I met Bill and Lacey Ann Struve almost exactly 1 year ago. Lacey Ann signed up for nearly every class I taught at the Bead and Button Show so I had time to get to know them both a little during the week. On that first day Bill reached in his pocket and pulled out a piece of bronze. He smiled and said, “It’s a fired piece of Bronze Clay". I spent a few minutes grilling him about it; at first I thought I'd misunderstood: Bronze Metal Clay? I'd always heard that was impossible because alloys oxidize and bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. So, I was skeptical at first, but as he unrolled his tale, and described the process he developed, I became more and more excited. He left with a promise that they'd be in touch and send samples when they had some. In the fall Bill attended a Rio Rewards Certification class at my studio in Vermont and LaceyAnn attended another of my classes, so the three of us had plenty of time to talk about the properties of Bronze Clay, their ideas and their hopes for it. I worked with the samples that they left me, off and on this past winter, learning from trial and error what worked and what did not. Bill tweaked the recipe once or twice and the Bronze Clay in its final form is superb to carve with gouges when its leather hard (bangles to the right and linked snake chain to the left). It reminds me of Original PMC which is also lovely and buttery to carve. Bronze Clay also takes texture beautifully.
Its working properties are similar to PMC but of course it has its own distinct character, not to mention, color, a rich terra cotta brown (in its fresh stage). Probably the biggest difference for me, is that it's truly leather hard when its dry. In the picture (on the left) of the linked snake bracelet, the carved snakes are linked with bronze jumprings. I made the jumprings in fresh BC, let them dry, then flexed them open, slipped on two carved snake links, then reattached the jumprings with slip. Flexing jumprings requires a lot of flexibility, more than we are accustomed to with PMC (except perhaps Original). This characteristic alone opens up many possibilities.
I am also enamored of BC's patina potential. The rainbow colors (above left) are simply the way it looks when it comes out of the kiln when its fired in coal-derived activated carbon. The alternative choice just yields plain old beautiful bronze! The coal derived activated carbon yields blues, reds, greens and yellows, even purple. I have a hard time polishing it off. Is it stunning? Yes. Is it permanent? Probably not. But actually the pieces with the dramatic coloring, that I fired last fall, haven't changed a bit. The brightly colored bangles have changed more because I wear several at a time and they bang around, and so they get polished. But that itself is a lovely process as they change gradually from brightly hued to polished bronze.
Its hard as all-get-out after firing. It stands up to forging, and isn't at all fragile. In fact, I'm planning on trying some Bronze Clay hinges; its so hard I think its well suited to that purpose. And, of course, I can't wait to develop more ways to combine it with PMC.
Bronze Clay has reinvigorated my work and brought me back to that feeling of pioneering that characterized my early PMC days. Though I've been working with it since last autumn, the excitement hasn't ebbed a bit.
In fact, quite the contrary.