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Building the Eagle, Sun, Moon Totem

- by Keith Brown         


In art, as in life, any attempt to progress an idea or mental concept from just an idea to an actual physical reality must take many steps to acheive. Firstly the idea has to be determined if it is indeed actually acheivable or at least possible. Many of my own previous concepts were not acheivable by me with the skill or training or abilities that I posess. Evolving an idea into a concept and then a finished objective can only be obtained or learned through practice and trial and error. All of the instructions to follow were obtained through many years of practice and trial and error after error.


Idea:  The mental picture, of whatever is to be created, can come from almost anywhere. If one wants to convey a certain feeling, mood or statement, a theme must be created. More simply a piece may just be made up of interesting shapes with no inner underlying meaning to it. This particular piece is simply made up of distinguishable shapes with no intentual underlying meaning.


totem build plan
















Design:  After a conceptual image has been determined, the physical reproduction of that concept must be brought into a constructional stage. In this particular instance the process of taking the physical piece desired and actually dividing it up into pieces that will fit through the bottle opening is what makes this art unique. The container, frame or encasement determines the physical dimensions of the finished piece, unlike a 2 dimensional painting or 3 dimensional sculpture which can be framed afterwards to any size desired. The bottle dimensions determine the actual size of this piece. In this case, my 3 shapes were pre-determined and then simply divided into pieces that would fit through the bottle opening. To increase the interest aspect of this piece I decided to arrange the individual pieces onto a centeral dowel. This process not only centered and held the objects inside the bottle together but with the safety pin at the lowest end of the dowel locking the entire piece into the bottle and also added the 'how'd you do it' factor.





Construction:  Once the inner dimension of both the bottle body and the neck opening were determined, I chose a size that would best help me achieve the end result.In this particular case the optimal size of the individual pieces ended up being 5/16" x 5/8" x 2 1/4" with a 11/32" centered hole to accomodate a 5/16" diam. dowel. The total height of my piece also dermined that I would need 20 of these identical pieces. Once all 20 pieces were cut to size I could stack them with the dowel through the center hole to hold them in place so I could draw out the rough shape. The individual pieces were then cut to shape, often modifying the design to fit onto the pieces correctly. Once all pieces were cut and finish shaped then they were painted and all rough assembled outside of the bottle to secure the fit. A design flaw I needed to overcome was the shape of the moon piece. Since 4 of the pieces cut were not supported by the centeral dowel it was necessary to somehow peg them together. This pegging of 2 pieces helped , but not by much, as then once pegged and glued the two pieces could be passed through the neck of the bottle as a unit. Fitting those pieces onto the others while inside of the bottle was not an easy undertaking. Since all of the pieces needed to be inside of the bottle before the central dowel was finally inserted I tried to arrange them in order, but with all of the necessary movement of the bottle and tools trying to fit the pieces onto the dowel in order, that idea did not work. The 'tricky' part of this bottle is that no two pieces can occupy the same space inside of the neck of the bottle at the same time. All of the pieces (except for the safety pin) had to be inside of the bottle before the dowel was finally inserted.




The tools I use for assembly are all hand made by me. I do not use medical instruments as they don't really accomplish what is needed. All of the tools I used for this project were made from pieces of wire, the main issue here was that this bottle is taller than most bottles I create so I had to make new tools long enough to do what was needed.


Completion:  Once all of the pieces were arranged onto the central dowel I needed to (only as an after thought) glue the pieces for each shape together otherwise they became jumbled. The last task was to secure the safety pin at the bottom most part of the dowel to prevent removal of any of the pieces. Tricky but NOT a trick.


The path I take from one piece of work to another is largely determined by what I learned from the previous piece. This particular piece uses a system I have used before and it is in no way original and I do not conclude that it is my own idea. Layered or multi piece hulls are often used by S.I.B. builders. The simple fact when doing any of these' S.I.B.', 'patience bottle', 'memory bottle', 'whimsy bottle' or what I now refer to as 'outsider folk bottle craft' is that the pieces must fit through the neck opening of the bottle being used, plain and simple. Any time I show my work I am surely to be asked "how did you get it in the bottle?" my reply is always "every piece must go through the neck of the bottle". That answer is often followed by "oh, you cut the bottle", my answer "NO I do not!". The fact is that there are 'techniques' and there are 'tricks' used in the construction of these bottle art pieces. There are several published articles dating back to the 1930's that demonstrate the "trick stopper" and how it is done. In the book "Genius in a Bottle" by Susan D. Jones also illustrates this 'trick'. It is termed a 'trick' because it is meant to fool the observer. The 'technique' of the folding masts while building S.I.B. was a trick until it became common knowledge of it's use and is now just a technique commonly used by most S.I.B. builders. Many people still do not know of the folding mast technique but these people may have never seen in person one of these bottles and usually have little knowledge of this art any way.


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I prefer to say that art is in the design but craftsmanship is the ability to bring it to reality.