Outside the Classroom: Brian Roberts

As an artist, Roberts is attracted to the imagery of Iowa. During his sabbatical in the spring and fall of 2011, he worked on a series of ceramic sculptures that reference the familiar architecture of grain elevators, corncribs, barns and sheds. “For me, most of these buildings are, in essence, vessels for containment,” says Roberts. “I am drawn to the purity of the geometric forms of these buildings and to the visual complexity of their weathered surfaces.”

Roberts also used his sabbatical to learn the process of enameling, which is the art of fusing glass to metal. With a handmade hydraulic press, he created enameled jewelry inspired by organic forms like seeds, pollen, fruits and vegetables. The press cost him $60 to build, which commercial ones for jewelers and metalsmiths cost around $1,000. Roberts alters the die-formed copper component to add patterns and textures. Then he uses a series of hammers and punches to form or compress the copper or pierce the copper by sawing out shapes.

During the fall, Roberts took two enameling courses at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. One focused on experimental enameling and the other on using copper foil to create jewelry and bowls. “I learned a lot about the proper preparation of the metal, the best approaches for applying the enamel the kiln-firing process,” Roberts says. Based on this research, he is including an enameling project in his Metalsmithing I course this spring.

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