Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, had a show last month of the work of Harold O’Connor, who is highly regarded for his technical expertise and was recently featured in a cover article in Metalsmith magazine. Harold is considered one the great teachers of his generation and he has conducted workshops all over the world. The process of fabrication is evident in every piece and his work is clearly marked by his early training and the time in which he has lived.
Susan Cummins: Harold, you are known for your technical expertise. In fact, you conduct classes all around the world teaching embossing, granulation, and reticulation, among other things. Did learning these skills come easily to you? Can you tell the story of the way you acquired them?
Harold O’Connor: I first learned granulation at school in Pforzheim, Germany, in 1967, but I had forgotten that I had already learned it, as my portfolio of early works I showed at Martha Connell Gallery in Atlanta demonstrates. In 1988 I went to a small workshop in the town of Ahlen, in northern Germany, called the European Gold and Silversmith Academy, to learn granulation in gold. There I met several participants from Cologne, Germany. Eventually they became best friends and also introduced me to other masters of the technique in Cologne. By visiting their workshops, I was able to pick up more hints on executing the technique. We saw the works of Germany’s most famous granulationist, Elizabeth Treskow from Cologne (who has a street and a square named after her). The American granulationist John Paul Miller met with Treskow when he was in Europe. Most likely he, too, picked up some pointers from her. After learning granulation, I did not do it at all for one and a half years, as I did not care to make the classical patterns, such as triangles and pyramids of beads. One day in the studio I realized that the 18-karat gold granulation would go well with reticulated silver patterns. From that beginning I have created many forms over the years in this combination. I had been doing some reticulation on sterling silver over the early years but the results were lacking in pattern and detail. Somewhere along the way I broke down and bought some reticulation silver (.820 silver) and a whole new world opened for me in creating forms with interest and dimension. The granulation evolved over time and in recent years I have added the use of silver granulation in combination with the gold. I tell people that doing granulation is like working with enamels—one needs patience and time and a steady hand. Time is consumed in making the beads for granulation, done by heating small snips by hand or in a kiln. The most difficult process to learn is knowing the right temperature at which the beads fuse to the metal surface. Twenty years into it, I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t. Granulation for me is like Zen meditation.