Thursday, August 27, 2009

How I Saved My Cup (Come Ho Salvato la Tazza Mia)

A few Saturdays ago, I was having a great cinnamon flavored morning coffee as I do sometimes while going over things I want to accomplish for the weekend. I was drawing up sketches of mosaics, designing and things like that which spirit away attention from the tedious and mundane. So I take a sip of the coffee, and *bleh*, it's not at least 5 degrees above my body temperature.

Being a pragmatist, I'm thinking that the microwave might be a good way to remedy the situation. So I 'top off' the cup with even more coffee to the very edge of the brim, full because I love morning cinnamon coffee and reason very soundly that more is better where coffee is concerned. Then strolled over to the microwave oven and popped it in for a minute.

The friendly little beep soon told me that my coffee was ready, so I opened the microwave door (but not right away). I know it's irrational, but does anyone else wait for the 'riccocheting electrons' to finish their magical brain-tumor inducing flight for a few seconds before opening the door? Even the legendary Jack Kilby (the inventor of the integrated circuit) wouldn't have one in his house.

So I grab the handle of my expensive porcelain coffee mug that's part of a set that can't be purchased anymore and take out the coffee. But, not too carefully. You see, as soon as my hand holding the coffee mug clears the microwave oven and is over kitchen tile, a little bit of it splashes out on my hand burning the crap out of it. Remember? I filled that sucker up to where only the surface tension of the coffee was keeping it in the cup.

This would be all well and good except, my hand at that point has involuntarily jerked just slightly because of the extreme pain from the hot coffee, causing little bits more of the steaming and nearly boiling coffee to flow over the edge of the mug, setting off a cruel chain reaction of burn, spill, burn, spill, burn... etc.

After what seemed like several minutes of this spill burn cycle (tm), I had plenty of time to think about dropping the cup, but decided against that because the set was irreplacable. I had time to think about setting it down, but would spill even more in the process maybe causing a more serious set of burns. I wondered about whether biodiesel is a better solution than hydrogen for alternative energy. Then finally, I mustered the will power to stop jerking my hand around.

Inspecting the damage, I saw there were only red marks and tender skin. No visible blisters!

Good times.

Also, as training to see like an artist, take a look at the picture below. Your brain will try really hard to only see two eyes even though there are physically four. If you can see like an artist, it won't disturb you. What do you guys think?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sigillum Salomonis (Nodo di Salomone)

First of all, I wanted to thank anyone who might have called the Vatican this weekend and put in some good words for me, maybe called in some favors or something like that, because I have approval now to go on the Scavi Tour to see the gravesites under St. Peter's Cathedral!

This has been another busy weekend of mosaic making. I'm in a race with the contractor to finish my 'step spotter' mosaics. In addition to cups and grape leaves I've added lyres, which are harp-like things, basically the 'electric guitar' of 2000 years ago. I wonder if bands back then smashed their lyres after the concerts?

Also new are tridents (which are uncomfortably close to looking like dinner forks), and a close copy of an ancient 'Solomon knot' (top step, the one with interlocking links). You can kind of get a sense of what I have in mind for the layout with the picture below.

The photo below is of a 1700 year old 'Solomon knot' I took in an Italian cathedral. In my mosaic copy I stayed very true to these colors, using blue jasper and other semiprecious and rare stones.

The Solomon knot, or 'sigillum Salomonis' if you are MJenks / native Latin speaker, is a very old symbol. I like to think of it as the world's first 'M.C. Escher' style drawing. But, maybe a very simple 'For Dummies' style version of Escher?
It is found across many ancient and somewhat unrelated cultures. To some, it is supposed to signify eternity. To others, faith across all religions. The symbol has been associated of course with a King Solomon in the Bible, a son of King David. According to the account there, Solomon descended into some bad behavior and paid the price for it with the breakup of his kingdom.

Jumping to a completely different subject, and this is a bad picture, but my marble sign has been set in the spa wall (the stone around it is wet and appears darker, normally it is bright white plus the sun wasn't casting shadows on the letter the right way).

I was so paranoid it was going to get dropped or something right before it was done. But it's all good now. I'm entertaining the idea of gilding the insides of the letter forms or maybe casting actual bronze letters like they did 2000 years ago, but I think I'll wait until everything is done before I do that.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cement Mistakes and the Grave of Peter

Here are the mosaics for the first step of the pool as a set. I used botticino and Venetian green marble, porphyry and Orsoni gold. I'm glad that this won't be a twelve step program, or I'd have quite a bit more work to do before the pool is complete!

Despite my best efforts of hovering over the contractor and subcontractors this past week, they finally made their first mistake in variance from the plan! The cement 'water spillover' forms that go from the spa to the pool are too far towards the middle, which would leave the water spilling over the edges of the marble sign. You know, like watching a film in a theatre where the curtains were only 80% pulled back. My little message to the contractor is aout where the sign will go.

Anyway, the contractor assured me that it is nothing a diamond saw, mortar, and time can't fix. (Which I knew, but it's good to hear that they'll take care of it so I don't have to go all DIY on them). But, I'm looking forward to finally having a 1200 sq ft (110m) 'canvas' deck on which to paint in marble and glass.

Since the Italy trip is rapidly approaching, I sent away to St. Peters Basilica office of archaeology requesting an awesome tour of the ancient tomb of Peter. Hopefully my sincere pleading and inclusion of a photo of my mosaic (in authentic difficult-to-work porphyry as I imagined the ancients would have done it) might curry favor to get on the list of only 200 or so per day in the whole world that get to see the ancient buried site.

In other news, the great and highly regarded mosaic artist Julie Richey, whose work I admire because of her awesome small grout lines, great andamento, and color choices, gave me an invite to a website where other like minded folks congregate. She has just finished a great Rooster mosaic, which I'm sure that Mo Stoneskin would enjoy greatly given the history of rooster related commentary on this blog.

I trust that everyone is enjoying the last little bit of summer (or winter if you are in the southern hemisphere)?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What's With the Hole In My Yard? (Perché Un Foro Nell'erba?)

I've been somewhat preoccupied the past two weeks with contractors and making sure a swimming pool to be built around my marble sign is progressing.

It turns out that doing your own excavation with a spork is not actually a cost effective way to make a pool, even if you put one between every finger you have. And several million of those 'twisty-tie' things which keep bread bags closed is not an acceptable substitute for tied steel reinforcing bar.

So, the professionals were called. And unfortunately for me, they are moving at breakneck speed. I have several design and art related tasks yet to complete, and I seem to be approaching the critical path.

Luckily, I have had a chance to finish my marble border around my marble sign around which the pool is being built. The ledge the sign will go into is two inches depth, so I needed a good transition to the two inch thick splitfaced stone that will surround it on the wall from the one inch thick marble of the sign. If I get really brave I'll try to carve a classical pattern into the border after it is already set into the wall (with manual tools, not electric ones what with water being so conductive and all).

The 'step-spotting' mosaics will alternate between grape leaves and cups. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish enough of them prior to plastering. Any other ideas for three inch mosaic subject matter? Don't say 'Little versions of the Mona Lisa' because I tried that and it turned out sub-par.

Also, I'm kind of ticked because, if I read a quote right, one marble vendor quoted me 4,000 USD just for *delivery* of stone. I'm pretty sure I could get a whole container load from Turkey delivered to my doorstep for the highway robbery they are attempting. So the search for material continues...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Plague (Peste)

GHenry of Goldfish Broth dropped a plague reference a few weeks ago and it made me remember how much I like the subject. I've always had a keen interest in historical plagues and related archaeology.

The Bubonic Plague occurrences are some of the most horribly devastating, but fascinating, recorded events; even worse than the dreaded Swine Flu.

This cute little guy would be a prime suspect in an outbreak of plague occurring in the Southwest US.

It's a bit morbid, but one reason all this is interesting to me is that if we ever get into a situation where antibiotics are in short supply, or we have a drug resistant pandemic, we could all be in a very similar situation to our ancestors who saw the awful Bubonic Plague.

The crossroads of the East and West in terms of commerce in the Middle Ages was Venice. Along with Marseille and a few other busy shipping ports, Venice has frequently been a 'jumping off' point for infection. In Venice, most visitors know the story of the imposing church of the Salute situated across the Grand Canal from St. Marks square.

The year was 1630 and 46,000 people in the city itself and 94,000 in the lagoons had died in a most horrific way. The Republic of Venice vowed a bargain to build a church if the pestilence would take a hiatus. Strangely enough it did that very year, and the Venetians made good on their word by building a great church. There are also other older plague churches in Venice built as offerings, San Rocco (with its great Tintorettos), San Giobbe, and San Sebastiano.

At some point, the Venetians established the quarantine island of Lazzaretto Vecchio to place the infected who almost invariably died. So whether arriving in a ship as a lowly crew member or a wealthy lord from a palazzo, those with the signs of the disease were taken to the small island. The first graves were proper and they took time to wrap in cloth. But towards the zenith of the epidemic, those responsible for moving the dead (or almost dead) would just dump carts into trenches.

On this island in 2007, workers digging a foundation for a new plague museum uncovered mass graves. Archaeologists have found more than 1500 victims in just the areas dug so far. The new museum on Lazzaretto Vecchio is definitely on my list of things to see this Fall.

Another much older island now covered completely with water had been found in the 1960's with victims from the famous 1348 outbreak, San Marco in Boccalama. Near the same island in 1996, they found two 700 year old barges which might have been used to move plague victims to the quarantine island.

Don't be afraid to see the new Venice plague museum, or have fear of the catacombs in the major cities like Rome and Paris which undoubtedly would contain some plague victims. We are more resistant to the plague bacteria now because our ancestors were the ones who lived. Plus we have antibiotics to help out, for now. The World Health Organization reports 1000 to 3000 occurrences of plague each year.

Mi auguro che il museo di Lazzaretto Vechio sarà aperto da ottobre 2009. Storia della peste a Venezia è molto interessante.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Glass (Vetro)

In deciding on a Venice itinerary for this fall, I made plans to stop by the famous Domus Orsoni in sestiere Cannaregio. This place makes the best glass pieces for mosaics, and is also famous for their gold leaf crystal. They have nice rooms to stay in, but there are more luxurious places with balconies and terraces on the Grand Canal.

But check out the great golden shower you can get in guest room four at Domus Orsoni...

I used some of this same 24k Orsoni gold leaf glass in some 3" mosaics I'm making for the new pool to be constructed. The contractor asked if I wanted 'step spotting' tiles so drunk uncoordinated visitors wouldn't fall whilst getting into or out of the pool. Being the hands-on type of guy I am, I decided to make several small mosaics as 'step spotting' tiles and just have those set in instead of boring one color tiles. I'd cover the whole bottom of the pool myself if I had the time, but I want to do the decking and probably carve some statues in carrara marble. So, maybe I'll just let that 'ultimate mosaic' pool part of the dream go for now.

Here is one of the mini-mosaics using gold Orsoni glass, marble and a bit of porpyry in a picture taken from atop a ten story parking garage downtown to make it more dramatic. *dramatic music plays*

Glass making in the Venice area has a long and profitable history. It has been made there for around 1000 years. From master craftsman to apprentice, the secret recipes of silica, lime, sodium oxide, arsenic, nitrate and coloring agents (or manganese oxide in the case of clear glass) in just the right proportions and in the correct order of processing have been handed down.

One of the Venice glass companies, Barovier & Toso, was formed in 1295 AD. They probably have one of the oldest corporate websites in the world too.

Hopefully, after Luciana's class in Ravenna this Fall, mosaic making with glass and smalti won't be so foreign to me compared with stone and marble. I tried using Leponitt cutters for the first time on the gold glass pieces on Sunday, and it was difficult. Leponitts are spring loaded pliers with two glass cutting wheels that come together to score the glass. Of course, I was using them more like tile nippers, handily crushing the glass underneath.

If you want to check out a modern glass artisan, go to Valerie's blog because she knows more about it than I ever will. Maybe I can pay Valerie to kiln up some smalti so I don't have to lug back 100kg of glass on the plane?

Does anyone else like the iridescence that occurs on ancient Roman glass? After thousands of years, some of the elements such as copper based impurities float to the surface of the glass giving it the rainbow and shimmer effect. It always amazes me that there is so much Roman glass left, what with glass being breakable and the ancients living with stone floors. Maybe it's thicker?

Ho fatto i mosaici per i scale della piscina. Usato lo smalti oro di Orsoni, lo spero non rende ciechi a causa del sole.