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Hammett named May Artist of the Month

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By Ben Loyall

“America missed out,” Thomas Hammett said when we sat down to talk about his artwork. Hammett has been chosen by the LaRue County Public Library as their May Artist of the Month. He employs Chase and Repoussé, an art form popular in European countries, to create very intricate designs on sheets of metal.

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Chasing is the design on the front, while the French term Repoussé means to hammer from the back. Many great works have been created using this art form, including the mask of King Tutankhamun, the doors of the Duomo in Florence, and the Statue of Liberty. “In America it is called embalming, and it is done by a machine” he explained.

The artist will start with a bowl filled with pitch, a clay like substance that is tough when cool and malleable when heated. The artist sketches out a design, they then take a sheet of metal and place the best looking side onto the bowl. They then place the design onto the metal, use tools or a pencil to trace the design onto the metal, and use a hammer to hit the tool of their choice onto the metal repeatedly.

The goal of the artist is to push their design into the backside of the metal sheet. As the metal is pushed into the heated pitch, it moves to give room for the design. The tools are very similar to a chisel. There are different tips to create different textures, some are pointed while others are flat or round, and sometimes the artist has to create their own tool to get their desired look. When commissioned to create a ring, Hammett broke the ends off of crochet hooks to get the very fine point he needed.

“Everybody can do something, God has given everybody certain talents.” When he was a boy his father taught him how to carve wood, which is why a friend commissioned Hammett to create a piece of art using his businesses’ logo. Thinking he would receive a wood carving, Hammett’s friend was surprised when he was given a sheet of metal, which originally was a copper pipe elbow hammered out flat, with the logo design hammered into it. This project sparked Hammett’s interest and led him to take a class on Chasing and Repoussé. Which he now does professionally, creating custom jewelry as well as larger designs for contests and “For when people want an artist of the month,” he chuckled.

The significant talent in Chasing and Repoussé is persistence.” Some pieces can take 40 hours, while others can go well over 100. “I usually put on a book on tape,” he explained. If he lets his mind wander then he will look back at his artwork and find parts he wants to fix, so listening to books helps keep his mind focused.

He will often spend majority of the day working on his project, to which his wife is supportive of for the most part. “What she was not supportive of was when she would come out at one or two in the morning and tell me that I need to come inside. “ he explained. To compromise, they have set up a timer which disconnects the power to his workplace at 10 p.m. “It will turn off and I will pull out my flashlight and come inside and in the morning the power will be back and I can get back to it.”

Hammett gets inspiration from several different sources. If he is given a prompt then he will find a good way to create that design, such as when he created a piece about downtown Elizabethtown for the prompt “Cityscape.” Some people tell him what they would like to see when they commission him. Other times he gets inspiration from what is around him, such as owls and other birds.

When looking for an artist to be their artist of the month for May, a friend of the library staff talked to them about Hammett and his beautiful artwork. So they decided to ask him to be their artist of the month, to which he happily accepted.

Hammett currently instructs a class at the William Holland School, Georgia, about Chasing and Repoussé, and he hopes that more people will take up the unique form of art. The library will be honoring him at a ceremony on Thursday, May 2. Hammett can be contacted by emailing info@hammettt.com.