The Work

I’m thinking about weight. The physicality of weight intrigues me – it’s this thing that’s felt but not seen. It can be measured, and if it helps, we can make assumptions about it if no measuring device is available. We make associations with other objects that weigh a certain amount, satisfying our quest for specifics and numbers. What else does knowing the weight of something do for us?

What about personal emotional weight? We all carry a certain amount of weight with us through our lives. It comes in a million forms; we can name 10 of them right off the bat. Our weight can be many things: a joyous and welcomed substance; a slight burden which we accept as we are beings on the planet; an unavoidable heavy burden that sneaks its way into our lives; the daily weight we add on to everything else. Most of our weight is piled on without realization and takes its toll until we have the foresight to release it. It is an intangible, misconceiving notion that is difficult to judge.

The work I created at Kohler is an abstract representation of weight. Appropriately, the work is cast iron – some of it solid, some of it hollow – my viewer won’t know. They can make assumptions, it can be measured (I measured it), but how can the measurement help us to recognize and/or appreciate it for what it’s worth?


Cast iron, handmade chain, chrome plated cast iron, chrome plated brass


Enameled cast iron  (white)

Enameled cast iron (white)



Chain links cast together in one piece (approx. 5′ long)



Hanging Clusters

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I’m happy to be back in Portland and happy to be in weather more familiar to me. I’m doing my best at resting my hands and body and I’m really ready to eat some GOOD FOOD!

Thanks for your enthusiasm for my adventure at Kohler and this blog. You can contact me at



The Last Day

Today was my last day at the Kohler factory and I leave with such mixed feelings. I will miss all the Associates I’ve worked with who have helped me, joked with me, and showed an incredible amount of respect for me and what I was doing. But I’m really tired! My hands are a mess and my body is telling me that it’s not possible to sustain such long hours at what I know now as REAL physical labor. It’s been hard on my body but exhilarating for my mind.

With regard to the work I created, I am happy to say that I accomplished most all of what I wanted to. I came with a concept but no clear idea of how to put it into physical form. I didn’t have a plan – I just started making and the image of how the work would look together started to reveal itself, more openly as the time went by. This approach was freeing as I felt unencumbered by what I thought things should look like. I looked at the work piece by piece, as I ground off flashing and seams, and set the pieces next to one another. I didn’t have a specific number to work toward – I just kept going until I ran out of time. I think I completed 32 pieces, some large, some with many elements, some small single elements. My photo shoot was last Tuesday, I am very pleased with the outcome. I promise I will write one last post to show some photos.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some of the really great patterns and observations from the iron factory.

I haven’t talked much about the brass foundry. Brass Bob, the foreman, one of the most kindest and interesting Kohler Associate I worked with, stopped by the studio almost daily. The brass foundry is a smaller division where they cast brass. Most of the other brass work is either stamped or machined.

Sometimes I look at all the equipment and think I’ve been transported back to 1920.

Here’s a panorama view of part of the brass foundry. I love that they are scooping brass scrap into the furnaces with a pitch fork from the floor.

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Who has and/or uses carts like these today?

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They mix 50% new metal in with previously cast metal or scrap. I cast one piece in brass, polished it to a mirror finish and had it chrome plated.

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I am continually struck by the patterns I see.

2014-10-17 17.55.14Feet from the fancy “Birthday” tub

2014-10-17 17.58.40Crank shaft parts

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Zinc bars

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2014-10-21 09.44.17Enormous drills, probably 20ft long

2014-10-21 09.44.08One of those wheel thingys is as big as I am tall

2014-10-21 09.44.02Some old scooper conveyor belt thing

I’ll miss the smell, the busy days and quiet weekends. I’ll miss the regular routine of getting to the factory by bike, or walking when the weather was 10 degrees. It was hard to say goodbye to all the special people I met, I’ll miss the lovely state of Wisconsin.

But I can’t wait to get home!

Three Weeks Left and Counting

I apologize for the posts that are so few and far between. I’ve been frustrated by the photo approval process here, having most all of the last batch rejected while it took more than three weeks to be returned to me. I’m still waiting on another set of photos to be approved…

The season has definitely moved on to winter here in Wisconsin. The temperatures have been in the teens and twenties for more than a week, although it’s been clear. The ground seems so frozen and any little puddle or pool of water is ice. Last night brought the first snow that actually stuck. It was such a nice surprise when I walked out of the factory to find about an inch of snow blanketing the usual black setting in white.


Being here at the factory for over two months now makes me feel a part of this community. I’m at my job just as the other workers are. As I walk around to get to this place or that, so many people greet me by name. Many of them stop in to see me egularly on their 10 minute break just to chat – they are more interested in talking than seeing the progress of my work. My work isn’t representational so they are not so inclined to dive into conversation about it. So many of first shift workers (usually 5AM – 4PM, almost every one works over time) have worked here for 20, 35, over 40 years. They switch to different jobs but usually stay in one job for at 2-5 years if not more. I took pictures of the workers I’ve been in daily contact with but their photos weren’t approved for various safety violation like “no ear protection” even though I know all of them were wearing ear plugs. I’m disappointed I can’t introduce you to them by face. The question-asker that I am, I find out more about each of them with every visit.

Here’s some of what I’ve discovered about these Kohler workers:

  • A National arm wrestling champion
  • In a bad marriage – things need to change when the last kid leaves the house
  • Goes regularly up north to a cabin in the same town my family had a summer house
  • A gay man that just married his partner in Iowa this year, owns an antique shop, has an art gallery AND works at Kohler over 60 hours a week (my favorite visitor)
  • Got in a horrible car accident at 17, had brain damage but seems delightfully normal to me
  • From Chicago, an all Chicago sports teams fan and gives me a hard time every time I wear my thrift store Brewer’s T-shirt (this one is the shy drop-dead gorgeous African American man)
  • An extremely hard worker but an off-hour drinker and gambler
  • A terrible bowler but keeps trying three nights a week
  • A foreman that brings me CDs of John Prine and Little Feat
  • A very sweet, overweight extreme introvert that makes $12 an hour and has incredible credit card debt
  • Cute Asian man looks barely 20, has a 3 year old and is expecting another. He is friends with another man who had his first child at 18 and now, 16 years later, has a two year old and says, “that’s what we do in Wisconsin: make babies”
  • Has worked inside the same sand-blasting box, blasting tubs for over 20 years and promises to bring me flavored varieties of cheese curds from the cheese curd factory his wife works at (but he hasn’t yet!)
  • Has a handicapped wife who he adores to no end
  • A Loyal Order of Moose member who is wildly creative like an outsider artist and, amongst a myriad of other things,  draws thousands of these tiny cartoon figures he calls “ibles”, makes and wears elaborate costumes for Halloween and the Polar Bear plunge in lake Michigan (another favorite person of mine)

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  • A “deep thinker” and a “poet at heart” who suggests that I add hand grenades to my work
  • A really shy robotics guy (there are several of these guys that walk through the artist’s space). I finally learn his name and when he walks by with his head always down, I say, “Hi John!” and he looks up with the BIGGEST sweetest smile and says hi back
  • A repairer of all small tools – pneumatic, electric, hand tools, you name it – full of great problem solving ideas, has provided me with some of the best solutions to some of my problems. He fixed my favorite pneumatic grinding tool, brought in the little parts to show me how the tool works and why and where to oil it daily
  • A foreman (who taught me to drive the forklift) says, “you can’t change stupid”, tells me that if I was one of his workers, I’d be his top performer within a week!
  • A foreman in the brass foundry who comes by almost daily, is the best conversationalist and an avid gardener. He retires in 3 years and CAN’T WAIT!

I could go on longer, but those are the highlights. I love these people and will miss them when I leave.

I have three weeks left and I’m now thinking about halting the production of new ideas so I can concentrate on finishing the things I’ve started. I have a lot of chain to make, pieces to grind, and few more things to cast and then final finish patinas and wax. A lot of the work hangs so I need to make some kind of structure that can clamp to a gantry for the final photo shoot. I promise I will share pictures of my work in the end. I’m still keeping late hours – I usually leave the house at 8 AM and return around 10 or 11 PM. Since I’m such a lousy sleeper, I believe it’s just best to stay up late or get up early, whichever sleep trend my body falls into. But I wholeheartedly admit that I AM TIRED.

A Trip to Chicago

Before we get to Chicago…


A month has gone by, I’m starting to feel that time is no longer limitless. My daily routine includes the bike ride to the factory.  The fall here has been beautiful, the leaves are just beginning to change. My route includes passing these beautiful water towers, day and night.


Kohler water towers


Stepping out from women’s locker room, I have to walk between these tubs that are moving in both directions on an overhead conveyor. I quickly don my earplugs and diligently look  both ways.

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Tubs on their way to enameling



More casting is happening, I’m working a little larger. And even though I tell my students – the larger one works, the longer it takes, I ignore my own advice. My next few molds are large.  And, I am often working alone at night and weekends. I can’t just wait around for Garrett Krueger (the iron shop technician) to return to his regular M-F 9-5 hours. So I lumber about in my own way, not always knowing what I’m doing. Last week, my big problem was making molds that were so big I can’t even budge one let alone move one by myself.  I figured that each mold was over 250 lbs. I’m working in the studio, say, on a Sunday. There is hardly anyone in the factory and I can work pretty much all day and it seems not a soul walks by. But, when some one does, I nearly assault them with, “…hey, can you help me for a moment?” Little do they know, they’ve volunteered to help me move these gigantic, cumbersome and abrasive molds, AFTER their shift is over. The first thing on my Monday morning question list to Garrett is “how do I install trunnions and use the hoist so I can move these by myself?”

With some help, I did manage to get these four huge molds strapped to the casting cart, ready for an iron pour the next day, Monday. And how did I move them?



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This is Tom the deer/bow hunter guy, making fun of me (but really making sure I won’t take a Kohler fixture  or something, out).


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Driving them to the iron pour site. I love driving the forklift! Any excuse!


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Molds are too big for the hand-held crucible. I love the hot metal splashing everywhere!



With casting comes a lots of grinding! I don’t have a good picture of the castings from this pour but I do have a story:

I spent nearly a whole day cutting off gates (large sprues that the metal runs through to feed the piece), grinding off flashing, and general grinding with pneumatic tools and huge body grinders I can barely lift. Sweat is running down my face under my dust mask, into my eyes under my safety glasses, down my arms and my back. I am hot, miserable, and filthy. Garrett strolls by and says, “wanna try the air-vent hood?”


This is a magnificent hood thingy that feels like an astronaut’s bubble – soft and comfy inside, adjusts to my head perfectly. Full face protection and no need for a dust mask. Cool fresh air is constantly flowing through the hood. I am in heaven! I can grind ALL DAY! Even though I’m still wearing my earplugs, and still can barely lift the grinder, I hear this soft hissing of cool air surrounding my entire head and shoulders. It’s the nicest piece of safety equipment I’ve ever experienced.

I continued to grind all the next day. People commented on how long I was grinding!



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Love it!

You can see two halves of one of my pieces to the left.


On to Chicago!


Mary and Curt Enderle fly to Chicago. I rent a car and pick them up at O’hare. Our goal is to see some art and eat deep dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno.

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We begin at the Art Institute of Chicago and are immediately overwhelmed!

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We spend most of our time in the modern wing and the Rene Magritte exhibition (sorry, no photography allowed) “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938”.  Beautifully produced, we saw works I’ve never seen reproduced in books. It was breathtaking.

Some highlights for me:

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Motherwell, “Wallpainting with Stripes”, 1944


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2014-10-01 12.40.38 Kikki Smith, “Blood Pool”, 1992


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David Hockney, “American Collections (Fred and Marcia Weisman)”, 1968


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Lee Bontecou, “Untitled”, 1960 (this one was particularly moving to both Mary and I)


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Steer Horn Armchair, 1870/80, probably Texas (decorative arts)


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De Scott Evans, “The Irish Question”, 1880’s tromp l’oiel


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Elevator Grille from the Chicago Stock Exchange, 1893-94, ALDER AND SULLIVAN (architects), copper plated cast iron



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Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” in Millenium Park on Michigan Ave.

There is so much more that we saw, I could spend hours showing you more.


Next, a few quick pictures of some funny things we came across in Delavan, WI, visiting my Aunt Helene. A slice of Wisconsin:

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Salad bar, including blue jello


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Little Debbie still going strong in the grocery store


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Wisconsin magazine rack


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Everyone’s a Packers fan!

Till next time!

Learning a lot in week 3

3 ½ weeks have flown by. I have learned so much so quickly. Being here feels very comfortable even though my life is completely different from Portland. I don’t have a car, which presents its challenges. The grocery store is about 2 ½ miles away, an easy bike ride. The main town, Sheboygan is about 4 miles away. Still a pretty easy ride but does take time. I’ve been to the farmers market a couple of times, the hardware store, etc.  I did rent a car one day and bought things I couldn’t haul on a bicycle.

I have a daily routine that’s really  simple – I arrive at the studio around 7:30 – 8:00 AM and start working. I never wonder what I should do next, I seem to always have several things in progress. It feels so good to have a plan without really knowing what the outcome will be. I’m just making – carving patterns (from wood now, I’ve abandoned clay), grinding seams and flashing from castings, making plaster molds, working in wax, making bonded sand molds, drawing – I add something new to this list every day. If I get stuck or tired of what I’m working on, I do something else.

I usually bring my lunch and dinner to the studio and don’t get home till about 9:00 PM 12 to 14 hour days. The factory workers come in and say to me, “you are here all the time!”, or “You should go home!”, or “Why are you here so long?” I tell them working is why I’m here, this is all I have to do. They walk away thinking I’m crazy. And I don’t even get paid??? It’s hard for some of them to understand.

I’m so proud that I’m not getting lost any more in the factory and even know how to get to Pottery, Brass, and the machine/pattern shop, all separate buildings.


WARNING: If your not interested in process, you should quit here!


Here are some process shots to give you an idea of the casting process:

This is a "flask" - a plywood box. It feels like I've made 100 of these.

This is a “flask” – a plywood box. It feels like I’ve made 100 of these

I put the "pattern", my original in the flask and pack it with green clay - this weird black oily sand.

I put the “pattern”, my original, in the flask and pack it with green sand – this weird black oily sand that is moistened with water. Not sure why they call it green sand. It’s carefully packed around the piece and creates the parting line for a three part mold.

Getting ready for "Pep-set", a brand name for chemically bonded sand. This is the mold material.

Getting ready for “Pep-set”, a brand name for chemically bonded sand. This is the mold material. It gets poured into the molds. After it sets up, I take it back to the studio, flip the flask over, remove all the green sand, clean up the pattern and put Pep-set on the second side.

This one is already Pep-set, it shows the original pattern removed and lined with clay. More Pep-set gets put into this and becomes the core so the piece will be hollow. Where you see clay is where the iron will be.

This one is already Pep-set, it shows the original pattern removed and lined with clay. More Pep-set gets put into this and becomes the core so the piece will be hollow. Where you see clay is where the iron will be.

The Pep-set hopper - it dumps the chemically induced, quick-setting sand into the flasks.

The Pep-set hopper – it dumps the chemically induced, quick-setting sand into the flasks.

Quickly packing it into the flasks.

Quickly packing it into the flasks

Leveling it off.

Leveling it off

It sets up within less than 5 minutes. Back in the studio here removing the flasks.

It sets up within less than 5 minutes. Back in the studio here, removing the flasks

Cracking the mold open

Cracking the mold open



Removing the clay

Removing the clay

Here's one of the cores.

Here’s one of the cores for the piece pictured below

Paint the inside of the mold with this liquid graphite stuff. It helps prevent the mold from breaking down from the heat.

Paint the inside of the mold with this liquid graphite stuff. It helps prevent the mold from breaking down from the heat.

The molds glued together.

The molds glued together. These are upside down – the 2″flat portion on the bottoms are the cores.

Molds strapped to the cart.

Molds strapped to the cart with their pouring cups glued on top

Pouring iron from the large crucible to a small hand-held one.

Pouring iron from the large crucible to a small hand-held one

Pouring the iron into my molds. I'm so excited at this point!!!

Pouring the iron into my molds. I’m so excited!!!

Iron poured, molds awaiting cool down. I push the cart outside so it can off-gas out there. I come back 2 hours later and it's still hot.

Iron poured, molds awaiting cool down. I push the cart outside so it can off-gas out there. I come back 2 hours later and it’s still hot.

Cast pieces (I showed you this already)

Cast pieces (I showed you this already)

Did I say that I have an intern? Her name is Elizabeth, she just got her BFA from Mass Art. She's been doing a lot of grinding for me.

Did I say that I have an intern? Her name is Elizabeth, she just got her BFA from Mass Art. She’s been doing a lot of grinding for me. I didn’t realize I get an intern – BONUS!

For all you process geeks, I hope you enjoyed that. More to come!


News from Kohler!

It’s been two weeks since I’ve been at Kohler, so much has happened!

I arrived in Kohler, Wisconsin, to this little farm house. My bedroom is the lower window on the right of the front door. The garage has bikes in it for me to make the mile ride to the factory.



The first thing we did was go to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheybogan (the town next to Kohler). It’s Sheboygan’s cultural center, offering a huge variety of events and experiences including visual art galleries, music venues, educational opportunities, etc. There is often an Arts/Industry exhibition in at least one of the galleries. I love the work made by Ken Little, an A/I resident from the past. Each head is about 2′. They are big!

My first day at Kohler began with a tour to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. There were two large galleries that exhibited Arts Industry residents. This was one of my favorites, work by Ken Little back in the 80s

On to the factory!

I went on the three hour public tour on my first Wednesday at Kohler and found it absolutely fascinating. Our tour guide was Lowell, who I loved. He worked at Kohler for 44 years, pushing pieces up to a grinding wheel in the iron factory. 44 years! And he’s been a tour guide for 16! I really enjoyed his tour, he was totally serious but would crack the occasional joke – it was just cute. This place is amazing! There is no other word to describe it. The scale of it all, the efficiency, the methods and the quantity in which they produce is mind blowing. This opportunity for me is more than remarkable. And everyone is so nice to me. They come and say hi, they offer help and their services, they are genuinely interested in helping. I was working, and this foreman on a three wheeled bike stopped. Mark. He’s been in the factory business for 26 years, has been at Kohler for, I don’t remember how long. I told him I got lost so easily (the place is so huge!) when I mentioned I was over by the scrap pile outside the cupolas, taking pictures. He offered to take me up in the crane so I could take pictures from up above! I’m totally doing that! Another guy, Gary, is in the pattern shop. He offered to get me hooked up with some urethane that I can carve for patterns, in place of clay. Then there’s Tom – his work area is in eyesight of my studio area. He can see me pretty much on and off all day. He’s a packers fan/bow deer hunter. He’s requested oatmeal raisin cookies. I guess that’s what you do – he gave me venison snack sticks, I made him cookies.

This is one of many scrap piles. See the crane thingy in the upper right? That’s what I get to go up in.

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Slip casting stations in the “pottery” factory. A whole other building. There are so many components to Kohler, I can’t even begin to name them all – iron; vitreous ceramic; brass casting, fabricating, and machining; plating of all kinds; engine and generator parts; outside contract work; enameling…this list goes on and on. The pottery factory is quite clean for all that clay dust everywhere. I was most impressed by the 300 foot-long kiln that is loaded with a train of enormous carts holding bathtub, sinks, urinals, shower pans, toilets, of all different sizes and styles. The carts slowly go through the kiln and is heated up, fired, and cooled. It takes 17 hours for a product to go through. This is a relatively new machine – the old process took up to 72 hours. You can peek into the end of the kiln and see the red hot heat way inside.

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A typical isle way in the iron factory.

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These are two iron cupolas awaiting the fork lifts to take them to the Osborn line. The iron is melted in cupolas that are the size of a two story building. From there, they transport the molten metal to these smaller cupolas and are driven down the isle ways. And they are not driving particularly slowly! As flames shoot out of the tops, you need to pay attention and step aside as the forklifts pass you. The heat is intense!  The metal is dumped from here into the pouring crucibles and it stays hot enough to pour directly into the molds without any re-heating.

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There are two lines for pouring iron – the Herman (which is all automated and mainly services the cast iron tubs) and the Osborn line. Osborn is completely done by hand – workers manually pour iron all day long. The line starts with the packing of the molds on a conveyor that’s pushed by hand – the workers control the speed of the line. As the mold come around to the iron pours, the workers tip these huge vats of molten iron into the molds. They seem so cavalier about it! There’s hot metal splashing everywhere! Below is a fellow on the Osborn. The big metal thing to the left of the yellow railing is a mold – probably a double sink.

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This is the A/I (Arts/Industry) iron studio. Overhead hoists that run the length of the space, and right over my area! You know what that means!

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This is my space – pretty empty when I took the picture two weeks ago.

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Last Wednesday, I cast 5 pieces in iron complete with sprues, gating and flashing on the parting line! After the pour, it took these small pieces about an hour and a half to fully cool down. You can imagine how hard it was for me to wait.  I’m ready to cast 4 more tomorrow with Karl, a wiry little tough guy who sports a big mustache, coveralls with the sleeves and collar cut off revealing a plunging V-line halfway down his chest. He’ll be pouring my molds with a small hand-held crucible on a long handle.

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I have some good process shots that I’ll post next time, which probably won’t be for awhile. If I want to publish any pictures, each one has to be approved. Approval takes more than a week.

More later!