MetalMark Butterfly Vessels

This project was for a class called Experimental Form in my junior year at CMU. The assignment was to make 3 of the same artifact inspired by an endangered/extinct insect.

I decided to make this project about the swamp metalmark butterfly. Growing up, I lived in the suburbs of Chicago right next to a nature preserve, or more specifically a fen. A fen is a very rare type of wetland that takes thousands of years to develop and is home to a variety of endangered insects, plants, and animals. The swamp metalmark butterfly relies on the swamp thistle flower which can only be found in these fens, and therefore both the swamp metalmark butterfly and the swamp thistle are critically endangered.

My idea for this project was to make a vessel inspired by the bold look of the silver and black markings against the orange of the butterflies wings. To do this, I decided to find wood with natural defects and spalting and fill them in with silver epoxy. I also experimented with different stains to represent the colors of the fen and the swamp thistle flower. The picture to the right is my sample piece that I used to test the silver epoxy and different stains.

Above you can see the process of filling in the wood crack with silver epoxy. This process included placing the blanks in plastic tubes and bags to contain the epoxy, mixing the 2 part epoxy together with silver metallic dust, and then sealing the blanks in a vacuum to ensure the epoxy seeps deep into the cracks in the wood.

After the epoxy cured, I cut the plastic case off of the blanks and squared them to be turned on the lathe.

I created the shape of the vessels in Solidworks, then referenced this drawing as I worked to get the shape correct on the lathe.

As I worked, I applied more epoxy to cracks that appeared deeper in the wood while the piece was still in the lathe. Leaving the work on the lathe ensures that it remains centered and properly held in place.

I used a chuck on the lathe with an extender bar and 1 1/2" drill bit to core out the center of the pieces. I chose to core them on the lathe in the hope that they would be centered this way, but ended up using a die grinder to make the top of the hole appear centered.

I used the cut-offs from squaring my blanks to test different stains and oils to see how they would interact with the spalted wood and epoxy. I originally intended to include colored stains to further incorporate aspects of the story created between the swamp thistle and metalmark butterfly. After doing these tests and shaping the vessels I decided against this, as I didn't want to subtract from the beautiful wood. I decided on a cherry danish oil to create an orange hue similar to the orange butterfly wings.

The 3 final pieces ended up being slightly different shapes and sizes due to one exploding on the lathe. When turning cracked wood, it is easy for tools to get caught and ruin the piece which is why I applied epoxy so frequently on the rest of the pieces.