Saturday, 8 October 2011

Traditional Edo silver smithing

This is a short film just posted to YouTube that reveals many traditional processes for the first time.

Raising hollow vessels is called tankin or shibori in Japanese. In the film we are shown the whole process from the cast silver ingot, it's rolling out in to sheet to finished vessel. That's Mr Akio Ishiguro at work and you can see more of his work and read a little interview with him here.

One of the things that impressed me when I was taught this technique, in a studio exactly like the one in the film, was how precise the work was. The shapes always adhere exactly to the drawings.

Edo (Tokyo) silver ware is generally made from pure silver.

The film also features some decorative chiselling and  work. The cup the artisan is decorating, with a design of pine needles, is called a guinomi. It's a sake cup.

The white "paint" on the silver cup is gofun nuri, a paste of glue and ground oyster shell. Gofun is a white pigment used in Nihonga, traditional Japanese painting.

What the Chokin shi (metal carving artisan) is explaining is the unique quality and "spirit" that real handmade work has as opposed to mass produced products. This is something you hear these older artisans talk about quite a lot.

Mr Nozawa Tadayoshi is also a chokin-shi who works with the same group. Here's an interview with him where he expresses many of the same sentiments as are heard in the film.

The third artisan featured demonstrates the use of a Jewellers bow drill and arrow head drill bit. He then goes on to use a rather novel piercing saw. It's a type I've seen a few times in Japan in studio's of older artisans. It's utterly unlike that odd red contraption (those of you who know me  know the contraption I mean ;-) )  in it's simplicity and ease of use. The resilience or flexibility of the frame is rightly considered an important aspect of the tool and one that the skilled user works with.

The parquetry like technique he demonstrates is called kiri-bame, in Japanese studios.

The forth specialist, Mr Hara,  performs the  traditional colouring process called gin-furubi and tanpan-furibi. These are ways of imparting a mellow pewter-like toning or lilac coloured patina to the silver. It does not involve the use of sulphides. That beige patina on the kyusu (teapot) will turn a lovely purple/lilac in time.

You also see him painting a shellac resist onto the chiselled pine needles of the guinomi. This is so that they will stay bright and sharp. After that you see him applying a fine ishi-arashi texture by means of dropping fine garnet stones onto the polished silver.

Mr Kinshiro Hara may be one of the last of the "old school" specialist metal colourists left. I was fortunate enough to have been taken by Izumi Sensei to meet him and to learn from him 18 years ago when I first went to study in Japan. I still have a packet of tsunako, powdered deer horn, that he gave me for extra special polishing jobs.

I'll always be grateful to Izumi Sensei and his colleagues for so graciously inviting me into their world. I have such fond memories of my studies with those remarkable men that I inevitably get a little lump in my throat whenever I see film of them at work in their studios.