Appalachian Center for Craft

Gallery Two



March 14- July 19, 2019 | Meta-formation: Experiments and Rituals | A juried show of contemporary steel, organized by Rachel David. Panel discussion March 14, 10 am to noon, reception immediately after, from noon to 1 pm. The show features the work of more than thirty metal artists  from the United States, Europe and Australia. 

  • To share new works of forged metal that reveal technical and artistic innovations, and
  • To  help educate the public and art professionals with the exhibition and conversations with some of the artists, many of whom have novel approaches to teaching, and building community.

The field of blacksmithing is in flux. The word flux is rooted in the Latin “fluxus” meaning continual change. Flux is also a vital term in smithing; it is an additive that can be a medium for cleaning and purifying as well  as a flowing agent in preparation for firewelding, the most form- shifting operation. This analogy seems apt for this exhibition and the current state of smithing. There is a newness and tension in current work being made, reflecting changes in how  practitioners want their work and themselves to be viewed. There is a reformation, regrouping and reconstruction, a clearing of old assumptions of what blacksmiths make, creating new expectations for practitioners as artists, designers, craftspeople and considerate individuals.  Each artist exhibited here goes through their ritual of making, creating the work from a blank slate and the raw material. There is a series of technical and aesthetic experiments that is apparent in contemporary blacksmithing practice. Blacksmiths are upsetting expectations, and creating a supportive and increasingly inclusive community while working in an ancient craft.

New Goals for Blacksmiths

There is a sub-culture in the smithing community, some very young and some more seasoned, who are defying the public perception of what a blacksmith looks like and does.  Traditionally, blacksmiths have been represented by men (with big beards) making tools, large and small, ornamental and architectural ironwork. Smiths, in the late 20th century, such as Albert Paley, and Tom Joyce began to move away from exclusively functional work, creating artistic pieces that were either purely sculptural or used an artistic vocabulary to produce functional work. 

In the United States, in the mid 20th century, the country was left with few working smiths who were able to pass on their knowledge to a new generation.  In the early 1960s, Brent Kington at the University of Southern Illinois, Carbondale, IL, established the first graduate program for metalsmiths which has continued and grown.  In addition, established practitioners such as exhibitors Jeffrey Funk, Daniel Miller, and Elizabeth Brim share work with countless students in various ways, and have influenced many of the people in this show.  Their work is shown alongside their students and admirers as they are some of those who birthed the resurgence in concern for concept, craft, and quality in this field.

Meta-Formation: Experiments and Rituals is more than a representation of what is happening currently, it is a step forward in anticipation of what is going to happen. By featuring many educators and young artists, this exhibition examines the place that smiths occupy in the artistic community today.   Historically, most cultures incorporate a god of fire and/or metal who is integral to their creation mythology. The Mande and Yoruba cultures from West Africa have had a culturally vital smithing tradition, the greco-roman gods Hephaestus and Vulcan were blacksmiths, and in the Hebrew Torah, Tubal-Cain was the original smith.  In ancient vedic tradition on the Indian subcontinent, the smith Tvastr or Vishvakarma was the heavenly builder.  These mythic traditions influence contemporary smiths and the perception of smiths in today’s society (and add to the tension perceptible in this exhibition).  There is intricate and impressive ironwork from around the world. Much of it in Asian, Indian, and African traditions was made for beauty, ceremony and deity adulation rather than war and violence, occupation, and colonization that Europeans focused on.  Thusly, as contemporary television reinforces, the public assumes tools of violence and otherwise are the main focus of contemporary blacksmithing practice. This is what euro-centric white male supremacy exacerbated by global capitalism looks like and deconstructing that mis-representation in the blacksmithing community comes with direct conversation, education, and action and is an explicit intention of this exhibition.

Many of the people represented in this exhibition are doing important work in their communities, as noted in wall texts associated with their individual pieces.   They are educators, activists, and advocates who work to bring others into the fold through education and outreach. There are many examples where people work together to use the passion they have for blacksmithing to make change in the field and in the world. The following  five endeavors are examples of how blacksmiths are directing their activism.

Society of Inclusive Blacksmiths

Exhibiting artist Lisa Geertsen of Pratt in Seattle,  Anne Bujold, resident artist at the Appalachian Center for Craft and Rachel David organized an event that took place  August 15-18 of 2018 where 12 women founded the Society of Inclusive Blacksmiths. Founding members include exhibiting artist and Panelist at the Appalachian Center for Craft Monica Coyne (CA), Ann Klicka (WI), Alice Garrett (Vic-AUS), Heather MacLarty (CA), Leslie Tharpe (FL), Ryna Kady (WA), Lynda Metcalfe (NC), and Caitlin Morris (MD).  The Society of Inclusive Blacksmiths, while currently in its nascence, is an umbrella group intentionally supporting equity, diversity and inclusion in the field of blacksmithing. We foster honest professional discussion and take actions to diversify the community by creating space with a certain code of conduct and work to include and create opportunities for women, particularly women of color, trans and gender non-conforming people, to safely learn and practice in a non-gendered space.  This group will act as a resource and referral network for the whole smithing community and to intentionally support underrepresented groups in their pursuit of smithing.

Austin Metal Authority and the Austin Forging Competition

Haley Woodward, Artist, Blacksmithing Teacher at the Austin Community College, co-founder of the Austin Metal Authority has worked with friend, artist, and co-founder Colby Brinkman, and Community First Forge founder Evan Wilson to start the Austin Forging Competition.  Beginning in 2010, smiths from all over the country participate by sharing and exchanging ideas. Drawing around a thousand spectators each year the event promotes the Community First Village, a intentional community helping to house Austin’s formerly homeless population. The Austin Forging Competition provides Austin with an opportunity to have a much needed dialog with metalworkers from across the country.

Looking Forward Iron Symposium

 Mike Rossi is working with Warren Holzman and John Rais to host the “Looking Forward” symposium at Bryn Athyn Cathedral in Montgomery County, PA to “take a broad look at our field and exchange ideas. The objective is to spark discussion related to the current state of our practice, to access where metalworking is heading in the 21st century, and how our process informs metal design in architectural work, furniture or sculpture.”

Center for Metal Arts

Patrick Quinn and Daniel Neville, both graduates of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, took over the Center for Metal Arts in Johnstown Pennsylvania three years ago, and saw great potential for a teaching facility.  With a firm belief in “quality work starts with quality tooling,” Pat and Dan use this philosophy to forge the best possible tooling for the Center for Metal Arts. Trying to give all the students the best quality education is atop their priority list and they work tirelessly to try to make the Center for Metal Arts the best forging classroom it can be.”

The New Agrarian School

Jeffrey Funk of Montana, a long time practitioner who looks deeply at the craft with a holistic practice, now facilitates a school called The New Agrarian School.  This school is dedicated to fostering development of contemporary forged metalworking while both reaching into history and creating a more sustainable future.  An important focus of this school addresses fuel usage and climate change. Historically, industrial “progress”, and the necessity of the smith in that process created an allowance for incredible fuel usages. Today, as we face the repercussions of such largess and where our industrial history has brought us, the New Agrarian School aims to use blacksmithing and eventually other crafts to aid the transition to a post-carbon fuel world.

These righteous projects bring us back to the tension and responsibility present in blacksmithing today.  The divide between contemporary art and design/ material arts that some might see in conflict with traditional tool making and function does not exist.  Each maker performs each necessary task to accomplish the goal at hand. Ultimately there is a calling to do more and be more and to work towards a greater good.  The effort, not only to educate, but to effect a systemic shift in practice and perception, seems widespread in the subculture of smithing in the 21st century. The desire of smiths to practice sustainably, to do wild work, or to practice their passions is hampered by the need to make a living.  This is not systemic only in the states. This exhibition represents international artists and the tension is present world wide.

Meta-Formation: Experiments and Rituals is opening at the Appalachian Center for Craft, Smithville, TN on the evening of March 14 with a panel discussion that morning.  Panelists include Zach Lihatsh, Tuscon AZ, Monica Coyne, CA, and Daniel Randall, TN. The Craft Center serves as a vital meeting place for artisans and makers.  The saying “by hammer and hand all trades do stand” implies blacksmiths are the tool maker for all other makers chisels for the woodworker, snips for the glass artist and garden tools for the gardner, all made by the smith.  These tools in the hands of today’s smiths become works of art in and of themselves. Artists delving deep into community, inclusion, environmental sustainability, and education will ultimately drive changes in the public perception of blacksmithing.  

Acknowledgements

This exhibition came together with the help, trust, belief, and advice of Debra Ruzinsky, Director of the Appalachian Center for Craft, Delyth Done, curator of “Forge” and “the Transition” exhibitions and Blacksmithing Program Director at Hereford College of Art, and Carissa Hussong director of the Metals Museum in Memphis Tennessee.   The Jurors, Hoss Haley, Andrew Cooperman, and Sarah Darro worked diligently to choose passionate, original works from over a hundred submissions. Their words can be found in the catalogue for this exhibition which will be for sale online.



References

Society of Inclusive Blacksmiths; www.inclusiveblacksmiths.com

Center for Metal Arts: www.centerformetalarts.org

The New Agrarian School : www.newagrarianschool.org

Looking Forward Symposium:  www.ironsymposium.com