The collector: Raymon Elozua, visual artist, upstate New York (USA)
The collection: Stove Burners
The story behind the collection...
I collect stove burners, mainly cast iron. A stove burner is the physical means by which gas is dispersed in a pattern to heat a cooking pot. All stove burners have a valve with a knob to control the amount of gas, thus flame pattern and heat.
The collection started in a very accidental way with one sterling example and now comprises of over 200 pieces.
Counter Top burner #065
I grew up in South Chicago, an industrial center of heavy industry; US Steel, Wisconsin Steel, Ford Motor Company, International Harvester, Lever Brothers and many others. Our neighborhood was always covered with a fine film of soot. My father worked at US Steel and I worked at Inland Steel for one summer. Our neighborhood was also the locus for the car culture. Every one had a hot rod, muscle car or motorcycle in their back yard garages. The artistry of mechanical parts was always revealed in the disassembly of motors; camshafts, pistons and crankshafts, all had the beauty of a long lost sculpture.
Broiler burner #001
In 1968, for a period of time I collected scrap metal to get by. Ripping out old laundry stoves from a building that was part of the ghetto, I stumbled on a very unusual stoveburner (above), almost African in appearance. Since I had artistic aspirations, I thought I might be able to use it in a sculpture. Moving to New York in 1969, I took that burner with me. I ended up living on the Bowery. At that time New York was run down with many apartments being abandoned, as well as others being renovated. The streets were littered with old appliances. My neighborhood was also a restaurant supply district so large scale appliances, French fryers, candy stoves and hot water heaters were always being discarded.
Commercial burner #109
I had a small group of mechanical parts, a Ford bell housing, a Plymouth slant six intake manifold, a BSA piston and connecting rod as well as my first stove burner. By default NYC is not a car culture unless you lived in Queens. Walking and pedaling the streets I would look at the old gas appliances and examine the burners to see if they were an interesting shape. I started picking them up first from residential stoves and then from commercial appliances.
Overhead burners #014 & #056, Commercial burners #059 & #014, Space Heater burners #094 & #005a
At first I justified collecting the shapes as materials to use in constructing sculptures. But slowly I came to appreciate their hidden beauty. Someone had designed, and then sculpted this simple functional shape, which is hidden from the view of the user. Since at first most burners were cast iron, I became aware of the lost art of pattern making, the carving in wood of a part to be used in casting, a process now done in 3-D computer printing. The stove burners took on even more significance. Later I collected newer burners made of aluminum to show a continuum of design and fabrication.
Counter Top burner #024
Labor and craftsmanship is generally devalued in America. Our heroes are the financiers who manipulate paper instruments, not the individual who can carve or machine a part to specified tolerances and dimensions - to then work in conjunction with other parts that will become a useful machine. In my house I have displayed 20 typical burners on stands. I am still amazed when so many visitors cannot recognize what they are.
Counter Top Gas burners #020, #007, #053, #023, #031a & #071
As the collection grew, I categorized it into the different types of burners for the various types of gas appliances I was scavenging. The only regret I have is that I did not document the manufacturer of each appliance.
Broiler burner #014
I have a number of other collections I have built too; music CD’s, labor and fine art photo books, electric guitars and motorcycles. Some are small, some I have sold or discontinued collecting. My favorite though are the ones like stove burners, rusty buckets, washing machine agitators, drive in speakers and plastic beach shovels that do not involve money and have no monetary value to the world at large. As a collector I have no control in acquiring any of these objects, random chance is the arbiter. I cannot buy these items nor despite the temptation have I used Ebay to build up the collection. Every object was obtained for “free.” In fact the only way to acquire these items is to search the detritus of our society to assemble the collection thereby creating both personal meaning as well as reflecting on the temporality of everything.
Today I use photography to “acquire” and “collect” images of abandoned hotels, bungalows and chicken coops located in the Catskills “Borscht Belt,” in upstate New York and periodically I come across new and unusual stove burners to add to the collection.
Hot Water burner #008
View Raymon's website here
You can buy Raymon's Stove Burner book here
Images © Raymon Elozua