Jon Michael Route, long time art/craft fair exhibitor and well known for his pewter boxes, vessels and teapots, has a new-found direction for his metalworking skills. “It began when I allowed myself to play with filling a specific space on our kitchen wall with copper and brass metalwork and to use some new patina solutions I had found on the web, Route says.
“Experimentation is integral to your development as an artist and real change requires a commitment to a new direction or purpose,” Route says, “but experimentation in my work had just come to mean variations on a theme. It’s so easy to get into a rut and it’s so hard to leave the security of things as they are… what already works. Looking back, it was very un-nerving to try and take on a new identity — it could prove to be detrimental to my income and a risk to what I had worked 20 years to build.”
But Jon said he knew the first time he tried the hot patina process that he had found a basis for a new direction. “There is something about that process of discovery that’s very exciting. It wasn’t exactly serendipity because you have to work at it and allow yourself to make plenty of mistakes. But ultimately it is very pleasing aesthetically and immensely gratifying for your artistic sole to create a new path that you can believe in.” Jon said it didn’t happen overnight. “I knew I had to transition into this until I could work through some technical issues and also gage reception from the public. The wall pieces began appearing in my booth some five years ago and the new hot patina colors about three years ago and now they comprise the majority of my presentation.”
“Color is a very exciting and different path for me because for more than twenty years I built my business and reputation on pewter, a very gray metal. Patina solutions now come in a variety of forms and mixtures and they are more available than the hard-to-find individual chemicals which made up ancient and elusive recipes. There is a cold patina process that takes hours or even days to work but I very much enjoy the directness of the hot process because you are seeing what you get as you work. The trick is that the metal has to be within a window of temperature for the patina to work. Too cold and it won’t take well, too hot and it sputters off like water on a hot grill. A large torch with a bushy flame in one hand and a sponge or a brush in the other means I have to pay close attention to the metal temperature in the area where I’m working. I use different base metals that complement different colors, mostly copper, brass, bronze, pewter and aluminum. Color can be layered on color to get a very rich and timeless quality especially when combined with surface textures.”
The artist’s “bird and branch” work has a serene and peaceful quality that has appealed to designers in the healthcare industry and the evidence-based design movement. His work recently appeared on the cover of Healthcare Design Magazine, and he is enjoying the prospect of a whole new avenue for marketing his work. Jon’s wall pieces range from layered geometric flat panels on a plywood base, to all metal soldered and welded three-dimensional sculptural pieces that allow elements of soft curves, branches and leaves.
He has exhibited his hand constructed vessel forms, teapots and wall pieces at some of the best art/craft festival events in the United States including the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the American Craft Expo, the Philadelphia Craft Show, and the Smithsonian Craft Show. He is a 1998 recipient of a Wisconsin Individual Artist Fellowship and his pewter teapots were featured in Metalsmith Magazine’s 2001 “Exhibition in Print”.
Route’s work was chosen in 2001 to be included at the American Craft Museum in New York in an exhibition entitled “Objects for Use: Handmade By Design”, and the accompanying book published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. In 2006, Jon was invited to participate in an exhibition honoring the 28 year teaching collaboration between Fred Fenster and Eleanor Moty in the University of Wisconsin, Madison Art Metals program. In 2009 Jon was invited by the Charles Allis Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to exhibit a retrospective of his work in his first solo museum show entitled, “For the Love of metal”. Route’s work was commissioned by the Wisconsin Foundation for the Arts to create the 2010 Governor’s Awards in Support of the Arts.
I’ve had an affinity with metal for more than 30 years and have learned how to manipulate and coax it into doing pretty much whatever I want. I am drawn to its strength and yet its malleability. It is capable of amazing detail and sumptuous form.
I design and execute all of my work from flat sheets of pewter; I add copper, brass and bronze in the form of lips, rims, hinges and decorative details. Construction techniques include raising, stretching, folding, filing, soldering and fusing. Surface patterns are created with handmade dies, stamps and textured hammers. Roll printing, embossing and hydraulic pressing techniques are also used to give texture and form to the metal.
Metalwork has an amazing capacity for detail and subtlety. The essence of my work is presenting the material and content with an inviting textural surface and three-dimensional details that are rich and vibrantly colored.
Metalsmithing is more than knowing the technical aspects — such as the malleability or the tensile strength of a particular alloy — it’s also the physical relationship and affinity you develop with the material. I enjoy every step of the process. The smell of a coal forge, the slight give under the hammer of annealed copper, the visually seductive rippled surface of planished silver–I admit it, I’m a romantic.