Martin Moon ’13 thought a metals class, a class he accidentally gained admittance to, would be a fun counterbalance for all of the hard science courses he was taking.
“Little did I know where it would lead,” he reflects after having just finished exhibiting at the Smithsonian Craft Show, which selected 120 fine-craft artists from more than 1,000 applicants. “The Smithsonian is on the top of the charts, getting in is considered a big honor, and getting in as a first-year artist is extremely special. In this second year I’m shooting for the big game in terms of shows. I’ve applied to many of the top shows in the country, and so far, I’m getting into them.”
It’s an unexpected result for someone who entered Earlham intending to pursue the sciences.
“I got into metals totally by accident,” he says. “I came into Earlham as a neuroscience major, right as a new registration system was being rolled out. Normally, metals class was overenrolled and first semester freshmen were asked to defer their spot for a semester, but I was able to enroll in time to make the accidental student cap.”
The first class was on a Friday afternoon, starting at 2 and ending at 4:30, he recalls. “I was in the studio until 10 p.m. that night. I was instantly hooked.”
After a week of hard science, time spent in the studio helped him find a balance. He describes it as a validating experience, a source of sanity.
“Friday nights became my favorite time to spend in the studio — a huge amount of unbroken time, loud music, and only those as crazy as me around through the night.”
While at Earlham, Moon traveled to study the traditional arts of Turkey, a course led by his Earlham metals professor. While out walking, the group heard hammering and discovered the Gazientep Chamber of Coppersmiths, which ran a vocational school to teach metal skills to low-income women. The master coppersmiths allowed the Earlham group to learn the traditional methods of Turkish coppersmithing alongside the workshop. Through this work, relationships developed and the following year, five masters and a translator came to Earlham to teach an intensive class. At the end of the Earlham course, Moon was invited to apprentice in Turkey.
When he returned home to the States, Moon began setting up a metals studio, and last year began showing his work at juried craft shows.
“My work is incredibly detail-oriented,” he says. “ When I’m working on a pitcher for example, the piece needs to be formed either through angle raising or metal spinning. Both are fun processes that are physically demanding and satisfying, as metal goes from a flat sheet and turns into a finished vessel. After forming, the real work begins with the chiseling.”
Most pieces take a week or two to complete and most of that time is spent chiseling.
“I use a small diamond-tipped chisel and a chasing hammer to deeply engrave patterns into the surface of the metal. I make use of a lot of traditional Turkish patterns and motifs in my work.”
The chiseling is both relaxing and high energy.
“Yes, I’m only sitting in a chair, and only tap, tap, tapping away with a lightweight hammer, but at the same time, I need to be laser-focused the entire time, without losing concentration for even a moment,” he says. “I hammer around four or five strokes every second, gaining a millimeter of new line with every hammer stroke.
“The tolerance for mistakes is extremely small. Even one or two hammer strokes wrong are often going to be very visible from 20 feet away. A borderline might have a nasty cut halfway into it, or a crisp straight line might have an obvious divot on an edge, or a circular border might vary in width. These mistakes simply aren’t an option in my style of work, and one needs to maintain the levels of concentration to keep them from happening.”
One of the most satisfying parts for Moon is the final sanding, which removes the hard black surface of the Turkish blacking mixture to reveal the intricacy of the pattern and the chiseled lines are filled in with the high contrast blacking. The finished work always brings a feeling of celebration.
“I can hold a physical manifestation of my best focused, most concentrated work, into which I have poured all sorts of love and attention,” he says. “Because the work is so detailed, I only am focused on a square inch at a time. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll move on to the next. So when I step back and take a look at what I’ve done, I have the pleasure of being as wowed by it as anybody else.”
Future shows include the Turkish Cultural Convention, the Delaware at the Chase on the Riverfront show through the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen and the Longs Park Festival in Lancaster, Penn.
“I’m on tenterhooks waiting to hear back to see if I got into the Philadelphia Museum of Art craft show,” he says.