Contemporary blacksmithing: celebrating the intricate and complex details of hand forged objects

Contemporary blacksmithing: celebrating the intricate and complex details of hand forged objects

Many years ago we relied on blacksmiths to forge everyday objects, such as cooking utensils, gates, railings, tools and light fixtures. Today, modern machinery produces these items in a more cost effective way that is better able to keep up with the fast-paced demands of contemporary consumer culture.  However, in our shift to mass production, the character and uniqueness created through hand crafting in fields such as blacksmithing has dissipated.

Blacksmith and exhibiting artist in The Apprenticeship, David Bradley, focuses on the beauty and complexity of handmade details in his work. Leaving simple objects to machines that can mass produce them quickly and uniformly, David’s work honours the intricate decorative potential that is unique to the handmade processes of blacksmithing.

With very few formal apprenticeship models available for blacksmithing in Australia, David traveled extensively to acquire his skills and knowledge of the trade from various mentors. Richard and Aaron recently caught up with David to find out more about his pathway to acquiring these skills and his thoughts on the future of blacksmithing in Australia.

You can see David’s work at artisan in The Apprenticeship exhibition from 19 April to 25 June.


What drew you to blacksmithing?

I have been engaged in blacksmithing for about 18 years. Initially, I was drawn to this craft by an interest in Japanese swords and the skill with which they were produced.

 

Blacksmith David Bradley during the forging process. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Blacksmith David Bradley during the forging process. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

How was blacksmithing traditionally learnt in the past? Does this path still exist and what was your path to learning the skills and theories behind blacksmithing?

Traditionally, the craft was learnt by becoming an apprenticeship to a master smith or by becoming a Journeyman – travelling between forges to pick up skills and provided with board and food for labour. I was fortunate to have several mentors in the trade and was involved with a group of like-minded enthusiasts who were happy to share information.

 

Do you think blacksmithing skills have dissipated and need to be relearnt?

The skills of the trade remain, but are retained largely by hobby enthusiasts. Various blacksmithing associations regularly meet to share information and offer courses in the craft.

 

 

Forging process. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Forging process. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

What pressures do you think have led to the traditional pathway becoming problematic today?

Many of the blacksmithing industries that supported apprenticeships have closed, such as railway workshops. As a result, the availability and demand for apprenticeships has disrupted this traditional pathway.

 

What do you think an apprenticeship for blacksmithing might look like that gives makers the skills they need to establish themselves today?

Interestingly, the most suitable model might be the Journeyman style, where the apprentice moves from forge to forge to gain the necessary skills and seeking out those specific mentors for the intended style of work.  There is scope for associations to provide formal training as well.

 

How has today’s marketplace, with abundant mass-production, affected what you make and how you make it? 

I focus more on the creative or decorative blacksmithing because the precision and consistency of mass-production mean items such as spanners are simply better produced by machines than a blacksmith. It has also meant that I have had to educate my market and prospective clients with regard to the processes involve and demonstrate the value of forged work.

 

Full moon candle holder by David Bradley. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Full moon candle holder by David Bradley. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Mirror by David Bradley. Courtesy of the artist.

Mirror by David Bradley. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

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Mirror (detail) by David Bradley. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Is there a revival of the traditional means of production in blacksmithing today, and if so why do you think that is?

There is a strong revival in the craft because the consumers are increasingly exposed to this kind of work now.  Australia hasn’t had much decoratively forged work on display until now, but more and more it is featured in public spaces and in private collections.

 

What skills have been important in contributing to a revival in blacksmithing in today’s economy that were not historically a part of this work? 

 I believe contemporary design renews interest in the craft and inspires consumers to include blacksmithing works in modern homes. Additionally, more emphasis is placed on marketing and educating consumers to the value of forged work, demonstrating the craft in public is a very important means to achieve this aim.

 

Branch Mural by David Bradley. Commissioned in 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Branch Mural by David Bradley. Commissioned in 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.


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