"WHY NOT TRY INTARSIAS"

By June Culp Zeitner
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Indian Chief

   You don't need art training to become an expert at making intarsias If you are one of those who say you can't try this special pictorial mosaic art because you can't draw a straight line, don't despair…a ruler will make your lines straight. All you really need is the ability to trace, plus your lapidary skills, plus patience, determination, good material, and time.
   Mr. and Mrs. Al Cook of Brookings, Oregon, have proved again that stone intarsias are among the most successful lapidary accomplishments in the United States. At the National Gem and Mineral Show in Seattle, the gem portraits by the Cooks attracted throngs of people who couldn't believe that the arresting and colorful "paintings" were done in stone. Since more and more lapidaries are looking for a new challenge, I interviewed the Cooks.
   To me their impressive masterpiece was the Indian Chief, an impressive and dignified portrait, at once decorative and natural, and showing the most imaginative use of lapidary materials, and the most painstaking craftsmanship. Al and Myrl readily admitted that they did not draw the chief. They made no pretence of being original painters, although, in fact, some of their work is highly original. Their craft, they said was lapidary, and their hobby was working with gem materials. The Indian Chief is one of the Paint-By-Number designs copyrighted by the Craft Master Corporation and available at most hobby or art stores. The picture was, of course, planned for the novice oil painter, but the Cooks chose it to "paint" in stone.
   There are several ways you can get an idea for an intarsia subject. Photographs, postal cards, pictures in books or magazines, designs from fabrics, decals, wall paper, stamps, tracings of natural objects, or designs worked out by mechanical means such as compass, protractor, and ruler. Such designs do not require artistic talent from you but do require such easily learned techniques as tracing, enlarging by means of graph paper or pantograph, and eliminating details which your lapidary instinct tells you are impractical. One thing to remember though, is that should the pattern you use be copyrighted, you cannot use it for resale without special permission of the copyright owner.
   Cooks say they chose the Indian Chief because there is lots of interest in Indian culture at present, because the picture had center of interest with impact, because the lines were clean and simple, and mostly because they thought, when they saw it, that they had gem materials in their collection which would match the tones in this particular painting.
   The Chief took 9 months of the spare time of the Cooks and has over 700 carefully cut and fitted pieces of high grade gem material. Although Al and Myrl had studied art in adult classes, they said it was their lapidary skills which saw them through this project.

The Indian Maiden matches the chief in size, and is made from most of the same materials. Skin tones are very lifelike and the facial expressions on all the Cooks' work are extremely well done. Craft Master pattern K12 B. Courtesy Craft Master Corporation, Toledo Ohio.

   A 22" tabletop was the first of five intarsia projects completed by the Cooks so far. They have been in the lapidary hobby since the '30s and have produced piles of polished flats and boxes full of cabochons and faceted stones, so they started the table in order to do something more original and meaningful with their piles of cutting material, much of which they found themselves. They are familiar with most phases of the hobby. Some of the palm root in the petrified wood tabletop was found by the Cooks over 30 years ago. There are 1200 pieces of wood in the table.

Cook's first intarsia project was this 1200 piece petrified wood tabletop with an intricate geometric pattern, a painstaking project which took a whole winter to complete.

   Al Cook says that, although they still like field trips, since they have 80" of rain a year, lapidary work consumes a major part of their hobby time. The Cooks have done an Indian Princess and Warrior in addition to the Chief and the tabletop. Their fifth piece is an original scene. They plan to do a fourth Indian, a papoose. Al is also making intarsia cabochons with such subjects as dogs, flowers, or birds.
   Myrl say, after you have picked out your subject and enlarged or decreased the size to suit your needs, divide the subject into jigsaw-like areas according to the colors needed and the lines you wish to emphasize. Then make 3 copies of your pattern, which incidentally is called a "cartoon." One of your copies should be on a piece of poster board which you will number and cut up for you individual pieces, and another copy should be made on waterproof 5/8" plyboard. Your other copy is the "master" copy which you should hang up to look at as your work progresses. This should be in color, but the other two need not be.
   Now sort through your materials and decide on the proper color for every segment. In case you are following a colored picture you do not necessarily have to follow the recommended colors. Some colors are difficult to match in stone, as most lapidaries know. You will need skin tones that are very natural, but in many details such as costume, other colors can be substituted. The main thing to remember is that the colors be distinct and that there should be sufficient contrast. In other words, if all your colors are muddy and of muted similar tones your picture will not be sharp and clear.
   Cooks make their gem slabs 3/16 inch thick and try for a perfect uniform thickness on all slabs. They also say it helps if all of the slabs are quite close in hardness, as materials which are too soft do not take as good a polish, and have a tendency to wear away fast in the grinding process. Al says you can compensate for this to some extent by making the softer slabs just a hair thicker than the harder ones. Another trick, if you have slabs which are too thin, but otherwise suitable you can make them thicker by cementing cardboard or layers of paper to the back, until they are even with the rest. Remember the whole picture will have to be ground down to the lowest level.
   The next step is to put each cutout piece on the correct slab and trace it very precisely with a well sharpened aluminum pencil. When positioning the pattern section on the individual slab be sure and orient it properly for the line and color and try to save yourself work by placing it so that you will have a minimum amount of cutting to do with the trim saw. To draw one small section in the center of a large slab would be a waste of material, time, and saw blades. If you have a choice, select slabs as near to the proper size as possible.

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