My blacksmithing career began in the early 1970's when I forged a few tools from some old metalwork- ing files to use as chisels for sculpting marble. Since then I’ve been very fortunate to have gotten the op- portunity to create many satisfying projects in wrou- ght iron for people all over Arizona and the United States. This journey has taken me from my own shop here in Prescott, Arizona to around the globe; work- ing in a large ornamental forging shop in Germany, to working and teaching in a very primitive shop in the Philippines.
Today, a career in art-smithing isn’t entirely one spent before the forge and anvil, but also a lifelong study of art and architecture, of ornament and design, of technique and construction practicalities. I have been so lucky to have traveled many times across the U.S. and abroad examining some of the most astounding metalwork ever made, touring con- temporary European and American forging shops, see- ing the very greatest in new ideas. Just as valuable, are the connections with the Filipino smiths who combine their amazing ingenuity with the very basic of tools to create the items for everyday survival.
When I sit down to design a project, all of the time spent at the anvil, all of the great works I have studied, all of the brilliant smiths I have known, mingle and play, coalescing to stoke the fires of my imagination………
Just as imagination is important to an artistic endeavor in site-specific metalwork, the artist black- smith must fully partner with the architect, interior designer or builder to conceive a workable plan for the project. The smith needs to be able to read blue- prints and understand construction techniques to best translate the designer’s vision into reality. The gate, railing, or whatever, is not separate from the environment in which it is to be placed, but an integ- ral part of the entire concept. The artist blacksmith brings their own creativity and talent, knowledge and experience to fulfill the goals of the team dynamic.
“Ornament is the means by which beauty or signi- ficance is imparted to utility. It is either symbolical or aesthetic. Symbolic ornament consists of elements or forms chosen for the sake of their significance---aesthetic ornament consists of forms or elements chosen for their beauty alone, or their power of appealing to the senses.” Richard Glazier from “A Manual of Historic Ornament”
Hand wrought architectural metalwork is very time consuming! Modern power tools have certainly helped to quicken the pace but forging iron will always be a laborious task. When undertaking a building project, get the metal artist involved from the very onset so details can be attended to, for example; sub-grade preparations made before the concrete is poured, or measurements that can’t be taken later, or walls that need support backing before they are finished. To ignore the very smallest of details can lead to a very poor result or loss of time.
Of course nothing ever goes exactly right or every little detail thought of and that’s precisely when having thirty plus years-of-experience comes in handy. They say a master is one who can fix his own mistakes. One only becomes a master after years at a job. There is no other way. You have to put in the time. Today the quality of construction that is gener ally accepted has dipped to a lower standard, mostly due to time issues. Many of the techniques I use are unknown to modern builders because they aren’t the fastest way to do something. But they are tried and true and have worked through the ages. My advice: use the best materials, use the best tools, do the research to find the best resources, and do the best job you can do no matter what.
Estimating the cost of a one-of-a-kind wrought ironwork project can be very difficult and time con- suming, it is a calculation of materials and time (labor) i.e., designing, engineering, production, and installation. Even with years of experience one can only really conjure up a summation with the known numbers and a good guess, because in all art there is always an amount of spontaneity active in the creative process. And sure it would be nice to be given carte blanche, or at least get paid time and materials, but I’ve never run into that. Customers want to know how much it’s going to cost. I do the very best I can to come up with a price and I stick by it. I do not give “ballpark estimates.”
Once the initial concept or item is agreed upon with all parties, the design stage begins. On small jobs sometimes a quick sketch is all that is needed, other jobs require full-scale drawings or shop draw-ings to proceed. On very large and multi-faceted jobs, I like to receive a design retainer to pay for research and drawing throughout the project. A quick sketch is free, full-scale drawings and shop drawings are billed by the hour. Payment schedules are deter- mined by overall cost and or progress reports, larger amounts are divided into installments paid over the course of the job, smaller amounts require sixty per- cent down before the work starts. Changes made by the client after the work has started will be assessed and billed at the hourly shop rate and all balances are due upon completion.
Fine hand wrought architectural metalwork is ex- pensive and accurately regarded as “high end.” True now, true through the ages, truly worth it.
“It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.” Martin Van Buren
custom, site-specific designs in wrought iron for distinctive settings
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© 2009 Brian Hughes