Meet The Masters: Charles Lewton-Brain

by Metalwerx on July 5, 2010

Charles Lewton-Brain has earned many titles and wears many hats: inventor of foldforming, master goldsmith, educator, author, photographer, community activist (i.e., Ganoksin), and more. In addition, he is the long-time head of the Jewellery/Metals Program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Canada. But ask him what he most likes to do, the man once described as a “red-headed whiz kid” says, “It is all one thing with different aspects. I like to work in the studio making things.”

Charles Lewton-Brain

Charles Lewton-Brain

Charles’ relationship with Metalwerx goes back farther than he can remember. He returns August 5-8 to teach “Foldforming”, his own invention of shaping metal, which is recognized as a totally new innovation in the 10,000-year history of metalsmithing, and “Bench Tricks for Metalsmiths” (Aug. 4).

If you’ve signed up for the foldforming class, then you know what you’re in for; if not, better luck next time, as it is filled. Beyond classes with the inventor, there are many ways to access instructional information, including Charles’ beautifully illustrated and easy-to-understand 2008 book, “Foldforming.” There also are several articles in the Ganoksin archive and numerous online sites that proclaim to show you how to do it.

Sterling Rueger fold, forged open side

Sterling Rueger fold, forged open side

Charles also plans to release an updated CD this year. Anyone who has bought a previous CD in the past should contact him. He also will bring to the workshop copies of some of his more popular books, including the just-published “Jewelers Benchbook” and “Keum-Boo: Hot Burnished Gold Foil”, and “Hinges and Hinge-Based Catches for Jewelers and Goldsmiths”.

Shear- and forged-fold, copper

Shear- and forged-fold, copper

Charles is the author of several such books that offer bench tricks for jewelers, but his one-day workshop provides a chance to see the expert in action. An example of his wizardry: Knock apart a used disposable lighter, take the carbide steel striking wheel out, put it on a flex shaft screw mount and you have a $6 carbide burr or rotary file.

Tall Rueger fold, copper

Tall Rueger fold, copper

When not traveling the world to teach or consult, he can be found in his Calgary studio working on his “Cages” series – jewelry and sculptural objects constructed by fusion-welding and electroforming. He started the series in 2002 with the aim of creating 160 pieces a year and, yes, he still makes at least 160 pieces a year. He has been married for 22 years to the extraordinary goldsmith and performance artist Dee Fontans. “I am a lucky man to be around her, and have her energy, vision and beauty in my life. As well, she is a better teacher than I in many ways, and I always learn from her,” he said.

Two bowls, soldered, T-fold on disk, copper

Two bowls, soldered, T-fold on disk, copper

Much has been said and written about this modest genius, who would rather focus on sharing his wealth of information than promote his artistic product. You can listen to an hour-long chat between Charles and Jay Whaley at Metalsmith BenchTalk, or learn more about him, his books, and upcoming workshops, at http://brainpress.com/index.html

Lastly, one can’t write about Charles Lewton-Brain without mentioning his tremendous contributions to Ganoksin. This world-wide service has been a one-stop source for gemologists and jewelers since 1996. the project now gets more than four million hits a month and has a quarter million-plus content pages. It’s free for users, but the site can always use much-needed donations. According to Charles, “Advertising is even better because both parties [Ganoksin and advertisers] get something from it.”

(By Yleana Martinez)

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