Folded form in a 1915 copper bowl

Repousse & Chasing | | | | |

A couple years ago I saw this bowl and took some notes, not nearly enough notes.

copper bowl

Earlier this year I took my old notes on the pattern and geometry and started a smaller version working from years old memories. . .

I wanted to do a proof of concept study to show that the bowl was not raised, but rather an object fold formed from a flat sheet.

my version is greatly simplified but does illustrate the process and my thesis.


The staff at the Art institute were very helpful and provided me with the image of the piece at the top of the page.

and the following information:

Dear Mr. Olson:

It was lovely to speak with you the other day in regards to our copper bowl by artist Karl Nikrassoff. Please find attached a black-and-white image of the piece. I've included some basic information on the piece below for your reference:

Department: Architecture, Design, Dec. Arts, Craft, and Sculpture
Object Name: Bowl
Classification: Metalwork
Maker: Karl Nikrassoff, American (born Russia), active early 20th century
Birth Place: Russia, Europe/Asia
Maker Geography: United States, North America
Date Label: c.1915
Period: 20th century
Origin: United States, North America
Medium: Copper
hand-wrought; flat center with small hammered circles; walls of vertical waved lines all facing the same direction
Dimensions: 2 7/8 x 14 5/8 in. (7.3 x 37.15 cm)
Mark(s): impression on bottom 'Nikrasoff'
Credit Line: The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund
Current location: MIA, On View - G334
Label Text:
Karl Nikrasoff's copper designs are not as well known as those produced by Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Workshops and Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft Copper Shop, yet they possess a dynamism that is distinctive in the area of Arts and Crafts metalwork. Nikrasoff was a Russian Jewish emigré who came to New York around the turn of the century and developed a line of decorative copper. This set of candlesticks and bowl are probably among his earliest works. Besides their references to European Art Nouveau metalwork, the swirling gadroons of the bowl are very similar to a Russian gold and niello ceremonial dish in the Armory Museum in Moscow's Kremlin that was a gift in 1561 from Ivan the Terrible to his second wife. It was much copied by Moscow goldsmiths through the seventeenth century; thus Nikrasoff could have very well been familiar with the original or a later version.




don johnson's picture

So much history and so

So much history and so little time to relearn it. Thanks for the lessons.

Fred Zweig's picture

Gene, I suspect the

Gene, I suspect the Nikrasoff bowl is a combination of raising, chasing and embossing. The bowl appears to be rather deep. I have examples of circular trays that use the same process you used to create volume and some depth. They were made by a yet unknown craftsman who signed his work J.Braun with and awl and hammer. I too made a test using only a flat sheet adn then chasing in six spirals from the center and then bossing out the backside. I will post image when I can.

Thanks for sharing the image of the original copper piece.


Fred Zweig

Gene Olson's picture

Fred,I shall have to make

I shall have to make another pilgrimage to the 'tute.

The concentric hammer blow pattern on the bottom shows how the base was tuned and leveled by planishing. That action also would have deepened the bowl.

The bowl was not particularly deep.
the 6.5" dia fold formed bowl I made was 2.1" deep.
At 14.625" Karl's bowl is over twice that diameter and only 2.875" deep so most of the shape was from the folding.

My bowl had a single sided flute in each radial pattern, The Nikrasoff bowl has double sided flutes which eat up lots of material. That was partially offset by the stretching the texture blows added to that portion of the radial flutes.
I think we may have more of a folded flamenco dress (added gores) here than a raised piece. The radial "cross peen" tool marks show that stretching has occurred around the circumference,

Gene Olson
Elk River, MN

warren's picture

Gene, I think the reason for

I think the reason for the stretching marks around the cicumference is because the rim is bent downwards. Whenever you raise and put a downward rim you have to stretch the metal. To me the bowl looked raised and then the flutes were added.


visitor's picture

raising vs folding or bending


Charles and I have been discussing this.
It seems that his definition of fold forming has to do with folding and then unfolding and perhaps refolding to obtain pattern remnants from the unfolded bends as part or all of the pattern, as such this piece probably escapes his definition as the folds were made in the places they were wanted and then never reworked (other than making them crisper/sharper)

Raising is not the major operation in the formation of this shape however. Raising involves pushing the material into itself by making ruffles or tucks and then pounding them back into the sheet, or by working it over a stake so that raised area being struck is driven down and into itself and the surrounding supporting area. The process of raising involves a change in surface area and an increase in thickness, (and sometimes a relocation of that volume to an adjacent area)

My thesis is that the shape is developed by folding or bending, like making an angle bracket, or a box, or a fluted coffee filter.
The entire bowl is one complex set of tucks, one complex set of ruffles, that if you pounded down into a uniform "cone" would give you a raised bowl, but if you step on it and squash it flat, will unfold back to a flat plate with a fold formed pattern on it. (Charles definition of fold formed) instead of a bowl.
That is the reason I did the sample bowl with a similar pattern. I folded the material along the pattern lines to create the shape. That there is further work in Karls bowl, in the textured flutes and the domed up (probably faceted by planishing with a flat hammer over a round stake) areas near the outer edge is obvious, but the making of a flat sheet into a similar bowl can happen without raising. Even turning the outer edge out and down can be done by adjusting the widths in the fold pattern.

Rick Crawford's picture

Fold Forming

I am having trouble understanding how to fold form something like you did here. How can you fold something on other than a straight line? Are you using repousse tools to create the folds or something like that? And what is a t-fold? I have more questions than anything else.

I only wish I had as much money as questions, I would quit working for others and start getting some answers by trial and error.

Rick Crawford at Smoky Forge

Gene Olson's picture

There are several ways to go

There are several ways to go about it.
Marilyn suggested a good one for radial symmetry like this and then there is the way I did it.

I started the folds by tracing them with a hammer and stake moving along the bend line making the bend. kind of like if you took a spoon and clamped it in a vice, laid a piece of foil on it, and then pressed down with a finger just to the side of the tip. It would start a fold at that spot.
If you move the piece over the contact point following a line, you will start a bend in that pattern. It is point deformation.

Marilyn suggested bending a piece of steel strap to match the radial curve and sharpening the edges, then pounding the metal down over the edge of the strap with a soft hammer; after which you would move to the next location and repeat til done. Additional folding work would be required but you would get your geometry and a start all in one go.


Gene Olson, Sculptor
Elk River, MN

visitor's picture

I just acquired a small

I just acquired a small Nekrassoff bowl formed much like the one from the Institute. I agree with you Gene that it was formed by scoring and creasing. On close examination it is obvious how it was made. I must try one of these soon.


Fred Zweig's picture

Here is an image of the

Here is an image of the Nekrassoff bowl I acquired.

Copper bowl Nekrassoff


Fred Zweig

Fred Zweig's picture

Specs of Dish


The dish is a bit smaller than 6" dia. 18 gauge. The chased lines are suprisingly crude and the overall effect is quite successful.


Fred Zweig

Will Jones's picture

It's certainly a beautiful

It's certainly a beautiful thing. I wouldn't pretend I could do anything like it.. but I do have another suggestion for beginning the curved fold lines (similar to Marilyn's) for anyone who wants to try.

Easiest way is to draw the pattern on the piece, then bend pieces of wire to match the curves. Just sellotape them to the piece in the right position, and hammer'em in over a block of lead or wood stump.

Once you've got those well defined creases it's amazing what you can persuade an annealed piece of copper to do!

(not my idea - think I saw it on a dvd of a Lewton Brain demo)

Will Jones

warren's picture


Fred, Great to know you get to have one for your collection. From the picture you would not know that it is only 4" diameter. Looks bigger but being that small then you realize how it could be made.

www Metalrecipes -- heat and beat to the desired shape, repeat as necessary.

Fred Zweig's picture


I have just found documentation on how Serge Nekrassoff made this style of bowl in the late 1940s. I need to scan the article and will publish it. The bowl he demonstrates is identical to the bowl attributed to Karl Nikrassoff at the Minneapolis Museum. It would be great to see what mark is on the bowl at the museum. Serge Nekrassoff's script mark has often been mistaken as reading Nikrassoff. I wonder who made the attibution for the Museum.

Fred Zweig

Fred Zweig's picture

Nekrassoff article.

This article in a 1949 magazine illustrates the steps Serge Nekrassoff used to make the swirling copper bowl.







Fred Zweig

QuiQue's picture

Thanks Fred for taking the

Thanks Fred for taking the time and energy to share this wonderful article! We really appreciate your efforts on sharing the amazing techniques of repouse.

Fred Zweig's picture

Enrique, I am an historian


I am an historian of metalsmithing and metalsmiths as well as a practicing metalsmith. I know the debt I owe to all those who preceeded me and am grateful to them and all the current smiths who are willing to share their knowledge and skills.

Thank you for providing this excellent forum for sharing.


Fred Zweig

B.J. Severtson's picture

Thanks Fred

Thanks for doing the research. Fold forming is still a passion of mine. Brad

Fred Zweig's picture

9" diameter Nekrassoff bowl

I just received an identical bowl featured in the article. and it is remarkable to see how it was made and would love to know the shape of the stake he worked on to create the shapes. I will post image when I can.


Fred Zweig

visitor's picture

small bowl

We have acquired this small bowl and while cleaning it found Nikrassoff on the back. I would like to find out more information if possible and I am not sure where to start. Any help would be appreciated. I could also take a photo and send it if that would help.

Thank You

marilyn's picture

I really enjoyed reading the

I really enjoyed reading the article. Thanks for taking the time to scan and post it.



Rich Waugh's picture

I really liked this article,

I really liked this article, too. I don't know how I missed it when Fred first posted it, but I'm cure glad it came to the top again so I could see it. Very nicely done article about a truly talented metalsmith. On top of that, the ads in the magazine were entertaining and nostalgic for me - I grew up reading those ads in magazines like Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Electronics Illustrated, etc.

Thanks for posting that article, Fred!


visitor's picture

Copper Bowl

I have this exact bowl as pictured in the top photo. It is as large as the one pictured. My Grandmother gave it to me about 15 or so years ago.

It's beautiful.

Lisa K Ferrari
Burlington, WI