By Scott Campbel
“I’m not a metal worker. For me, the metal is the canvas on which I create images.” So says enamelist Paula Lewis. Neither does the Boiling Springs woman ponder the age-old distinction between what is functional and what is decorative. “Being ‘pretty’ can serve a purpose. Therefore, being ‘pretty’ can be functional,” she declares.
When Lewis first began dabbling in enamels more than a decade ago, she did a few bowls and other “functional” forms, but that ended quickly. “I produce flat pieces,” she says of her work. “They are generally mounted on wood and displayed on walls like paintings. It’s more fine art than craft. I’m drawn to abstract compositions and continually experiment with colors and applications.”
However, Lewis is hardly cavalier about the process. “Enameling is not like most painting or drawing, where you can paint over or erase a mistake,” she says. “I maintain several notebooks in which the effects and appearances of various colors and techniques are recorded. I will often refer to those notes as I begin a new piece.”
Lewis uses pre-cut 18-gauge copper. “I don’t cut my own. Since my designs are abstract in nature, the shape of the copper is not that relevant,” she says. Dozens of plastic containers of powdered enamel fill shelves in the basement studio at her home. “All kinds of colors, opaque and transparent,” she notes. “There are no sources for enamels in this area. I order them directly from the manufacturer, the Thompson Company of Newport, Kentucky. And they’re all lead-free, an important health issue.”
To remove residual oil or grease from the copper, Lewis’ first step in producing a piece is to anneal it (fire the raw piece in an enameling kiln) and then plunge it into cold water. She next applies an acid-based cleaner, and then sprays the surface with a blend of water and Klyr-Fire, an adherent for the powdered enamel. The enamel is then applied with a fine-mesh sifter before the piece is inserted into the kiln. Each time a color is added to the design, Lewis preps the surface again with the Klyr-Fire solution before sifting on the new color.
“I hard-fire most of my pieces,” says the artist. “That’s about 1,650 degrees. The standard temperature for copper enameling is 1,475 degrees.”
Her technique of scrolling requires that she opens the kiln door for a few moments so that her lengthy scroll tool can be applied to the viscous enamel within the orange-hot kiln chamber. Accordingly, Lewis has dubbed her enterprise Scorched Eyebrow Studio, an allusion to the effects of opening a kiln at 1,650 degrees. “I have a face shield, now,” she says.
Before retiring from a lengthy career as an insurance underwriter, Lewis became a master gardener through the Penn State extension program and was also introduced to enameling. “In order to better record my gardening efforts, I attended a class for photography at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center,” she says. “That’s where I was exposed to enameling. George Waricher became my first instructor. Eventually, my husband renovated our basement for my work space, and I bought a kiln.”
Lewis is represented exclusively by The Village Artisans Gallery in Boiling Springs. She is a member of the board of directors, Yellow Breeches Chapter, Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, as well as the chapter’s standards vice-president. She also serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen.
For more information about the artist, visit facebook.com/scorchedeyebrowstudio.