I've been frequenting the forge lately. The seasonal shift between winter and spring in Missoula, wildly bipolar in day to day climactic norms, lends itself to bursts of creativity. After long winter nights spent inside on the couch reading about the wonder and opportunities of the world, I'm ready to do everything all at once as soon as the sun rifles its way through the dingy gray. I popped out of my den on queue with the sun's angle reaching the tipping point of warmth and thereby growth, and sought out ways to create. No better way, I think, to bring to fruition all the pent up energy building through winter than by pounding on hot iron.
My mentor still officially lives in the Swan Valley of western Montana, a relatively remote depression tucked between two of Montana's most jagged mountain ranges. He owns a cabin up there, has for a long time. He came down to Missoula for business over a decade ago, however, and has since not fully resided in the Swan. Lucky for me, he got himself a forge for his more urban setting. While living in the Swan he taught himself to simply make parts for broken machinery and equipment rather than making the haul into Missoula, and now that he's living here he's more than happy to pass on his knowledge.
The hammer, the anvil, and the forge. The key ingredients to shaping metal into a thing of your desire. Other spices serve to enhance the product, such as abundant scrap metal and a strong grip.
In the past I always experienced what I thought of as art from a detached perspective. From abstract landscape paintings in bizarre color with hidden political and metaphysical depth to incredibly lifelike alabaster sculptures, I saw the beauty but often couldn't relate to the consciousness the pieces had arisen from. In a way that I thought of as completely separate, I would spend long amounts of time examining the craftwork of a particularly simple but elegant wooden bench, eyeing all the different pieces and steps that went into the creation process. I didn't think of a simple but elegant bench as art, but rather just a well-made utilitarian accessory.
I realize now that what I was seeing as art and what I was seeing as a useful tool are, of course, quite intimate with one another. The best bench is made through the eye of an artist, someone looking beyond the initial comfort of taking a seat and towards the subsequent wandering of the sitter's eyes and hands for interesting and beautiful things around them. I feel the melding of the utilitarian and the artistic very strongly when working with metal. To make a hook from a piece of rebar, I merely have to pound one end of the piece over the horn of the anvil. I could stop there, and I would have a perfectly viable hook for my coat. My capacity for seeing and appreciating beautiful things, though, would be left to wander in search of something more worthwhile. By tapering the rebar before bending, by adding a twist, a curled end, an ornate top, I can make that necessary step of marrying form with function.
Plus, nothing helps a person sort their thoughts better than hammering a glowing piece of metal into submission. Add good friends, a hot fire, and a little beer, and the wintertime blues melt away.