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Metal working as an art form

Updated on May 26, 2008

Iron Art

Iron work has made dramatic changes over the last century. What began as a means to create rudimentary tools and implements of war has been replaced by mechanical machines. Just as the horse disappeared from our streets, so has the blacksmith. In recent years, the metal worker has moved away from his utilitarian role and developed into as artist.

Just as a painter daubs his brush and a potter spins his wheel, the metal worker has tools unique to his art. These tools have names like tongs, swage, hardies, and anvil. The brute physical force that formerly was required of a blacksmith has been replaced by hydraulic hammers that have the might of ten men. Hours of laborious work has been exchanged for electric welders and metal grinders. The innovation of thes tools has made it possible for simple, lifeless matter to be refined and transformed to objects of beauty.

As the painter seeks out a model, the artist metal worker looks to nature.. He forms delicate flowers or animals, incorporating them into his work. At the beginning of every project, whether simple or complex, design is of the utmost concern. A simple gate must blend into its environment. Is it a contemporary, art deco, or old-world setting? The proportions must be right; spindly bars cannot be positioned next to a massive stone wall. The design must be symmetrical and consistent throughout. It must be fluid, each scroll flowing into the next. If this design concept is followed, its artistic value will be obvious.

The best of designs will fail if workmanship is compromised. The heart of a metal craftsman's shop is his forge and anvil. After the steel bars are cut to length, the bars are heated in the forge to a red heat. Once removed, the bars must be worked quickly, bending them at will, until as if defiant they cool and must be reheated. As the metal is worked and reworked it begins to take form.The heating and hammering give the metal a unique textured surface that brings life to the work. With the aid of the heat and skilled hands the crude metal evolves into an intricate design. Almost any motif can be formed, limited only by one's creative ability and skill.

The traditional blacksmith is gone, yet his craft is not lost. The methods and tools have changed, but the love for the black metal has not. Forges burn hot and anvils sing out with the sweet sound of hammer blows. His medium is iron, and his canvas is homes and buildings. The modern metal worker has made his mark in the twenty-first century. His wares are no longer simple tools, but have become so much more. Whether a simple gate or a dramatic staircase, it is a thing of beauty and a work of art.

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