Buck’s Fruits And Vegetables

A Canadian city north of Toronto is in the process of updating its library and landscape.  They have devoted some of their property to the development of a space suitable for a farmer’s market.  I suspect they are interested in the library being a community center of sorts, which will attract lots of visitors-for lots of reasons.  I like this idea.  I do think libraries are very important.  Books tell stories, and teach.  Libraries give anyone, everyone, access to books.  What is written or pictured in books is priceless-they are in a way the sum total of our knowledge and our art.  Farmer’s markets are another community icon-over the growing of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  Much of the fabric of a family is woven over shared meals.  This is the sum total of our community.  I place as much value on this as I do the works of Shakespeare.  The landscape architect commissioned four steel sculptures which will be placed in the new market area landscape.  He was intrigued by Buck’s strap steel spheres, and wanted sculptures in that manner to represent fruits and vegetables.        

I think Buck must have more clamps than any other artisan on the planet.  When he is welding steel straps to one another, every piece must be clamped into place before he fires up that torch.  Before the clamps came out, he did a series of drawing based on the architect’s specifications.  Once the drawings were approved, he printed the vertical steel ribs on a plotter exactly the size they would be in the finished sculpture.  These drawings were 20 times the size of what comes out of my printer.  The steel could be laid to the paper, and bent in the proper arc.        

The vertical ribs were bent in a 3-axis vertical roller.  The steel may appear slight in these pictures, but steel is very strong.  It cannot be bent evenly in a prescribed curve without a mechanical slip roller.  Each vertical rib was welded to a 24″ diameter steel base.  The sculptures will be installed over a light fixture which will illuminate the sculptures at night; this base will accomodate that light.    

The vertical ribs were bent to exactly match the curves indicated on the drawings.  The hroizontal ribs-now the fabrication gets very difficult.  The horizontal ribs needs to be rolled in circular shapes to start.  But in order for those ribs to lay flat on the vertical ribs, they needed a second rolling. A rolling that expresses the cant. You see how this lowest rib lays flat against the vertical rib-there were multiple steps getting the steel to perfectly mimic this shape.

This strap steel pumpkin is a low oval shape, without many clues as to its identity.  Strap steel does not lend itself to delicate gestures.  The curved stem is a signature. 

The raw steel shows all of the welds, and the streaks that come from high heat.  The stem is constructed from vineyard bar-steel embossed with the pattern of grape vines. All of the construction marks will disappear, once the piece gets its finish.  Sculpting in steel is exhausting work.  Buck came home plenty of nights to tell that this sculpture was just about to get the best of him.    Every moment is consumed with handled the weight and changing its shape with high heat and electricity.  This stem will make the identity of this sculpture easy.  

The apple is tall and gracefully curved.  I will confess it reminded me of a hot air balloon-until he attached the stem and leaf.  Poof-apple here. 

It interests me that these very abstract shapes got a representational identity boost with something so simple as a stem and a leaf.  This part of the sculptures was more about sculpting than recreating a paper based drawing in steel.   

This squash is almost 6 feet tall. Imposing, this.  No stem was called out.  I think it will hold its own just fine.   

The pear was the bear.  The shape is not in the least bit symmetrical.  At some point, I saw Buck and Dan throw their drawings away, and fabricate by instinct. Drawing this shape may be easy-making it takes a world of time and trouble. I am sympathetic.  There are times that I need to leave the landcape plan in the car, and just dance.   

Tomorrow these raw steel sculptures will enter the first phase of finishing.  I promise to post pictures of the final finish, before they are crated and shipped. This is a quick visual on the way to a finished sculpture.  Buck and his group turn out some very fine pieces-yes.

The Jackie Box

Who knows why I have never posted about my subsidiary company, the Branch Studio, but I will now. Five years ago or better I created a division of Deborah Silver and Company devoted to the creation and manufacture of fine objects for gardens.  A thirteen thousand square foot building houses a wood shop, a kiln, sophisticated welding equipment and all that goes with. a fabrication  studio. It has long been been a dream of mine-to design and manufacture great objects for gardens in a variety of materials.  Designing beautiful and functional objects is not easy.  Each object has a beginning, CAD drawings, a series of prototypes, a tuneup, and a number of revisions; there is an entire evolutionary process that goes on longer than I thought.  And longer still. Most everything can be improved upon, can it not?       

Not surprisingly, the first item on my design agenda-a box.  I have a long standing love affair with the garden box.  Some call them orangery boxes; the first image that comes to my mind are the boxes at Versailles, used to house an enormous collection of citrus trees.  I doubt most people feel their glass of lemonade is a luxury; sophisticated growing and shipping make it possible to buy a lemon for not so much money every day of the year.  But there was a time in northern climates when having oranges available to eat meant growing orange trees and wintering them under glass.  Giant boxes housing citrus trees were a feature at Versailles.  The Versailles box still made by Les Jardins du Roi Soleil-they made my heart pound 20 years ago and still do.  Manufactured of hinged wood panels, and cast iron frames, a fruit tree destined for a winter in the orangery could easily be slid out and moved indoors, while the boxes stayed put outdoors.  I imported and sold plenty of them over the past 15 years.  All my gardening life I have wanted to make beautiful boxes.  For boxwood topiaries, for trees, for citrus, for flowers, for tomatoes.  A well donebox can provide an elegant and generously sized home for a garden.

My first box design-the Jackie box.  This classic box with an X detail celebrated by a button of note-inspired by Jackie Kennedy. Her fabulous Oleg Cassini suits featured big buttons I will never forget. I am not the only one who admired her great style. Her suit buttons are so much a part of my history, and so much a part of what I admire about design. These buttons were jewelry integral to the overall design of the suit.  Though I have not one bit of interest in clothes myself, I admired Mr. Cassini’s design work, and the iconic Jackie Kennedy.   My first Jackie boxes had extira board panels-a favorite of sign companies; these panels do not absorb water.  They could be left to weather, be varnished like the panels of a Brownie camera, or painted. 

Though weatherproof, each Jackie box has its own galvanized metal liner, and a removeable steel frame sitting on top that provides the illusion of thickness, and finishes the top edge with a wide band of steel.  Welded to the bottom, bun feet know in the metal industry as squashed ball feet. A citrus tree could be lifted out of the box in its galvanized liner, and wintered in a conservatory.

The first variation on the Jackie box-a tall box with a rectangluar panel at the bottom. We also made a series with the panel at the top-but I like this version best. The tall box has a much different feeling than the square. It is no surprise that geometry has visual cache, but shapes have an emotional component as well.  Some squares are pleasingly solid and formal-others can be stodgy-funny that.  Part of the design process was selecting sizes and proportions that are heartstopping, not sleepy.   

I grew up designing objects at the same pace that the Jackie boxes evolved. The brown extira board was certainly durable, but this brown is better on a UPS truck than a planter box.  These painted extira board panels were a reference to the shutter color on the house.  This was the decision of the client, and her interior designer Lucy Earl-it would not have been my call. But I was surprised how much I liked the end result-the colors of the flowers I have chosen have everything to do with the blue of this box; it was much too strong to ignore.  

I did however take a cue from those blue extira board panels.  We now paint our boxes for the shop with Porter exterior acrylic paint.  It is amazingly durable.  This color, a darker blue grey than the steel.  The painted extira panel has finally come into its own.    

This small Jackie box was made with steel in smaller widths, and a smaller buttom. Scaling a design up or down requires looking at the dimension and thickness of every component.  Lots of things seem obvious now that were not so obvious at the beginning.    

A beautiful box-I have been after that design a good many years.  We are now making the Jackie box with solid steel panels.  I think it is a good looking box.  Given the currently astronomical price of lead, I think this steel and its finish provides a viable and handsome alternative to that classic material.  Judging from the orders we have filled this season for Jackie boxes in a number of sizes and panel options, other people are starting to think so too.  I have a pair of Jackie boxes very close to finish-38″ by 38″ by 30″ tall made with 1/4 inch thick steel-to be planted with flowers.  I cannot wait.