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Jim Kelso

Iron Tsuba

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For quite a few years I have wanted to make a significant piece in iron, having greatly admired the works of Kano Natsuo, Goto Ichijo and others. This piece is in the aori-gata form and is 62mm wide.

 

The Natsuo work especially, viewed as an oeuvre, to me expresses a wide range and depth of feeling toward nature. I was fortunate in my second trip to Japan (1997) to buy the seminal book of his work at the Sword Fittings Museum (now sadly defunct) in Tokyo. This is a huge double volume with one showing many, many works in both life scale and magnified. Studying these works closely has given me such respect for Natsuo's abilities. Last year in Japan I was also able to handle several Natsuo tsuba at the Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto. One of the most impressive qualities that strikes me is that although his technique is mindblowingly developed, it is always at the service of his artistry. The iron tsuba especially appear as though they grew from a seed rather than were carved by hands.

 

Making a tsuba and having to work out all the details has given me even more respect for the artistic excellence of the best of these pieces. Every bit of the shape, size, rim, ana (holes), seppa-dai (point of contact with the tsuka or handle) has to be worked out in relationship to every other part. Other considerations are, 1)type of chased finish and how it will relate to the patina, 2)the color of the patina and 3)how everything relates to the carved design.

 

I asked Don Fogg about a piece of wrought iron (a whole subject in itself) and he referred me to Dereck Glaser at the New England School of Metalsmithing who was willing to forge a wrought rod into a suitable plate for me. This material came from an old mill in Lewiston Maine which was torn down. I found it difficult to saw but a pleasure to carve, file, engrave, chase, scrape and stone. I'm very thankful to Don and Dereck for this material. It has a lovely grain that is visible but not overpowering to even fairly delicate engraving and surface texture.

 

The main subject is a sensitive fern, one of my local favorites. On the opposite side is a small stream-side scene. I wanted to depict the serene quality of late high-summer when nesting and flowering have quieted.

 

The small photo is close to scale(61mm wide)

 

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Guest Clive

I too have long admired the genius of Kano Natsuo and can see in your tsuba some of his influence and spirit... You've captured with freshness, crispness and directness the fern which you know so well. I'm perhaps a little less taken with the rim but your patina and delicate harmonious texture is superb.. there also some quite exquisite details which I find very appealing. All in all.. an excellent piece of work Jim.

 

Regards

Clive

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Cheers and thanks very much Clive!

 

I am actually quite frustrated in photographing this piece to show the ji (surface) and the patina. More to follow I hope.

 

Jim

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Guest Clive
It looks 500 years old. Perfect.

 

John

 

Do you think it is supposed to look 500 years old?

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Guest Clive

Jim.. Do I take it from your appreciative reply to John that was your intention? Its an interesing subject but so as not to highjack your Tsuba thread I'll start a new one in order to explore it some more.

 

Regards

Clive

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Jim.. Do I take it from your appreciative reply to John that was your intention? Its an interesing subject but so as not to highjack your Tsuba thread I'll start a new one in order to explore it some more.

 

Regards

Clive

 

Clive, my impression of John's comment was that it was more of a general complement, not that he really had it pegged as looking like Muromachi Period work. Natsuo et al were active just over 100 years ago, and I took a lot of leads from him, but there again, I wasn't meaning to conform exactly to any time period. I think the goal is always to create something apart from trends, fashions, periods, that is hopefully expressive of the timeless.(if that's not too hi-falutin') :lol:

 

I took it from your smiley that you had tongue in cheek, but I look forward to your separate thread as it could be an interesting enquiry.

 

Cheers,

 

Jim

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Nice work, Jim. Clive'll probably kill me, but I rather like the chunkiness of the uneven rim as a contrast to the delicacy of the subject and carving on the obverse and to echo the carving/subject on the front.

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Guest Clive

You're OK Freda, having a minor difference of subjective opinion from this particular Hallam doesn't warrent killing... We did afterall agree that it a very nice piece of work.

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I have little knowledge of Japanese art and culture. My artistic goals lie elsewhere and in a place I'm still trying to find. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to look 100 or 500 years old but I did know it looked exactly as Mr. Kelso intended and that I admire the results.

 

I have a old magazine that has a photo of Mr. Kelso's engraving from the 1980's. His skills in traditional engraving are very much world class. I can't decide why but this simple iron tsuba stirs my soul deeper than most any complex piece from the modern school of engraving. Maybe it's because I know that it was built with knowledge, experience and ingenuity rather than expensive tools and materials. I also have the impression Mr. Kelso was working on what motivated him and because of his approach the results are profound.

 

What we decide to create at the workbench is often difficult and something I'm currently struggling with. I have no desire to emulate Mr. Kelso's style but I do hope my project choices evolve in a similar manner. At this time my primary goal is improving my bench skills and subject matter is secondary. Recently I carved several brass plates with lettering and a logo. It wasn't a subject I would choose from the heart but it did give me much needed experience. Lettering scares me but I'm better now......

 

I don't post much so I would like to take this opportunity to thank Janel and everyone else for this forum and it's content. I'm not sure if I'm a carver, engraver, metalsmith or illustrator, I've mastered none and it's a work in progress. The exchanges on this forum and the diversity are great inspiration.

 

Thank You,

 

John

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Nice work, Jim. Clive'll probably kill me, but I rather like the chunkiness of the uneven rim as a contrast to the delicacy of the subject and carving on the obverse and to echo the carving/subject on the front.

 

Thanks Freda. Looks like you're off the Hallam hook! :lol:

 

Clearly the mimi (rim) is a key element to tsuba design and is a critical part of both sides as well as serving to tie the two sides together. In this piece I made a somewhat daring choice to make the two sides' design quite drastically diverse in scale. This isn't unprecedented, but usually the close-up side is not so close, nor does a single design element often span across the whole face, right through the seppa-dai (oval flat area around the tang hole (nakago-ana).

 

The point being that the mimi (rim) had to be suitable for both sides, one quite bold and the other rather delicate. It would have been possible to vary the rim transition, bolder on one side, lighter on the other, but I decided this would look too contrived, and as I carved the piece I made adjustments to find what I thought was appropriate to both sides, being more or less equal on both. These adjustments involved both the thickness and the undulating line, which follows no formula and is a purely a subjective "if it looks right" exercize. I took hints from the Natsuo catalogue as well.

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Wonderful piece, Jim!

 

I really like the composition, including the irregular rim. You have really done well with the finishes. they compliment the wrought iron very well, but are not overdone. I am glad to see you chose wrought for this piece. There is nothing like it, in both it's working properties and aesthetic appeal, in my opinion, and I am really surprised that more tsuba-shi don't use it more.

 

Again, well done! Thanks for posting.

 

Phil

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I have little knowledge of Japanese art and culture. My artistic goals lie elsewhere and in a place I'm still trying to find. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to look 100 or 500 years old but I did know it looked exactly as Mr. Kelso intended and that I admire the results.

 

I have a old magazine that has a photo of Mr. Kelso's engraving from the 1980's. His skills in traditional engraving are very much world class. I can't decide why but this simple iron tsuba stirs my soul deeper than most any complex piece from the modern school of engraving. Maybe it's because I know that it was built with knowledge, experience and ingenuity rather than expensive tools and materials. I also have the impression Mr. Kelso was working on what motivated him and because of his approach the results are profound.

 

What we decide to create at the workbench is often difficult and something I'm currently struggling with. I have no desire to emulate Mr. Kelso's style but I do hope my project choices evolve in a similar manner. At this time my primary goal is improving my bench skills and subject matter is secondary. Recently I carved several brass plates with lettering and a logo. It wasn't a subject I would choose from the heart but it did give me much needed experience. Lettering scares me but I'm better now......

 

I don't post much so I would like to take this opportunity to thank Janel and everyone else for this forum and it's content. I'm not sure if I'm a carver, engraver, metalsmith or illustrator, I've mastered none and it's a work in progress. The exchanges on this forum and the diversity are great inspiration.

 

Thank You,

 

John

 

John, Thanks very much for your comments. Anyone would be happy to know their work had such an effect.

I admire your desire to keep improving and adding to your skills. What we do is rather skill-intense and pays off in the long haul.

 

Much appreciated.

 

Jim

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I make no judgement on the rim. I suspect you intended it to be irregular and I think it adds interest to the design. Well executed and the patina is splendid. Congratulations Jim!

 

Fred

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Jim I am always so impressed with your pieces. I love iron in decorative work and your treatment of this material in this piece is gorgeous. Thank you for sharing it.

 

Jim

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Jim:

 

Lovely. Simple, elegant and intriguing.

 

I am ignorant of the ways of tsuba-makers. How did you achieve the russet patina? I have a 400+ year old helmet, mask, etc. that has an almost identical patina; but the finish on the armor itself has been damaged and I have always wondered if it was possible to restore it.

 

Debbie K

 

P.S. I like the matte finish on the gold

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Thanks very much Jim and Debbie.

 

Debbie, I'm going to start a separate thread covering the iron patination.

That sort of restoration should be undertaken only by someone with a lot of experience specifically in restoration of iron.

 

PS Thanks. The matte is fine. There is a little discoloration on the end of one blade and near where they receed behind the other design. A little judicious stoning will take care of it.

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