THE INNOVATORS, PART IV:
Charles Lewton-Brain: Goldsmith, Inventor, Teacher, Author, Publisher, Web
Breaking traditions, sharing the results
by Alan Revere
At age 42 he has invented a totally new way of thinking about metal.
He has written and self-published several unique jewelry books and has created
a highly successful jewelry-maker's Web site.
He heads the jewelry/metals program at Canada's Alberta College of Art
and Design. He travels around the world teaching an array of metalsmithing
and jewelry skills to some of today's most creative artisans.
His own designs have been exhibited widely, and together with wife Dee
Fontans he operates a private center for jewelry education.
The list of Charles Lewton-Brain's accomplishments goes on and on, just
as his work continues to expand like the universe.
Lewton-Brain was born in England, grew up in Tasmania, studied in Germany
and the U.S. and now lives in Canada. He is one of the most knowledgeable,
most celebrated and most accessible metalsmiths in North America. Above
all, his most significant contribution has been to invent a way of working
metal that never existed before: fold-forming.
As amazing as it may seem, nobody ever worked with metal this way in
the more-than-10,000-year history of the craft. Fold-forming is truly a
new species derived from two disparate parents: the Japanese art of origami
combined with traditional techniques of metalsmithing. All of the related
procedures, which now approach 100 forms, are executed with a minimum of
equipment: a rolling mill, a few hammers and a couple of stakes.
The concept is to fold and crease metal, as you would paper, and then selectively
forge, form, roll and unfold it to produce light, elegant volumetric shapes.
Fold-forming is based on metal's inherent physical characteristics. Therefore,
the process and the product derive from the material's natural plasticity,
ductility and elasticity.
The procedures for fold-forming include a series of techniques that allow
rapid development of three- dimensional surfaces and structures. The dynamic
and fascinating shapes created through this system are unachievable by any
other method. The technique can be used to create complex high-relief forms
and to resemble chased, constructed and soldered forms. All are produced
from single sheets of almost any metal in a matter of minutes.
High Energy, High Creativity
It doesn't take long, when in the presence of this hyperactive, red-headed
whiz kid, to appreciate his genius. Lewton-Brain is a high-energy problem
solver who always looks for something else to figure out.
With a scientist's systematic approach, an inventor's inquisitiveness
and an artist's eye, he has already carved a name for himself in the history
of metalwork. Fold-forming has been recognized internationally as a new
approach to metalsmithing. In 1990, Paul Craddock, the head of the British
Museum Research Lab, recognized fold-forming as a new approach to working
metals without precedent. In 1991 Lewton-Brain received a Rolex Award based
on his discovery and development of fold-forming. And in 1997, the JCK International
Jewelry Show in Orlando featured Lewton-Brain's fold-forming demonstrations
in its "Touch the Future" pavilion.
Now, almost 15 years after the invention of fold-forming, hundreds of
designers and metalsmiths around the world integrate some aspect of it into
Lewton-Brain received a formal education in metals while maintaining
a childlike drive to explore the world around him. He was trained in Pforzheim,
Germany, with Klaus Ullrich, a celebrated designer, master goldsmith and
master silversmith. Ullrich's singular mastery placed him in the forefront
of post- war German jewelry techniques. In the 1950s, Ullrich pioneered
the philosophy of exploration and exploitation of traditional and non-traditional
metals for jewelry. He suggested that one first must understand metal and
then gently guide it to do what comes naturally. The results contain, by
definition, a natural beauty. "See what the metal wants. Listen to
it and then release its expression," Ullrich taught.
This approach is opposite that of commercial jewelry manufacturing, which
seeks to impose form upon material.
After Germany, Lewton-Brain transported his research the State University
of New York New Paltz. His master's thesis was the product of codifying
the basics of fold-forming.
Forever the non-conformist, Lewton-Brain has broken another accepted tradition
in this industry: he gives information away freely. He has committed himself
to sharing and helping build a community of metalsmiths. "I made a
decision a long time ago, particularly with fold-forming, that I wanted
to give it away, so it could be used by as many people as possible. The
secrecy shrouding so many techniques is evidence of small minds trying to
protect small properties."
But for Lewton-Brain, who so obviously loves his work, why shouldn't
he give it away? After all, if you find a great toy, you want to share it
with a friend. Work, play - there's no difference to Lewton-Brain. Winston
Churchill understood, saying, "Those whose work and play are one, are
fortune's favored children."
For those interested in learning more, join over 16,000 individuals who
have visited Lewton-Brain's Web site and downloaded a quarter million pages
of information, gratis, at http://www.ganoksin.com.
Alan Revere is a master goldsmith who received training in the famed
goldsmithing program in Pforzheim, Germany. He is an award-winning jewelry
designer and director of the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, San Francisco,
||18 karat fold-formed brooch by Charles Lewton-Brain|
||Fold-form in sterling silver by Charles Lewton-Brain|
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.