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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Crook

A new enamel kiln for my studio - much to learn!

So many times I've walked past medieval enamel work in museums, but just recently my eyes have been opened to its great beauty and to its decorative possibilities - and to its abillity to outlast the centuries. @morbidanatomy and I were recently visiting museums and cathedrals in Paris, and our attention was turned by bright eyes gleaming, enamelled, from the middle ages.

He's from a tomb in the cathedral of St-Denis where the tombs of the French kings are ( not the Bourbon dynasty - their graves were destroyed by the French Revolution. The earlier kings. ) . You know that I can never see and love an artistic effect without wondering how it's done, and once obsession took hold thanks to the jewels of the Musée de Cluny, I was well on the way to deciding to learn how to do this effect and add it to my bronze sculptures . Such an old craft skill is a steep mountain to climb, and there will be much trial and error. So here is my new secondhand friend, which the muse put in my hands via a local ad on Facebook

I was a little nervous of it at first, imagining explosions and leaping flames over the studio, but in use it's quite approachable, with a good quality control and sensor and seems to hit temperature - 800 degress c or so - accurately. Working on jewellery size is an odd sensation, everything feels small and delicate even in my small fingers, a world away from sculpting lifesize in wax or clay, finicky and satisfying. The pleasure is that of playiong with doll's house furniture.

So I can share with you my first ever enamel out of the new kiln! It's just a tag in midnight blue - the grey powder makes a nice complex deep colour when fused.

Now I need to try each colour for temperature and timing, and get a palette of shades together. Today a tiny tag - soon - an enamelled reliquary, memento mori jewellery, cartouches, insets for statues, ....but much practice, first. Here are some inspirations anyway, from past centuries. I covet them all! The desirable quality is the luminous depth of colour. As a material it conveys preciousness and devotion, a wish for a beautiful effect that lasts for centuries and glows even while buried for age upon age.

It's no wonder the ancients used it to give the everlasting gaze to their gods and spiritual beings - a hard and flashing gaze. It's an effect I channelled for muy Santa Medicina and for one of the bronze Fates I'm sculpting for my upcoming exhibition at Reading museum and art gallery, "In the Company of Monsters".

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