Rediscovering lost techniques for a sculptural use

I enjoy challenging my self within my art practice, and learning new skills to develop as a maker. I trained as a blacksmith for three years at the National school of blacksmithing as I was interested in ancient techniques, and how they shaped the world we live in today.

More recently I have focused my attention on being able to control the process of making from start to finish. I wanted to learn how to make my own raw material to sculpt with. I feel this adds another layer to finished work, both conceptually and through the physical qualities of the handmade. Im also very interested in ideas of self sufficiency.

This led to a major new area of research where I have been learning how to create my own iron from ore, which I will then forge and use in my sculpture. I was awarded a travel grant by the Winston Churchill Trust to study ‘Rediscovering ancient techniques for a sculptural use’ and travelled to Japan for two months to train with masters in this ancient process, and then to Ireland to work with metallurgists and archaeologists, smelting my own iron.

This section shares some of the photos along the way as well as final pieces inspired by the project. A full technical report of the process is also included.

Failte towers
Clay, manure, straw, sand, steel, flame machines, red carpet.
1.9 X 0.6 X 0.6 M (with flame at full extension)

Failte translates from Gaelic to mean ‘ a hundred thousand welcomes’.

In this work I was inspired by the traditional iron age furnace shape and materials used to smelt iron. I made two huge furnaces which are displayed with nightclub style flame machines inside them and a tacky red carpet. Past meets present eat your heart out.

Food Furnace
Welded steel, clay, chain, pots, pans, kettle
1.8 X 0.8 X 0.9 M

I was selected for a winter residency this at the Scottish sculpture workshop where I built my own iron extracting furnace and used it to make my own steel. I learnt how to collect and identify iron ore during my research project and then smelted it in this machine to make a useable material.

The furnace design has also been adapted to cook using the huge amounts of residual heat of the process. There is a kettle point, pan hanger, bbq, pizza oven ,smoker and even resting forks all built in!

I am passionate about hot metal work as a material and as a method of making. I feel that exposing the viewer to the actual heat and excitement of creating sculpture will generate interest and lead to new dialogue around making sculpture. I am interested in developing these furnaces as vehicles for public engagement and the idea of functional making becoming a performance.

Frankie the Furnace
Mascot costume
Cotton, bean bag beans, patches, lycra, lace
120 X 60 X 60 CM

I created my own theme park style furnace character and costume and then wore it to an iron smelting festival in Ireland.

My role in this contemporary costume was to compare this iron age event and let the public know what the different processes and materials being used were.

Iron sand, magnets, cast bronze, iron smelted in Japan
100 X 80 X 10 CM

This small wall based shrine is comprised of items I collected during my research period, and nods towards the beautiful shrines I witnessed in many of the metal workers workshops that I during this project.

Iron Age Online
Online performance and live streaming event
7 hours 22 minutes

During covid, when everything felt uncertain and strange, I decided to do run an Iron age smelt, live streamed from a London garden.

I like the way ancient technology meets new technology in this performance and thinking about how they come together in this piece. The length of the performance is also reflective of the time and effort this process took people in the past, but also of how much time we had on our hands in lockdown.

Iron sand (magnetite), smelted iron sand bloom, forged steel made from iron sand, dishes, kneelers, small rake.
1 X 1 X 0.5 M

Karesansuei or Japanese rock gardens, create a stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks and gravel. They were intended to imitate the essence of nature and to serve as an aid to meditation for monks when raking the sand.

The second part of my funding took me to Japan where I spent two months training with iron making masters, collecting and smelting my own steel from iron sand. Inspired by a visit to the Adachi gardens and the training I was receiving working with a sword-smith, I decided to use the handmade steel to make five blades.

Each blade has been cut up in to three pieces and displayed as part of five miniature Karesansuei, complete with hand forged tools for the viewer to rake the iron sand which surrounds each.

SOS Survival Guide to Smelting
Printed phone charm with instructions on how to smelt iron .
8 X 5 CM

These SOS survival guides to smelting were made into phone charms, inspired by the craze of this I witnessed in Japan.

I enjoy the cynical humour these involve. I transport my self to a time when perhaps the world has been destroyed, the internet failed , our mobile devices don’t work… so unless you own this phone charm you won’t have the skills anymore to make iron and start to rebuild society.

Chair, bog ore, bloom, raw steel and forged steel.
80 X 45 X 45 CM

This work was inspired by a child I met at the furnace festival who had set up a little display of finds on a chair.

I love this low key way of creating a miniature museum about something that actually takes alot of knowledge and skill.