1. When did you start smithing?While a student at Ontario College of Art in the late 1970's.
I was not encouraged there (in fact only received a passing grade in metal studio on the provision I 'not return'.)
What drew you into this work?Initially it was the functionality of the medium. It also turned out I had an affinity for the combination of technical and artistic aspects of this work. The almost infinite flexibility of steel when forged that inspires so many creative possibilities.
What is your specialty?Objects based on or inspired by history, most specifically North European from the period 600 - 1000 AD. My contemporary work (architectural and decorative) echoes the design traditions of Celtic and Nordic artifacts. One absolutely unique area is my work with self made bloomery iron.
What do you enjoy the most about this work?With practice comes skill, and usually my artistic vision flows from my mind through my hands into the metal as it is shaped (relatively) easily. The plastic nature of hot metal while being forged contrasts the extreme durability of the material when cold. Objects well made have a life time measured in decades, if not centuries. I am drawn to create objects that are at core functional, but at the same time are beautiful to look at.
I was part of a generation of blacksmiths (in Canada at least) who had to essentially re-invent the trade from the ground up. This primarily because the traditional chain of Master to Apprentice had been broken here through the 1940's to 60's (considered my father's generation). Even basic working techniques were only recovered through many trials and considerable errors - experience that was hard won. There is often a sensitivity to materials and processes buried in 'old wisdom' that is the result of many lifetimes of practical experience. I consider it a responsibility to ensure what I have learned (often painfully!) is passed to younger hands.
2. Why do you think it is important to keep the old skills and traditions alive?
At the most basic, we never know when skills acquired in the past might prove a necessity to a rapidly changing future.
What do they offer us in the modern word?
There are many methods of constructing an object using forging that simply produce higher quality in the end product. This is most obvious in tool making - inset hard cutting edges hammer welded intimately into softer supporting frameworks. Metal shaped hot is not subjected to the same stresses to materials forced while cold. In many cases it is just not possible (or extremely wasteful) to make the kind of extreme shapes possible through forging by any other methods.
In a world that increasingly holds the paradox of disposablility against shrinking resources, well executed forge work offers extreme durability. The material processing leading up to the creation of a forged object may prove considerable, but the long working lifetime of that object represents a wise investment.
The reality of life for the modern Artisan / Maker is always a combination of creating what the soul inspires to - and what the marketplace demands. On any given day my work might range from simple hooks for historic re-enactors to functional architectural railings to experimental archaeology research to pure artistic objects. Time actually with hammer in hand is bracketed into all the mechanics of running a business - a productive day is commonly only one with 20 - 25 % of the time spent actually in the workshop. People often mis-understand that what seems fast working is actually the result of decades of endless repetition with each task.
3. Any other info you might like to toss in,
All these factors need to be taken into account when considering the very 'real cost' of any object from an artisan's hands.
Twenty hours getting ready for the work.