Saturday, January 22, 2011

Art in Steel

I don't work off of Blueprints and don't consider myself a fabricator.  I don't work on cars and have never made a trailer.  I learned about design in Ornamental decorative iron work from reading books.  I learned to weld by just doing in, trial and error until I got good at it.  Iron work has its own "Art History" and it is pretty interesting.
    It began as a secretive trade, part of the metallurgy turning lead into gold type of work.  It became a criminal offence to share the secretes of this trade.  No jail in those days, you died.  They were pretty serious.  I think it was like an electricians' union.  You convince people it is difficult and they won't try it and you can charge more money.  In the Middle Ages every little city had an iron worker.  That is how you got the shoes for your horse.  It was the guy who made your sword and the source for the gates around your estate.  These were individual artists, each developing their own methods and artistic flair. The designs were not just pretty elements added to the iron work.  They were an integral part of its strength.  Today we remove the design, take the art out of it and add cross bars to attempt this strength.
   It wasn't until the seventeenth century that Architects attempted to take over the business of iron work.  Yes, they had problems with city planers in those days too.  They lost a lot of their individual styles, what a particular iron forger might dream up, as architects and city planers took over the trade.  This remained that way until the early part of the Twentieth Century when Art Deco and Art Nouveau rebelled against this situation and once again new forms of this very old trade emerged.
     Today it seems we are back to the city planers and what I would find in my city, you will find in yours.  It is pretty much the same now all over the world, people building the same stuff.  Mass importation and cheap foreign products have encouraged this sameness.  That Cosco Arbor is everywhere, in backyards all over the world right next to the white plastic lawnchair.  Pretty amazing, really!
   I can't get excited about building stuff like that.  I can't draw worth a damn although I can make a sketch and always tell my clients that it will look "something like the drawing".  I promise them code compliance and it will be strong, on time and on budget, but I need license to work.
    I start the project at night as I get ready for bed.  I put myself there.  Seriously, I am at the top of the stairs
or wherever the job may be, and I just have a good old look around.  I don't do the measurements in my sleep but I do dream about it, placing bits of steel here and there and maybe twisting them to see what they may look like, just collecting ideas.  Sometimes I can do this in one night and sometimes it could take a week.  I know when it is done and I wake up and I am full of energy and I have already built it.
    I don't weld on a table, hunched over the piece like most fabricators.  I have a steel wall in my shop, a vertical wall and my work hangs there as if a painting on an easel.  I add bits and pieces and stand back and look at it, see what it needs to be.  There are no drawings, no blueprints, the only confinement is a measurement.  It has to fit.

More of my work is HERE.


Barbra Joan said...

Thanks. for the history lesson in iron work.. Whatever it is it becomes a work of art from your hands. I've seen many photos of your gates, arbors etc.. each one is unique and stands out.I think if I were still living on the west coast I would recognize your 'art' if I saw it. To me that says 'you've arrived'!!!! You have !!!

Maundering mutterer said...

Do you cast that? How many pieces is that? Is that cast iron or steel? Curious! A nice touch for that fence so that it's not just an unfriendly looking thing.

stonepost said...

Andrea, the gate is in hundreds of pieces! The Finials are cast steel, a little easier to weld than cast iron, the difference is the carbon content, and, regretfully the finials are made in China, so I am not innocent there. The leaves are cut from steel, heated up and bashed a bit and I often put ball bearings here and there as a part of the flower.
Lots more details of this on my other site. Can I build ya something? I would love an excuse to go to S.A.!!!

Constance Stanza Extravaganza Extraordinaire said...

Jerry there is a wonderful dissertation about mediaeval ironmongers here which gives a very interesting account of it in England:

I'm very glad to see your butterflies, I think you could become world famous with those :-)

Clipped Wings said...

Your welding technique sounds perfect for an artist. A little like the quilters who are artists working without a plan, piecing their quilts together on a wall. Interesting lesson in metal. I have evolved into an art deco lover myself. I can't have plastic in my yard, there's just something about it I cannot stand. Give me rebar, concrete, rocks, metals and wood. All that is created from earth herself. I had a pressure washer person once offer to clean my concrete patio. I asked him if he was crazy...all that lichen, cracks, and plants growing between the cracks is what gives it character, and makes it art in my eyes.

rama said...

I don't know why I am reminded of the architect of the famous Golden Gate Bridge.
At the completion of his mighty bridge, Joseph Strauss penned an impressive ode which he entitled “The Mighty Task Is Done”; it epitomizes his personal travail in building the bridge and makes of the structure almost a living thing. From his poem, these lines give evidence of the dedication of the man who brought the bridge from his brain and heart as well as from his drawing board:
At last the might task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun;
The Bridge looms mountain high
On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride
Throughout all time to be....
Only thing missing in your case is the drawing board, I suppose, isn't it Jerry?