by Margarete Seeler
from Vol. 5, No. 5, October 1986
Who has not dreamt
of that nobly shaped chalice, enameled all over with immaculate
transparents. . .maybe just one fine gold line winding around its
outside...so elegantly understated, so utterly simple. . .That is
POETRY. It would neither work nor last. A chalice
has to withstand very hard use, and maybe even abuse. It
must be carefully planned. That is why I have made this
cup a teaching example.
We use this cup at
festive occasions, when everybody takes a sip from it. A
nice translation of the Jewish KIDDUSH cup into every family's
The design is as
simple as can be; a very large number of small shapes, easy to
fit to the curved surface. I have been thinking of a tree
with roots, a trunk and a blossoming crown in which creatures
live. Of course you could have that winding line, but it
must be broken up into small hairpin-like shapes, all curved to
fit safely to the body of the cup. But even then, it would
be wise to cover the whole surface with a net of fine cloisonne
shapes, touching each other. The Orientals have used this
concept for hundreds of years and with good reason.
Anneal the wires
well, so they don't stretch during firing. When the cup is
assembled of its many parts, be sure never to put any pressure
on the enameled parts. A metal rim or bezel, etc., will
take care of this problem. If hit, only one or two of the
cells will be damaged, and possibly the net of wires would take
the impact. Such small defects can be repaired invisibly
without refiring. If there is severe damage, the cup can
be easily taken apart, repaired, reshaped, fired again,
gold-plated and put together again. Our "dream
cup" would have cracked all over and been a complete loss.
Counter enamel works
fine for 2 or 3 firings. However, it would be a miracle if
it remained perfect in the many firings and stonings of a
chalice. It would be too much of a risk.
Religious cups must
be gold inside (gold plating the inside will do the job).
Wine may leave spots on enamel, and on should not drink from
enamel if it is not lead-free. Pure, thick gold needs no
counter enamel, it holds enamel because it expands similar to
it. The better the material, the easier the work.
Hagstoz in Philadelphia produces a non-tarnishing 18 carat gold
(25% is fine silver; no other metal). It is beautiful to
work with. The cloisonne wires remain clean, and
transparents are excellent over it except for reds, pink,
oranges and some purples. These transparents should be
fired over a prefired coat of flux for silver. The same
holds true for pure silver, but silver changes shape and size in
the furnace. I use only medium to soft enamels with fine
silver (that means melting at low to medium heat).
My answer to all
these problems is the lining cup, which is inserted into the
outer, enameled cup. I will now stop talking and
demonstrate with photography and pen. By the way, if you
understand this particular construction, you can dream up almost
anything safely, whole sculptures if you wish. I have
avoided complicated skills, like raising metal, and have kept to
a very few essential skills: clean soldering, fitting, and
The viewer sees only
the very skin of a piece. He has no idea how much thought
and skill is below this appearance. Fun too.
construction drawing is the first step in the making of this
cup, Figure 1, below. Once this is done and clear in our head, we can
proceed part by part. Rims, etc., are provided for all
spaces to be enameled.
A. The INNER
CUP, to be polished and gold-plated, holds the NUT
B. The OUTER CUP is to be
C. SPACE between CUP and
avoid touching the bottom of the cup.
D. The STEEL NUT is soldered into
the bottom of the HOUSING.
E. The BOLT is the backbone of
the cup and holds all parts together.
F. RING to cover joints.
I like to snap in a
small gold-plated cover over the nut, which can be easily removed
if disassembling is needed.
Here we have the
"outer cup," which will be enameled, and the lining
cup, which will be polished and goldplated. There are
"sketchy" designs below, Figure 3, and some technical details
you'll find on the scheme drawing.
The outer cup received a rim on top and
a disk at the bottom. The enameling is safe between
these. The cup is ready for a coat of flux outside, and
counter enamel inside. Do not enamel above the rim.
The lining cup receives the rim to be
visible above the enamel. It is soldered after very
carefully checking the exact width needed to insert the
unenameled rim of the enameled cup.