An installation of reclaimed spin casting molds and the types of objects they created, arrayed about a gallery space like the murmuration of birds.
Karen Christians and the Loading Dock Gallery in August 2022 presented SPIN: a gridded installation of 350 reclaimed circular spin casting molds. Over 2000 pewter castings spilled across the walls, mimicking the murmuration of birds. At once structured and swirling, SPIN invites contemplation of pattern and change in our manufactured and natural worlds.
Once used in local manufacturing, spin casting molds were auctioned off as jewelry production moved overseas. SPIN transforms these relics into commentary and art.
A late bloomer from the Mass College of Art Metals program, I’ve had a varied career since I first began making jewelry in 1997—From participating in the Oasis 47 Pendant Project at Burning Man to fabricating my production line and mentoring other jewelry artists. During that time, I've seen a shift in how jewelry is made, marketed, and sold. One of the areas in which that shift has been most pronounced in Providence, RI, once the jewelry capital of the world.
Providence was home to the top silver flatware, and hollowware companies, such as Gorham, Towle, and Lenox, and its fashion jewelry manufacturers were among the best. Their specialties included the commercial production of pewter jewelry and accessories (e.g., luggage bag tags, religious emblems), which they achieved through a method known as spin casting.
Spin casting involves using circular molds made from 8 and 12-inch rounds of vulcanized rubber, into which tributaries and cavities are cut. A casting machine rotates the molds at high speeds; when the molten pewter is poured into a mold through a spout, the centrifugal force pushes the metal through the tributaries and into the cavities are the shape of the final product. The number of cavities can range from two for a master mold to 25 for an entire run of earrings.
I first encountered these molds while visiting a friend in Providence; she had them displayed on her front door. I found a few more at Brimfield Antique Show and hung them on my studio wall.
Then a friend down the hall from my studio sent me a link to 300 molds for sale at a local auction at the Arenburg Brothers Inc. in Attleboro, MA. I bid on the entire group and won. As my collection grew, I had a dream where all the molds hung on the walls of the Loading Dock Gallery in a grid pattern, with about 500 castings spilling over the molds and borders in a way that mimicked bird murmuration, with some of the jewelry moving onto the floor of the gallery and back up onto the wall. Some empty cavities were marked with gold leaf, changing their utilitarian purpose into something precious. There were also selected historical images from Providence’s illustrious jewelry past and an explanation of the casting process.
This dream became a reality at Loading Dock Gallery, Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, MA: A room installation of 350 pewter spin casting molds in a symmetrical grid, with 500 jewelry pewter castings spinning and swarming in sequence.