Exclusive Interview with silversmith Kirk Burkett

Kirk Burkett

Kirk Burkett is a trained jeweler by trade sine 1975. His mentor was none other than Bruno Sabonas, descended from the House of Fabergé. Kirk has developed his skills in crafting a unique piece from scratch to almost perfection, finishing each separate steps (whether that be polishing enamel, soldering shanks, or setting stones) by himself. Many of his counterparts at Fabergé and Cartíer tend to specialize in one of these steps, rather than mastering them all.

Our company has been collaborating with Kirk since 2010, but many years before that he had started to work with our partner, David Nathan-Maister. Kirk Burkett creates unique absinthe accessories from scratch, using his own hands. The range of spoons and grilles is entirely made of Sterling silver. Take a look at his fantastic pieces in our absinthe spoon section.

The tools of Kirk’s trade are equally important as his talent – he took great care in selecting each piece for his 100 year-old lathe – he sourced them one by one.

Absinthes.com: Dear Kirk, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. We’ve been business partners for quite some time now. We first started selling your silver artwork in 2010, and before you worked with David Nathan-Maister on selling your pieces via the Virtual Absinthe Museum since 2004.

You’re a jeweler by trade since 1975, and in a blog article I read that you used to be a bit of a vagabond, travelling through the US knocking on Jeweler’s shop doors and shutters, asking if they needed help. Is this true? How long were you“on the road“ for?

Kirk: I was on the road for about 12 years, I had a portable work bench, loose stones and gold, every day I would be at a different event, the store would have appointments made ahead of time for people to bring in their old jewelry and I would take it apart and create something new, while they watched. We would start at 9 AM and often continue til after midnight, when I finished I was usually a hundred miles or more away from the next event, the next day.

Kirk’s Artemisia Absinthe Spoon

Absinthes.com: When did you personally discover your love for refined silver artwork related to Absinthe? Helping out at a jeweler’s creating heirloom pieces isn’t quite the same one might think.

Kirk: It was an accident, the first piece was the “Artemis Grille“. I had joined an online absinthe forum called FeeVerte.net and wasted no time in provoking the fora there,  many of whom had interesting avatars.  One particular interesting person was an early member and had helped to produce some of the translations of  foggy pre-ban writings about absinthe, he mentioned that he always thought his avatar would make a good spoon design and posted a picture of his concept,  it occurred to me when I saw the picture that I could make this piece, so I did, the next day I posted a flat bed scan of the actual spoon and everyone thought it was Photoshop, it was great fun, I eventually modified it to a grille at the suggestion of an experienced absinthe expert.  After that I started actively trying to design a spoon or grille  that could showcase my techniques of engraving and chasing, and enhance the sullied reputation of absinthe.

The Artemis Grille

Absinthes.com: Was this how David Nathan-Maister found out about you, and your talent then? How and when did he approach you with his idea to collaborate?

Kirk: I approached David after he commented about my work to a friend. I had always admired his ability to catolog and present his collection so I decided to turn all my absinthe related work over to him, exclusively.

Absinthes.com:  When and how did you discover absinthe?

Kirk: My best friend is a base player, in 2000 he was in Floyd VA with his band. He stayed at my house for a few days and  had commented that my garden had all the herbs needed for absinthe and asked me if I’d ever tried it. Like most, I knew about it but had no idea what it might taste like. He found a small bar pitcher in the cabinet which he filled with ice and water, he then selected a couple of wine glasses and tossed a pinch of sugar into the bottom of each, from his bag he took two small bottles and poured a tiny dose of La Clandestine from Betty into one, a shot of Deva in the other and began to trickle water into the glass, we each drank, talked and had an interesting time. To this day I’ve never had a better time drinking absinthe.

Absinthes.com: We know that you make each sterling silver piece on demand, meaning each one is unique. We’d love to know a bit more – what is the usual process of creating one of these beautiful spoons, for example, how long does it take you on average?

Kirk: The original model takes anywhere from 15 to 30 hours to create, once I have the original I make a rubber mold of it, that takes about 2 hours, from the rubber mold I take wax models and build those models into a tree, the tree is encased or invested in plaster (called investment) and burned out in a kiln at 1350F, that takes about 18 hours, once the wax tree is burned out the invested flask is placed in a centrifuge and molten metal is spun into it, replacing the wax with silver. The rough casting is exactly that; rough, a surface layer of oxide coats the whole piece and penetrates to a certain depth, this oxide is ground away, removing all the detail and leaving a blank form in the desired shape, now the piece is carved and engraved with sharp, specialised engravers such as the liner, onglette, etc.  After engraving and carving the piece is signed and dated, a semicolon then the persons name it is being made for, so the hallmark looks like this, in handwriting:  .925 Burkett ’13:  B. Wittel

Kirk’s studio in Virginia, USA

Absinthes.com: Which item of this range is the most difficult one and why?

Kirk: The Frénay Feuilles replica is by far the most difficult, it has to be a perfect reproduction so the removal of fire scale becomes a problem, large shiny areas are very difficult to create as opposed to a surface with a lot of engraved detail, each one has to be the same yet they are hand made and put through a process that would wither even the strongest implements.

A Frénay Feuille replica by Kirk Burkett

Absinthes.com:  Do you sit down with the deliberate aim to create a new original piece, or do you wait for inspiration to strike before even starting? Pan and Artemis seem to be inspired by ancient mythology and folklaw. Are there any particularly strong sources of inspiration you draw on?

Kirk: People are my inspiration, each of my grilles were inspired by a real person, the Pan Grille is the face of Offjackbatemaster, he actually looks like that. I can’t just sit down and make a design, it’s a long process, usually starts with a late night vision, or inspiration, sometimes the idea hovers in my mind, below the radar, then one day if I’m lucky it will move from a nebulous thought to an actual image, if I rush out to my shop and start working on it at that moment it may come into being, if I wait too long the vision looks silly to me and I don’t make it, I have to strike when all things come together at the same time or I am too embarrassed by the thought to do it later.

The Pan Grille looks stunning when placed on top of an absinthe glass

Absinthes.com: Though you’re a jeweler by trade, making silverware is actually more of a hobby – your „real“ job however is equally fascinating: You grow wormwood in the mountains of Virginia! How did you come up with this idea?

Kirk’s herb garden

Kirk: Years ago I always grew a large garden but I eventually quit doing it, it was hard work, I was young and food was cheap, why work so hard? As time passed the food I could buy at the store  got worse as it got more plentiful, I found it to be tasteless, and often heard it was dangerous, I was getting older and in poor condition so I decided to grow my own food for the excercise and the flavor, I grew all the herbs for absinthe for no reason at all, except they were interesting, I used them sparingly. When I discovered absinthe I was happy to find a use for all the herbs I’d been growing and throwing away, it seemed like a natural progression so I started offering them to distillers and perfumers. The herbs that can bought on the open market are sawdust, look like sawdust, smells like saw dust,  always ground up, brown and dead, what I release looks like a bouquet of fresh flowers, it’s whole and very fragrant.

Absinthes.com: How big is your herb garden?

Kirk: It’s a little over an acre, that’s about all I can till and weed by hand.

Kirk grows different herbs in his garden and offers them to distilleries or parfumeries.

Absinthes.com: You grow wormwood and most other herbs included in a typical absinthe recipe. What’s your typical type of customer? Mainly absinthe distilleries within the US? Of course we’re not asking you to reveal any secret information here.

Kirk: My typical and largest customers are three different Distillers in the US.

Absinthes.com:  Thank you for taking the time to speak to us and to help us understand what makes these spoons so special and precious. We look forward to more years of collaborated work, and would like to say thank you on behalf of the whole team behind Absinthes.com.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and that you could get a better feel for the uniqueness and effort, creating Kirk’s Sterling Silver spoons requires. In case you wonder – Kirk can take personal wishes, such as an engraving, into account, do feel free to contact us before ordering.

Discover Kirk’s Spoons here

3 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview with silversmith Kirk Burkett

  1. I have both the elephant grille and the Freney Feuille spoon and didn’t realize until reading this that my name is engraved in the grille. I love it more now if that’s even possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *