Sunday, February 26, 2012

The artist signature

In tradition, artists in metal "signed" their work with a touchmark. A touchmark is usually an acronym or symbol which represents an individual or shop. It's like the artist's signature, on the bottom of a painting... very important in identifying a particular artists work or placing it in their timeline of work.

Matthew and I sign our railings, and if you look, usually in the lower right newel post (as you face the stairs) you'll find our touchmark. Other times it is more hidden and you have to look for it. 

My own personal touchmark & stamp, which I made & started to use in 2004

In individual candelabras and small items that we've made, Matthew uses his small touchmark "m", and/or I use my "k" if we work alone. 

To get technical, the touchmark stamp is usually a stamp or punch with a positive image (reversed or symmetrical) which is indented as a negative image. It has to be made from a steel hardened more than the heated steel you'll be hammering into, so the stamp will last with repeat use Once you've made your stamp, it can last for quite a long time. After years of use, they will definitely show some wear and at some point can be replaced. Often smiths use their initials, and other times a symbol. 

The medieval guilds of Europe established and maintained registries which their patrons knew of, to identify work by different individuals or shops. Today, there is no such database or collection of touchmarks globally. There are a few small groups which have started local registries, but no comprehensive and widely acknowledged registry of artists touchmarks correlated to contact information.

local registries:
Indiana Blacksmiths:
Northern Rockies Blacksmith Association:

Below is a sample of the touchmarks used in our shop:

Maynard Studios Touchmarks (from top)
#1 Maynard Studios, 1999+
#2 Matthew Maynard, small works 1999+
#3 Karine Maynard 2004 +
#4 Collaborative 2005+ (guest artists & Maynard Studios)

After ten years in graphics for ABANA (Artist Blacksmith Association of North America), Linda Murphy has taken on the job of compiling a registry today, . She has also started a "touchmark garden" at her home in California and has a facebook page full of photos, and a touching article in the Anvil's Ring with photos that you can find here:

 If you are a smith and would like to send Linda Murphy your touchmark, snail mail a sample to Murphy Collection Touchmark Garden - P.O. Box 834 - Cedar Ridge, CA 95924. She asks that you please include a pebble from your part of the world to add to the lucky pebble collection as well, and also *very important*, please include information on yourself for the portfolio of the smiths that will be on display at smithing events she attends in the future.

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