Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Hi Everyone, I've been away from the forums for a while. I'd like to share my entry for the Xiphos Project here. (the Xiphos Project is an exhibit of contemporary swords in the larger exhibition called 'The Sword Form and Thought' co-curated by Peter Johnsson) The theme we were given was to make a sword that explored the idea of xiphos, which means "penetrating light", (but without actually making a xiphos sword)

here is my essay for the catalogue:

Only in dark the light

“Only in silence the word,

only in dark the light,

only in dying life:

bright the hawk’s flight

on the empty sky.”

-Ursula K. LeGuin

The first metal swords were made of bronze, so building a bronze sword is an act of reaching into the deepest shadows of swordsmithing history and bringing an artifact forth. Bronze can be patinaed using arcane solutions with alchemical sounding names like ‘Liver of Sulfur’, making it dark and shadowed; or it can be polished to reveal a golden coloured metal. Steel swords are heated in a forge until they glow orange and then hammered to shape, but bronze is melted in a furnace into a glowing liquid, yellow and shining with swirling iridescent patterns on its surface. To make a bronze sword, this liquid metal is poured into a sword shaped mold, the fulgent bronze rushes into the dark cavity, filling the empty space with its searing colour and mass. The mold defines the liquid bronze, just as darkness is the context that gives light meaning.

There is a Bronze Age sword in the British Museum, yellow-golden and huge, as wide as a man’s shoulders, as long as his legs, much bigger than any normal person could ever use. It was probably a sacred object, a sword/altar, or maybe it was a feat of skill for the bronze-smith who made it— it would be very challenging to cast a sword of its size and exquisite thinness with the technology of the bronze age— but what it implies is an immense warrior, some fiendish man like CuChulain from Irish myth or Grendel or a forgotten god. It is a sword, but it is also an altar, a monument to the imagined or the Devine.

This idea of the sword that serves a second function as a kind of homunculus, the house for a spirit or idea, has followed swords throughout their history, from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age where swords were made with hilts fashioned as grim faced little gods or demons. It can be seen even in the renaissance when some swords had cavities in their pommels to house effigies of saints or classical gods.

At first I thought I would make a bronze sword with a reliquary in its hilt holding an actual hawk skull, the hawk representing light, but as I began drawing it, I saw that it would be much more powerful if what the reliquary held was light itself. Light is something that moves around us, invisible until it strikes a surface, so what better way to capture it than an empty space, the absence allowing for a presence.

The hilt of the sword has sections cut away to reveal radiating circles representing light, and the ornamentation is built of two lines, which dance around each other like darkness and its absence. On the scabbard, two curving lines represent the bronze flowing into the mold, penetrating the black to form a blade. The blade itself is polished into a golden line of intent, sharp and deadly, reflecting light, cutting though the shadows.

This is a bronze sword connecting us now as we look at it to the earliest swords 5000 years ago. The hilt has been darkened to give context to the light that it holds. The blade itself is the child of the molten bronze penetrating the gloom of the sword mold — Xiphos — penetrating light.

 

 

Here are some pictures of the finished sword and some process shots.

1_sketch-web-2.jpg

1_sketch-web-3.jpg

1_sketch-web-5.jpg

1_sketch-web-6.jpg

1_sketch-web-7.jpg

JPxiphos-web-21.jpg

JPxiphos-web-23.jpg

JPxiphos-web-28.jpg

JPxiphos-web-30.jpg

JPxiphos-web-39.jpg

JPxiphos-web-58.jpg

JPxiphos-web-59.jpg

onlyindark2.jpg

Powning.jpg

onlyindark1.jpg

 

 

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

This is an amazing accomplishment, Jake. It's beautiful, and it captures the theme of the exhibition extremely well.

 

To me, the lines of the piece radiate a type of movement that suggests it is vibrating with energy.

 

You should post the photo of you holding the sword in your smithy. It's difficult to comprehend how big this sword is until you see it held by someone.

 

Thanks for posting this to the forum!

 

Dave

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Dave! here you go —

 

JPxiphos-web-62.jpg

 

This is my favorite picture though, it's co-curator Barbara Grotkamp-Schepers holding the sword just after unwrapping it from the shipping case.

 

11755165_391655244366208_1543989376035983236_n.jpg

Edited by Jake Powning
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I did not previously have the sense of scale... surely, this belongs on the wall of the Grendelmere cave... awaiting the Hero's grasp. ;)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmmm... A Jake Powning bronze (!) sword of heroic proportion with a very deep conceptual origin and flawless execution in a style outside time, speaking to the true meaning of what it is to be a sword and all the creation thereof implies... Yep, I'm pinning this one! ;)

 

Seriously fine work, sir. I wish I could see yours and Peter's together at the show. Glad to see you back posting, it's been too long!

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't have words for how much this piece amazes me. Most of the best words I know I used in Peter's post!

I love the obscure symbology, and how it only makes sense when you consider strange ideas that almost hurt to think about. All of the scrolls look like dark and ambiguous eyes looking out into the world. An altogether god-like piece, and as I said in Peter's post, this is an object that represents the very quintessence of the art of swordsmithing.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the words and images Jake, it's a pleasure getting a glimpse into your design process and inspiration for this piece. I am ever in awe of your free hand fullers, and the technical precision is really something to aspire to.

 

I also really love the scale, that isn't a sword to mess with :D

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks Guys! And Thank you Peter for inviting me to do this! This project stretched me and brought me into swordsmithing from a different angle. I feel like I'm making work that I'm excited about again. This project broke the rime of practice that had grown around me and caused me to see swords and smithing in a new way.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Damn, Jake! That is quite an accomplishment, and the narrative to accompany is always such a welcomed touch with your work.

 

You have mastered such a wide range of skills, and put them each to good use in this effort. Just to have learned all of these skills, especially at your age (which is a lot like my own age) is tremendous. To integrate everything and inspire and tell a story, well, that is art.

 

Living proof that bladesmiths can be artists as well as craftsmen.

 

Good for you, and it is by extension, good for all of us.

 

kc

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is absolutely fantastic!

I really love bronze swords, the bronze seems much more mysterious and magical to me than plain old steel.

not to mention that casting a bronze sword this size is a daunting task.

I also like the more grim character your work has taken since you made dwine, it seems to fit your style of carving and bronze work.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I add my voice to the chorus of well-deserved praise.

 

I also have a question: does anyone have a link to the huge bronze sword at the British Museum mentioned above? I'm not being able to locate it online.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I add my voice to the chorus of well-deserved praise.

 

I also have a question: does anyone have a link to the huge bronze sword at the British Museum mentioned above? I'm not being able to locate it online.

 

I can't find it anymore on the British Museum website. But here's the image that was on there earlier:

post-24180-13341822418244.jpg

 

And some photos which I've taken of the sword:

 

07170280.jpg

 

07170282.jpg

 

It's made of arsenic copper, and comes from Beth Dagan, Palastine and dates to 2400-2000BC. It's very large, over a meter in length. But while that's the longest sort of length for copper alloy swords, it's not unique in that length category. There are quite a few swords that are in the 100-110cm range.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Jeroen! It immediately brings to my mind Genesis: "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." I think it ties in with Jake's idea of the larger-than-life hero swords. You know, what if these aren't altars or some kind of bearing swords, but the actual swords of giants and heroes. :)

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I add my voice to the chorus of well-deserved praise.

 

I also have a question: does anyone have a link to the huge bronze sword at the British Museum mentioned above? I'm not being able to locate it online.

 

I just re-read Jake's first post, and I had the wrong piece in mind (probably because Jake's sword reminded me strongly about the one I posted above :) ). Jake actually refers to the giant ceremonial dirk from Oxborough:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_prb/c/ceremonial_bronze_dirk.aspx

 

The story behind those is actually very fascinating. There are 6 of those found, two in the UK, two in France and two in the Netherlands. The alloy of them is so exactly identical, that they can only be made from the same ingot. The Peterborough example was stuck vertically in the peat, and found by someone tripping over it, then got a big surprise when he pulled it out :) The most recent found one was used as a doorstop for many years at a farm. Another interesting fact about these pieces, is that a unit length is used throughout repeatedly through the design, which quite probably Peter will find quite interesting :)

Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
Link to post
Share on other sites
×
×
  • Create New...