Explore the wild and wonderful world of Charles Lewton-Brain, artist/designer, Professor Emeritus from the Alberta College of Art and Design, and 2012 recipient of the Saidye Bronfman Award for Fine Craft.
Charles Lewton-Brain has made a lasting mark on fine crafts both in and outside the studio. His jewellery – distinctive in that it shows the natural outcomes of tensions that occur when metals are pushed to their limit – has been exhibited across Canada and abroad.
Patinas marked by chemical scars, metals grown like coral on copper grids, folds formed organically in sheet metal… An artwork by Charles Lewton-Brain offers you a fascinating journey along the tracks of his process, and reveals the natural beauty that metals take on when pushed to their limits. And just as the artist-goldsmith’s creations lay bare his process, so does his work outside of the studio. Throughout his 40-year career, Lewton-Brain has generously forged pathways for the fine craft community and metal industry – as the inventor of the widely-used “foldforming” technique, as a dedicated instructor and writer on techniques and research, and as an advocate for his field at the national and international level (Source: Canada Council Website)
Charles’s jewellery and sculptural work is concerned with showing process; by including the tracks or marks of the working process as compositional elements he is able to visually map the inherent history of each work. His work is a type of ’drawing’ using expressive systems of mark-making derived from metal working processes. He strives to make very clear decisions about levels of effects or procedures upon the work and often assigns symbolic values to the materials and procedures he uses. Function and beauty remain integral to his intent. By extending the medium, allowing for random acts and chaos, he pushes boundaries in order to reach for the ‘pure’ process that allows the ‘rules to show-up’ revealing the tension between structure and nature.
Originally from South Africa, Charles was a member of the Alberta College of Art + Design faculty (1986-2018), and has written extensively on gold-smithing techniques, safety and studio photography. He and artist Dee Fontans, created and ran a centre for jewellery studies in Calgary (1991-2002) and collaborated to introduce jewellery into performance art works. A tireless innovator, Lewton-Brain created his own publishing company, Brain Press, cofounded Ganoksin.com, which has become the world’s largest free online resource for jewelers, and invented the techniques “foldforming” and "electroforming," which uses simple hand tools to rapidly shape sheet metal and offer opportunities to wear 24K gold. He has served on the boards of the Canadian Conference for the Arts, the Canadian Crafts Federation (president for two years), and the Alberta Craft Council.
"My work is about drawing, about mark making with material and about the tension between nature and structure. It is about culture, the restrictions we self-impose and choose, about being witness and aware. And then there is the teaching, a living dance between minds.”
Fold-forming is a technique of metalworking whereby metal is folded, repeatedly forged and annealed, and unfolded; at which stage it generally has a dramatic new three-dimensional form.
The technique was invented in the late 1980s by Charles Lewton-Brain, an English-born goldsmith who lived and studied in Tanzania, the United States, and Germany before moving to Canada. Outside of the Industrial Revolution, the method represents the first major innovation in metalworking in thousands of years. It can best be described as a combination of origami and traditional metalworking. By 1991, Lewton-Brain was winning awards for the technique and in 1997 workshops demonstrating the technique were at the core of the "Touch the Future" portion of the JCK International Jewellery Show in Orlando, Florida.
Hundreds of folds have now been categorized, and techniques now include use of traditional forging tools, rolling mills, and embedding wire and other objects into the folds.
Anne Barros, Ornament and Object: Canadian Jewellery and Metal Art, 1946-1996. Boston Mills Press, 1997.