Artisans forge poetry in metal

  • Article by: KIM PALMERKPALMER@STARTRIBUNE.COM
  • Updated: September 22, 2012 - 12:57 PM

Artisans turn iron, steel, copper and bronze into one-of-a-kind architectural statements.

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On a hot summer day, architectural metalsmith Chris Rand fired up a blowtorch at the Ivy Arts Studio in northeast Minneapolis and transformed cold, hard metal into intricate ginkgo leaves.

The leaves -- delicately curved and fluted, in copper, bronze and steel -- are embellishments for a pair of steel vestibule doors that Rand recently forged for a St. Paul couple. And Rand was having fun.

"I don't have a favorite metal -- I love them all," he said, as he bent the metal to his artistic will. "I love what I can do to them."

Blacksmiths have been creating objects from wrought iron and steel for centuries, but a new generation of metal artisans is employing the ancient methods to forge distinctive new architectural elements, furniture and accessories for homes and other spaces.

"In the '70s, people feared the techniques would be lost," Rand said. "But more young people are getting into it, and the elders have done a good job to set the stage."

Rand found his way into metal art after a job putting hitches on cars. His boss saw his interest, gave him the keys to the shop, and Rand started experimenting, which ultimately led to his enrolling at the Minnesota College of Art and Design.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be an inventor," he said. Now, his metalwork combines art and invention. Rand forges all his own tools, each custom-made for the particular project at hand. "I like toggling between left and right brain," he said.

St. Paul architect John Yust, who designed the Art Nouveau-inspired ginkgo doors in collaboration with Rand, loves integrating custom metalwork into his projects, both public and private, he said. "When done well, it just resonates with amazing emotional connection to people. Like artwork or music, it can bring goosebumps."

Yust works with several local blacksmiths to bring his designs to life.

"The Twin Cities doesn't have the heritage of metalwork that some other cities like New York, Chicago and Charleston do," he said, but it does have a sizable pool of skilled artisans and a local Guild of Metalsmiths.

"Some of the best metalwork ends up in the private domain," Yust said. "The public doesn't get to see it, see how cool the details are."

Those details are on lavish display in "Ironwork Today 3," a new coffee-table book showcasing contemporary metalwork and featuring work by Rand and Minneapolis metal artist Lisa Elias of Elias Metal Studio.

Elias taught herself to weld while still a University of Minnesota student because she wanted to incorporate metal into her glass-blowing. Since then, she's been turning out an eclectic array of objects: lighting, doorbell ringers, railings, gates, trellises and arbors, birdbaths, sconces -- even toilet-paper holders. She's also created a number of high-visibility public projects, including a downtown Minneapolis drinking fountain and 30 tree-corral grates, adding a little poetry and flair to what could be mundanely functional objects.

"I embellish places and spaces," Elias said. "Everyone needs a gate. If it's an artistic one, I'm glad to be called."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

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  • Metalsmith, Chris Rand, creates custom architectural metalwork for clients. He checks the metal against a full size patern he created for the project to make sure the pieces will fit the desired pattern.

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