The Vulcan of Cuenca

Hellmut Hillencamp, Blacksmith and Philospher

©Lucia Astudillo

published in ANVIL Magazine, September 1997

The metal sculpture, “Jirru,” in Quechua, the Ecuadorian Vulcan, boasts of robustness and majesty, and impresses all with its durability and strength, the musculature of its neck and arms, the torso that shows each rib. But in the large head, the eyes hold something special and disquieting, a sweetness that moves the viewer. Helmut explains that, coincidentally, just as he was “putting the light of life” into the eyes of the statue, his father, Dr. Hillenkamp, died in Germany on Monday, March 31, at midday.

Image coming soon!

An Encounter
I met Helmut in 1991 through the Museo del los Metales (Museum of Metals), where he was helping with the Exhibition/Sale “Iron and Vitamins: Experimental Artistic Metalwork,” a work-action program that was exhibited in the Alianza Francesca, with the collaboration of Swiss-Contact.

Helmut confirms that the sculpture is part of the Project of the Plaza del Herreros, and has various stages. The first was three years ago when he found himself in Cuenca, giving a course under the auspices of Swiss-Contact on “The Construction of Propane Gas Forges” as an alternative to vegetative carbon. Later, he was asked to give another on the construction of aluminum windows, but he offered instead to give one on the subject of “Multi-use Folders,” and he asked Christy Hengst, his friend the ceramist from the United States, to bring him an original tool. Here in Cuenca, with Christy and Fausty Cardoso, they talked and dreamed, and the idea was born of a blacksmith on a volcano for a pedestal, a man at the level of the people, a speaker in an iron-ceramics dialogue, a man for the people, his neighbors to care for and appreciate. This project was presented to the municipality, where they opened the doors for it offering it a base for the volcano made of cement and iron. The rest was up to Helmut and Christy.

Image coming soon!

In the second stage, with the Internet and the help of their friends in the U.S. and Germany, the two managed to acquire the economic support they needed for the project. The monoliths of the plaza commemorate this financing.

The Final State
The third and final stage, underway since October 13, 1996, has been preparation of the sculpture, education (especially in ceramics by the Foundacion Paul Rivet), and technical assistance in the elaboration of tools. Helmut has given lectures about the making of liquid gas burners to be used in ceramics; but, he insists, the reproduction of tools was blacksmiths’ work.

He has made a laminator, ovens for ceramics, and a hydraulic press to work the iron. The press is manually operated with a truck jack. With Christy Hengst, Helmut has given two classes on RAKU and on high temperatures in ceramics, and along with Dr. Segundino Mancayo, developed the refractors necessary to construct a large oven.

Image coming soon!

The blacksmiths who have collaborated with him were: Miguel Cajamarca and Rafael Orellana (they made a large amount of the head); Manuel Guerra, who worked the comboy; Vincente Maldonado, and, more recently, Mauricio Quezada, blacksmith and neighbor of the project location.

The 200 kilograms of scrap metal and some iron sheets which were used in the construction were oxidized by Helmut with muriatic acid. Later, time will do its part, oxidizing everything naturally with the air. Fortunately, there is nowhere for water to collect on the sculpture, although it is perhaps possible to cover everything with a coat of beeswax for better protection.

Helmut says, “I am content, but it has been a lot of work. For seven months I have left my workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I hope that on my return, I will still have some customers.” Smiling, he adds, “After the monument is inaugurated, I will stay in Cuenca to give another class with Miguel Cajamarca on ironworking in the “Helmut Hillenkamp School of Iron.”

The Blacksmith and the Volcano

© Alexanadra Kennedy Troya

published in ANVIL Magazine, September 1997

At the southern side of the Plaza del Herrero, and in front of the Casa del Chaguarchimbana, a monument destined to honor the hundred-year work of the blacksmiths of Cuenca is emerging.

Image coming soon!

From the mouth of a great volcano surges a smith, hammer in hand, caught at work, in the moment of striking. The image recalls the classic Vulcan, god of fire and the forge. This imposing figure of wrought iron, which incamates power and masculine force, is in contrast to the base on which it sits, a volcano. The volcano, which symbolizes the Andes Mountains, is composed of soft and sinuous forms, and covered with hundreds of enameled ceramic tiles, rocks, bricks and baked clay. “There had to be a feminine side,” declares the co-author of the project, Christy Hengst, an American ceramist.

Image coming soon!

Sensual Nature
This image had to be symbolic, not explicit: the sensuality of nature, the earth itself, the water running to the base of the monument and disappearing into the plaza. The water symbolizes life, fertility, and purification; fire symbolizes the spirit of renewal. Months of preparation, from the construction of the as kiln where the pieces were baked and the laminator where they were pressed, the elaboration of enamels, even the mounting by the Escuela Taller de Ceramica in the Casa de Chaguarchimbana were needed to complete the project. Not to mention the time spent experimenting, or the hours spent inviting, receiving, and facilitating the participation of children, artists, passersby, and the merely curious, all of whom helped make the tiles. Many hands made the tiles that were placed, in the style of Gaudi, in the “Guell Area” of Barcelona, on the monument.

An Important Work
The idea was for the work to entail the collaboration of many people, helping them to awaken their innate human creativity. Christy Hengst worked with Ricardo Alzamora and Stephanie Suter on the volcano and Fausto Cardoso worked on the river, each passing out the tiles, arranging them and planning where each would be placed.

The wish of the artist and her co-author and companion, the German blacksmith, Helmut Hillenkamp, was to create an open project in which they could incorporate new proposals as they went, just as they succeeded in incorporating the participation of about 300 volunteers.

Like in “Los Totems,” by Eduardo Vega, this adds to the new image of public art. Instead of being a pedestal honoring the work of one “important person,” it draws on the very earth on which it stands, both physically and for inspiration symbolically.

Image coming soon!

Discovering Surroundings
In the monument to the blacksmith, the artists have given the spirit that inhabits the area (in particular the neighborhood of the smiths, las Herrerias) a special preeminence. It has nothing to do with blowing a sketch out of proportion and imposing it on an open space. It is about connecting a space with its people and its history – a history that goes far beyond the merely literal. “I want to dream and play awhile; I hope that the children discover their surroundings, that the neighborhood comes to feel that the plaza and its monument are theirs, that it belongs to them, and that we begin to see ourselves as part of the project into which we have put so much effort and toil,” says Fausto Cardoso, the designer of the plaza, the primary ideologue of this dream, and just one of the many who worked for the monument.

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