Saturday, August 4, 2012

Make Your Own Scythian Gryphon

There are two metal sheets, but I'd already used one when
I took this picture.
   After walking around the Met, I went to their annex, the Cloister. If you're heading to New York, definitely make a trip there (you get same day entrance when you go to the Met). It's parts of several abbeys and recreations of those styles all combined into one absolutely gorgeous building. There are various exhibits (including the famous unicorn tapestries!), labelled gardens of European plants used in the Middle Ages, and guided tours (such as one for all the really cool carved doors they have). It's off the beaten path, not crowded, and very peaceful.
   I also discovered this in the gift store. It's a kit for making your own Scythian gryphon like the ones actually displayed at the Met! The box is even made so that you can display your "masterpiece" by hanging it on a wall complete with a descriptive card. A lot of the Iranian steppe artifacts at the Met were made via a chasing and repoussé technique (info from the booklet) and that's what this one sort of recreates. It's a little kid-ified version, so it's by no means true-to-life, though it's a nice introduction to it for the beginner. There are several other techniques "recreated" in this series, so I definitely recommend children's ministers take a look at it. Probably not for the very young ones, but perhaps ages 10 and up?
Edgework plus wing and eye details
   Rather than gold sheets, you get two gilded sheets of some sort of silver-colored malleable metal (tin?). The sheets one would actually use to recreate steppe gold jewelry would be a much thicker (in addition to being actual gold sheets). These are far too flimsy to be sewn to clothing like Iranian steppe nomads did. The size of the gryphon (~4 in) is much larger than the originals it's based on (~1 in). Given how soft and thin the sheets are, hammering is overkill, so all you do is push and rub with the plastic tools given. The surface used to do the repoussé is just a thin sheet of foam because that's also all that's needed.
   You start by taping a sheet to the mold. From the top, use the wide, flat tool on the right (a square end and a circular end) to mark the edges of the gryphon and major body parts (I just did the wings). Then you switch to the tool in the center of the picture above to make the details show up. There's a spherical end and another like a sphere cut in half (for the smaller areas and the sharper edges). You also use the tool on the left (a point and a wedge on either end) to define the corners and get into the crevices. This is the "chasing" part, where the background is being forced away from you.
   Then you take the tape off and turn the sheet over on top of the foam. Use the round end of the middle tool to push out the large areas (wings, thigh, shoulder, neck...) and the half-round end for the smaller areas. This is the "repoussé" part, where the image is being forced away from you.
After "chasing" with the second and third
tools. See the inadvertent rips?
Because the sheet is flimsy, some parts will inevitably get pushed back away from where you had them, and some edges will become less defined. At this point, you flip back and forth between "chasing" and "repoussé" until you're happy with the way your gryphon looks.
   The instruction booklet tells you to stop here and display your "masterpiece" in the front pocket. But since the Scythian gryphons were standalone plaques for clothing, not images on sheets, I decided to go ahead and remove the background which was not part of the gryphon. Mostly I could just rub the pointy tool back and forth along the edge until it ripped (sometimes this happens on accident, as you can see in the picture to the left). I had a few little snags hanging on and ended up taking scissors to them or folding them under, depending on where they were, and whether their size and shape was messing with the gryphon itself (that happened a lot around the toes).
   Someone got their Laurel for goldworking at Lilies. I might have to look him up at an event and see if I can get his input on using actual chasing and repoussé to make Sarmatian plaques for my clothing...
After applying "repoussé"
After ripping/cutting out the gryphon and dealing with the edges
Ta-da! My "masterpiece" displayed! So cute and corny...

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