Editors comments on page 1
Miles Martin of Nenana hand cast medals for Nenana’s 100th birthday. Obviously, a labor of love. A very limited edition, these were presented to those thought to be worthy. We do not have any of these to offer to subscribers. See page 18.
by Miles Martin
The 100th anniversary of the city of Nenana,
Alaska was coming up. My artistic friend
Kat McElroy wanted a medallion created,
“Something that might be around in another
hundred years.” All other medallion makers
she consulted would be outsourcing to China.
“But Miles,” she said, “I’d prefer something local that said something about us, not China.”
I have never made a medallion but know a lot about lost wax casting jewelry. When I said, “I can cast using Nenana metals - bronze from our barge line propellers, and 1940s copper from under the school,” Kat was excited. But I said no at first. Kat wanted 500 medallions. “I might try making 50.”
“Who would they go to, make a list” said Kat. “I want to give them to everyone.” I did not like the idea of all that work, heart and soul going out to ‘everyone.’ We agreed on a limited edition. I added, “No city involvement, no committee, no voting on design, no politics, no seeking funding.” She agreed, “A work of love and passion.” Kat is the money staker.
I had no instructions, consulted no one, looked up nothing. Our plan evolved. I began with the concept of a 2 D drawing, or combining pictures, and having a round 2 inch rubber stamp made. I could make a reverse silicon rubber mold to pour the wax, then plaster, lost wax cast the metal. The simple method would be a one sided item, easy to pour wax into. I realized if I did two rubber stamps, took them off the block, glued them back to back, I could make a two sided mold, and inject the wax. More complicated, but more cool!
Kat supplied a copy of an old city seal with our tripod on the ice, our famous “Ice Classic” that Nenana is so well known for since 1916. The seal has a plane, dog team and train. Too much detail for what I can do. This did not work. I start over.
I have a free picture program in the computer. I downloaded some train pictures and a rope circle (to represent the barge line). I made the pictures black and white and high contrast, then printed them. Magic marker accented the lines I need most. With scissors and tape I arranged the cut outs on a the of paper, a collage with a rope circle. This was re-photographed and edited to get the tape marks out. I hand wrote the words. I chose, “A good place to meet.” Nenana has always been known as a crossroads of two rivers and dog trails, and later rail, roads and an airport. There was a tad of politics involved over the wording as expected, another reason I was not excited at first to get involved.
The hardest part was the word getting out I am creating a medallion, which I have never done before - “Let’s enjoy watching Miles fail!” If I can come up with a wax, I am confident I can cast it.
One issue at a time. I have never dealt with casting letters in my art. I’m a wildlife artist. It turns out I have to start all over again because I have to have a reverse mirror image rubber stamps made! It does not matter if an animal faces right or left, but it sure matters with letters. I have the stamps made, and the silicone mold rubber did not like the stamp rubber and made bubbles. I had to spray the stamp so the silicone would not recognize it. Some detail was lost.
“Kat, I know these finished medallions will never look like a factory stamped Franklin Mint product. They will look like a pirate treasure doubloon!” Kat is happily ecstatic.
There is the copper issue. Casting copper is an art, not a science. Too many factors to control. Mass of metal, exact temperature of copper, crucible, mold, slinging force. I have an educated guess based on 30 years of slinging molten metal. So keep the copper super hot, the plaster mold, maybe 100 degrees cooler than normal, say 600 degrees kiln hold. A normal sling. For a medallion, a slow sling. As the copper destroys the plaster that cannot handle the molten copper temperatures, the metal is cooling enough to hold its form. If done perfect, no detail is lost. However, the plaster has bonded with the copper. It’s another learned process to remove this residue off the surface.
I add cold water quench at the appropriate time, just as the copper stops glowing red. The plaster explodes. Cast copper icons, behold and be amazed. Done with $100 worth of equipment.
As I said, “Looking like ancient coins.” I end up with half an hour time into each medallion. I would guess it is not even possible to create these in a factory with employees, using our metal! They could not work with unknown metal. Who would put an unknown metal with an unknown melting point in their high end equipment? How can you offer a medallion without stamping the metal grade someplace? Would ‘unknown metal’ work? I think not.
So here we are with pirate doubloons. Proudly, “metal content unknown, process unknown, by magic.” Just like the creation of Nenana, or for that matter, Alaska! I think of proud old timers wanting a medallion and approaching the local blacksmith. Creativity, process unknown, with no help from ‘outside.’ Using local gold, or what-ever they had. No approval from anyone. Alaska is not for the faint of heart, nor about ‘how it is usually done.’ A State full of characters. Our Nenana medallion says all that. It is not much, I suppose. Just 60 warped medallions. I never tried it before, said I think I could, and went for it. I may never make another medallion.
Editor’s note: The full process of making this medal can be found on Miles’ website: www.milesof alaska.com/alaska.blog. Be sure to view the two videos. The brochure is shown below.
(Brochure does not copy well so left out)