Contact Us

 

3408 N Troy St
Chicago, IL, 60618
United States

Blog

Keep up with the latest from Kristian Damholt's metal studio.  I will be writing about current projects in sculpture, jewelry, furniture, and custom work, as well as discussing my own artistic journey.

Etsy Store!

Kristian Damholt

I spend most of my time on custom work, but have been looking for a way to show my own designs as well, and recently decided to try Etsy.  You can see my new shop here.

As of today, I still only have a few items listed, but I plan to make and list more things, and see where it goes!

 

Silver and Tanzanite Necklace

Kristian Damholt

I now spend most of my time working with steel, but it was a class in jewelry and metalsmithing that first sparked my interest in craft.   When a friend asked me to design a necklace recently, I was excited to get back to my metalworking roots.

I started with a simple tanzanite cabochon, and sketched out designs until I found one that I liked.  I then started hammering out curves in thin silver wire, knowing the design only truly comes together when I start shaping metal.

I crafted a custom bezel to hold the tanzanite, carefully testing and adjusting the fit along the way.  With the bezel complete, I soldered the rest of the pendant, and moved on to the final steps of polishing the silver and setting the stone.

As the necklace finally came together, I loved the way the deep blue tanzanite contrasted with the bright silver, and the way the uneven, organic structure of the pendant held the perfect, smooth stone.  There is nothing quite like seeing an idea made real, and I was particularly happy with the way this design turned out.

Yoruba Bronze Head

Kristian Damholt

Most of the mounts I build are simple and straightforward.  I build an armature to support an artifact, make sure it is as unobtrusive as possible, paint it flat black, and call it done.  Sometimes, however, the piece calls for special treatment.  Sometimes the base is not intended to disappear, but will become an integrated whole with the artifact in question.  That was the case with this Yoruba bronze head I finished working on recently.

My client wanted a base with some visual weight to it, rather than a thin steel plate, but weight was a factor so it couldn't be solid.  He also wanted a finish with some warmth and texture, in keeping with the naturally aged patina of the bronze.

I started by cutting some pieces of 1/8" steel sheet, and welded them into a box 2" high and just a little wider than the head.  I ground the welds smooth, and sanded all surfaces to an even finish.  Once the box was done, I built the armature that would support the head, floating just an inch above the box.  I hand applied a patina to the steel base, and finished it with wax for a smooth, warm luster.

Leave a comment below to let me know what you think, or contact me if you'd like to know how I can help you with a similar project.

Architectural Artifacts

Kristian Damholt

A former factory building in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood is now home to one of the city's retail treasures: Architectural Artifacts.  The store features a vast collection of salvaged items from around the world.

Stuart Grannen, the store's proprietor, recently asked me to fabricate mounts for a selection from his inventory.  An eclectic grouping, it included iron, brass, and stone architectural elements, and I have posted my favorites here.

If you are a collector, you probably have something that would look great on a custom mount.  Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Fireplace

Kristian Damholt

One of my favorite things about working with steel is that even though it is undeniably a man-made, industrial product, each piece has its own individual character.  As it is heated and rolled at the steel mill, little differences in temperature and chemistry create unique patterns of color on the surface of each sheet, plate, and bar.  I was able to take advantage of this characteristic of raw steel in a recent project.

I was asked to create a steel fireplace surround to replace an existing one in faux brick tile.  The rest of the home was simple and modern, but retained some of the industrial character of its former life as a garment factory, and my client wanted the fireplace to match.

I rendered a few ideas with the help of Sketchup, talked them over with my client, and then got to work.

After cutting, welding, and grinding, I finished the piece with clear wax to bring out the raw character of the steel.  Here it is, installed in its final location.

fireplace-surround

Furniture Collaboration

Kristian Damholt

A few months ago I received these drawings from my friends at Applied Haptics.  They were designing the interior of a new Evanston cycle shop, and needed a centerpiece for the store.  A multipurpose table, it needed to be simple and elegant, but sturdy enough to be an occasional work surface.  After some consultation regarding materials and finishes we settled on a final design, and I went ahead with the work on the frame.

Drawings for steel and wood table.jpg

I built the base with welded steel tubing, and recommended powdercoating for a durable finish.  That done, I left it with Lukasz at Applied Haptics for the rest of the job.  A woodworker himself, he wanted to build the tabletop and add the lower shelf.  Just last week I had the chance to stop by Everyday Cycles & Motion to see the finished table in its final location.

It was my first chance to see the completed table, and I thought it looked great.  Truly a custom piece, it was made to complement the rest of the store, and to me it felt right at home.

Upcoming show

Kristian Damholt

I recently finished making mounts for this group of African artifacts from Phillip Michael Arts, just in time for an upcoming show at Robin Richman's Bucktown boutique.  Robin has picked her favorite pieces from Phillip's collection, and will be showing them starting 7/16.

The show will only be up for one weekend.  If you can't make it in person, be sure to visit Phillip's website to view his complete collection of African and Asian antiques.

Museum Stands

Kristian Damholt

The back was smooth, offering no purchase, but the figures on the front provided a convenient place to conceal prongs.  After building an armature to match the overall shape of the sculpture, I welded on two steel wires for support.  These I bent to cradle the upper right and left figures, providing a secure hold while being minimally visible from the front.  I painted the stand black, and the prongs green to match the existing patina.

When I am working on a custom project, the design process begins during the first conversation with my client.  The case was no different when I was recently presented with this example of Dogon bronze work.  I was asked to make a display stand for the piece, and to be as subtle as possible so that it seemed to float just above table height.  After taking some notes and making a quick sketch, I brought the sculpture back to my shop for the real work.

Obviously this piece had seen some damage, so I wanted to be as sensitive as possible in supporting it.  Over time, at least one figure had been worn away completely, and I didn't want to risk any further deterioration of the sculpture.

A well made museum stand enhances an artifact or sculpture without drawing attention to itself, and this example is certainly a success.  I am quite happy with the final result, and so is my client.  It seems fitting that the ancient art of lost wax casting should be complemented here by the modern technology of TIG welding.

The Dogon people have a centuries long tradition of fine metalwork in both bronze and iron, and it's a pleasure to use my own metalworking skills to help present it.

How did I get here?

Kristian Damholt

20 years ago, an art teacher changed the direction of my life.

The summer after I finished junior high, I had the opportunity to take a class at the high school I would be attending in the coming year.  It seemed like a great chance to learn my way around the campus and meet a few new people before the fall semester started, and as I looked over my options photography jumped out at me.  Art had always been a casual interest of mine, whether that meant doodling in notebooks or building elaborate Lego constructions, and photography was something I hadn't tried yet.

My first photographs were nothing special, the same sort of black and white compositions any would-be artist comes up with: a shot down a lane of trees, some friends looking contemplative, a bit of forced perspective.  I took my time in the darkroom, framing them just right, timing the exposure, perfecting the focus.  I showed them to the teacher when I was done.

"Deluxe," he said.

"Deluxe?"

"Yes, absolutely.  Deluxe."

In hindsight I'm certain he said that to the next student, and the next, but it didn't matter.  I was hooked.  The rest of the summer flew by in a swirl of long walks, clicking shutters, and darkroom chemicals, and in the fall I signed up for another art class.

Art class led to art class, and eventually to the college art department where I found the medium I would work in for the next 15 years.  Metalsmithing became my passion, and I made jewelry, cast silver, and hammered copper vessels.  After college I continued my education, learning welding, blacksmithing, and bronze casting.

Thinking about it now, metalsmithing grabbed me for the same reason photography did so many years ago.  Both are arts that hinge on one precipitous moment of success or failure, but also require careful refinement and a patient hand.  Directing the heat of a torch to melt only the tiniest piece of silver before everything else collapses is a moment of intensity and danger, followed by an almost meditative period of filing, sanding, and polishing out the final form.  These emotional elements inform all of the work that I do, and the vocation I now pursue.

Three weeks ago, that first important art teacher walked into the gallery where I now do much of my work.  I hadn't seen him since high school, and knew he had retired several years ago.  In that moment, I had no words to tell him how much he had meant to me.  I introduced myself, knowing he had no reason to remember me among the hundreds, maybe thousands of students he had encountered in his long career.  I thanked him briefly, and let him go on his way.

If we meet again I will be sure to tell him that, ever since that photography class, I have striven to make every new project live up to that first compliment.  Whether I am polishing gold or hammering red hot iron, I try to make everything worthy of being called, "Deluxe."