David Clason was about 14 years old when he sat down at his sister’s jewelry bench and began playing around with the tools, making a few pieces just for fun, eventually, creating a bracelet for for his father.
“It was a really nice bracelet, with a buckle on top,” recalls Clason. “He started to wear it and his friends liked it, and he came to me and asked if I could make one for so and so. So I did. I didn’t get a lot of money for it, but I thought that I might have something.” And that’s, initially, how it all began.
The “it” Clason is speaking of is his career as an artist. A jeweler. A sculptor. In fact, you might call him a Renaissance man, which the dictionary describes as “a person with many talents or areas of knowledge.” And that describes Clason in every way. His work is reminiscent of Rococo sculpture, notable for its intimate scale, naturalism and varied surface effects.
Clason grew up in Europe and spent 25 years there. During that time, he lived in Germany, then Brussels, went to boarding school in Gstaad, spent some time in Switzerland, then London and eventually attended college in Florence, Italy. In order to get totally immersed in learning the Italian language, Clason began working at Harry’s Bar, one of his parents’ stopovers on their many visits to Florence.
“I would say the turning point for me came, when one night, I spotted a man sitting at the bar who looked like he hadn’t shaved in a week and his toupée was crooked,” Clason says, with a laugh. “So, Leo, the bartender, knew about my interest in working with silver, and says to the man, ‘You have to give this guy a job.’ And the guy looks up and answers, ‘Send him over tomorrow.’
“And the next day I went over to find that the man’s company made some of the most gorgeous, hand-made, silver giant candelabras I had ever seen. It made hammering silver a form of art. So I began hammering—it’s called ‘chasing,’ silver bowls. And then I began creating jewelry.“
Clason later moved to Georgetown in Washington, D. C., where he opened a jewelry store. Soon his reputation as a master silver jeweler caught the attention of the Smithsonian Institute, who asked him to do restoration on some of its antique silver. “There was an article about my work in the Smithsonian’s publication, and all of a sudden I became a silver antique restorer,” quips Clason, who moved to Vail in 1989.
These days, Clason creates functional sculptures. His recent project: wine coasters. Wine coasters that are not only functional but, each is a magnificent work of art done with painstaking patience. “It took a lot of years for me to get the skill set together so I could learn how to carve and get my design ideas down,” Clason begins. “When an idea starts to resonate with me, I first draw it out and then carve that image into a block of wax. Then I make a rubber mold, which allows me to to reproduce the image. Then I burn out the wax and pour the hot metal into it. When the metal is solidified, I pull out the piece and begin to clean and shine it. “
Clason’s process is what’s known as the “lost wax process,” a method of metal casting in which molten metal is poured into a mold that has been created by means of a wax model. “I’m a detail person,” he admits. “It takes about 30 to 40 hours for me to create each perfectly carved piece that goes into a sculpture. “Because most of my pieces have from 30 to 40 to 50 molds, it takes an extraordinary amount of time,” explains Clason. “It’s very intricate. Everything is put on and built up and very detailed.” “Dave is a master sculptor, and this is evident when viewing his functional creations,” says Bill Rey, co-owner of Claggett-Rey Gallery in Vail, who handles Clason’s work. “His silver sculptures cradle great bottles of wine in thematic elegance, and the viewer can marvel at the detail he has sculpted and cast.” “An antique dealer who once saw my work remarked that I was a 19th Century man because of the detail in my work,” relates Clason. “For that’s exactly what they did at the turn of the century. They were very detailed and put time and effort into pieces. I used to collect those pieces back in the day. I never thought, however, that I was going to end up doing this.”
Clason admits that he sometimes gets on tangents, and is always ready to move on to the next thing. “My next project is probably going to be some renaissance pieces from back in the 1400s. Something that inspires me. For instance, right now I’m fascinated by a cherub piece.
“When I was in art school in Florence, I would see the work of the the masters like Da Vinci, Michelangelo. If that’s not enough to inspire you, I don’t know what is. In fact, one of my teachers once remarked, ‘So you want to be a Leonardo, do you?’ “And I thought, ‘Yeah.’ ”