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Roberta Elliot, Blacksmith

What do you get when you cross a tennis player with an artist? A blacksmith. Throw in a lifetime gardener and that blacksmith works in an organic style with a nature theme. The first time I struck iron, I was smitten. There is something wonderfully indescribable about the energy exchange that takes place while blacksmithing. The heat from the fire and the force of the hammer’s blow feed and energize me.

My primary material is mild steel. I particularly enjoy using pipe. This hollow material gives an impression of mass without the actual weight and provides an additional surface (the interior) with its own potential to be worked. It is a form that requires a gentle and patient hammer blow, so it doesn’t collapse. Currently, I use only recycled pipe; the other ends are running around in John Deere tractors.

The versatility of mild steel allows it to take the bold shapes usually associated with ironwork, as well as the soft, feminine lines for which I strive. My work often contains botanical references, and I create images that evoke continuing growth. Each heat of the metal offers an opportunity to explore. The results can be unexpected, opening up an entirely new path leading to the spontaneity evident in many of my creations.

Then there is the fascination of forge welding. I am amazed every time I successfully perform this weld, in which two or more pieces are heated to 2600 degrees, carefully introduced to each other and firmly hammered into a single unit. Vigilance and focus are required; uncertainty and excitement are part of the process. I try to incorporate at least one forge weld in every piece I design. I use this process to introduce texture and images to the surface of my work.

In making my spoons, I push pipe in many directions. I forge out its center hole, split and taper one end and flatten and drift a ring on the other end. For the “bowl” I forge weld expanded steel, leaves or butterflies together or introduce playful human figures.

My trees incorporate steel shavings and wires to grow the canopy. Successive layers are forge welded onto thin sheet, often building up a ¼” layer. Some chunks come off in the cleaning process, opening up the canopy in various areas. I use an abrasive brass technique, vegetable oil and the natural tempering colors for the patina.