "because you're in control of all aspects of it; every part of the process can be something that adds to the creative outcome."
At the same time, Woodard notes, the dual emphasis on using 3-D scanning and printing will address local artists' evolving goals with that technology. "It's maturing to a point where a lot of artists who are working in Santa Fe … with 3-D printing are looking for that noble material, taking something that's plastic and making it into something permanent," he says. "Bronze lasts forever. … It becomes a legacy piece rather than a prototype or a rapid creation."
MAKE Santa Fe provides myriad and regular instruction on everything from blacksmithing to sewing machines to laser cutting, and Executive Director Molly Samsell says this workshop series is taking the organization's classes in new directions. "What excites me about this workshop is it's using multiple processes," she says. "Our previous workshops have been more introductory or skill based, this is taking it to the next level … to apply a tool across disciplines."
The interdisciplinary focus reflects how artists are working technologically, Woodard says, creating and refining their works in both analog and digital spaces. While Watson's workshops will have particular appeal to sculptors, 3-D technology has artistic possibilities in multiple genres—Woodard's gallery in Madrid, Process Art Studio (in Gypsy Plaza at 3 Firehouse Lane), also sells 3-D-created paintings.
While participants will use computers to scan the pieces they plan to forge later, the casting part of the workshop will take place outside with basic elements—Woodard and Watson were preparing to dig the holes for the luted crucible process. Previous students have found the process as absorbing as he has, Watson says. "Things that happen at above-normal temperatures are really fascinating," he says. "Fire is really exciting, and the hotter it gets, the more interesting."
Piers Watson Artist Talk
5:30 pm Saturday Oct. 27. Free.
The Luted Crucible Meets 3-D Printing Workshop
Saturday and Sunday Nov. 17 and 18. $200. Registration required.
All events at MAKE Santa Fe, 2879 All Trades Road, 819-3502; makesantafe.org.