David Burton's View

The views and thoughts of David Burton, a leading educator in the field of the visual arts and a member of JAE's Board of Advisors.
3 minutes reading time (561 words)

Working with Seymour Lipton

Winter Solstice #2, nickel silver on monel met...

Winter Solstice #2, nickel silver on monel metal, 1957, in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I only worked for Seymour Lipton for a few months in 1968 after I moved to NYC. I had attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for a semester after I graduated from Syracuse University. There I met Will Barnet, who was the guest critic. When I moved to NYC, Will referred me to Lipton, who was looking for a (lowly) assistant. Lipton lived in a brownstone on the upper West side. Although he had a large studio (I think it was in N.J.), he continued to make sculptures in his basement, next to his bedroom.

He has a very interesting sculpture technique. He made small maquettes (about a foot tall) out of scraps of sheet metal. Then he took them apart, expanded the flattened pieces up to 6' or 8' using a gridding method, and cut out the large pieces out of monel metal, an alloy. The process reminded me of a dressmaker's patterns. My job was two-fold: 1. Using another (nickel) alloy of German silver, I covered the monel metal with the German silver by melting it on with an acetylene torch. The melted metal looked liked it had been cast. 2. The heat of the torch warped the monel metal so the second part of my job was to pound the sheets flat again with a hand sledge hammer. (Lipton could no longer do this part of the job because he had a heart condition.) Even with earplugs, the sound of beating on metal in a tiny basement room with concrete walls was deafening. There was in fact an outside layer and an inside layer to the sculptures with a thin hollow area between the walls.

Although they looked like they were cast in solid bronze, they were in fact, very light. Two men could easily lift one. The studio was in the back of Lipton's brownstone building. Taking it out the front door was a matter of sliding the 6' sculpture down a narrow hallway (which has a dog leg turn in it) and out the front door. I was sure we would never be able to do it but he had calculated it to the inch and it slid through easily.

The piece I worked on took several months to complete. Lipton eventually exhibited it in the Whitney Annual. I believe it was called "Calliope."

While I was working for Lipton, I applied to three graduate schools in NYC: Hunter College, Pratt Institute, and NYU. I told Lipton of my plans and he volunteered to write letters of recommendation to all three schools. I was accepted at all three. It turned out he was on the boards of all three schools.

My time with Seymour Lipton was brief but very insightful and very meaningful. I remember him as being rather brusk and abrupt but he was also very kind and considerate. Few people such as I, a newly-minted art graduate, get an inside look at the New York art scene from the artist's perspective so early in the game. Moreover, learning the German silver/monel metal technique was a wonderful experience. I know of no other artist then or since who used it although it is a sculptural method that has many artistic, aesthetic, economic, and logistical advantages.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Suzan Shutan: Sculptor, Social Activist, and Hiddu...
Life or Theatre?: The works by Charlotte Salomon