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IRON MAN Q & A

Written by Karen Marley
Imagery by Dylan Buyskes, Onion Studio

Blacksmiths symbolize history and tradition wrapped around iron’s strength and longevity. DesignNY recently caught up with Andy Chambers of Arc Iron Creations. Chambers represents a new breed of blacksmiths; artisans bringing original, handcrafted, personally designed pieces to the home as functional artwork.
    Despite 17 years of experience, it was years before Chambers referred to himself as a blacksmith. His designs are exquisite – ranging from artistic swirls to elegant railings, gates, table bases, shelving, and more, adorned with iron frozen into dynamic basket weaves, modern lines, or blooming roses. He has even created the gate at the Lincoln catafalque in Washington D.C.
Q: What exactly is blacksmithing?
A: It’s the practice of forging iron through heat and compression to manipulate and make design elements, both functional and artistic. Modern methods include welding.
Q: It seems the popularity of forged iron is experiencing a surge. Why is this?
A: People are attracted to the level of craftsmanship and look to iron for the feel of “forever.”  These pieces become family heirlooms. There’s an identity in the history. Ironwork has progressed over time. For centuries, blacksmiths made all the tools for everything: needles, thimbles, hammers, cooking utensils, horseshoes, you name it. By the 1960s machinery nearly rendered it a dead art but there was a resurgence in the 1970s. Now more people are getting involved.
Q: What do blacksmiths make?
A: Anything! Gates, fences, shelving, fireplaces, sculpture, railings, furniture, accent pieces.
Q: How does someone find a blacksmith?
A: There is no accreditation program, so exercise due diligence! There are many hobbyists but very few professional blacksmiths. There’s a big learning curve. Joinery (the process of assembling components into a whole) is what really identifies blacksmithing. That and toolmaking. Blacksmiths need a specific tool, they must know how to make their own. A professional blacksmith is accomplished at both.
    Ask for pictures. Go to the shop. Everyone has their own interpretation even if using similar techniques. You’re really purchasing a blacksmith’s knowledge, skill and time.
Q: You’re a blacksmith. What is your background in training?
A: I grew up welding and working on bicycles. Eventually I found an old anvil and with it, my spark for forging. After a year of just making things up, I took a blacksmithing class at the Touchstone Center for Crafts in Pennsylvania. I learned a lot, and then applied my skills to helping a friend build a house. I repeated the class a couple years later. My experience deepened when I went to California to spend a week with a blacksmith master. It was a life-changing experience. For my generation, the only avenue to becoming a blacksmith was taking classes at a craft school and hoping to get a great teacher. I put a lot of effort into learning and got lucky. 

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