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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Eric Dewey: Fire and Iron

Sultry in satin, 2010 (18"x3"x3")

Working with one foot in old-world mechanics of long-standing techniques and the other in a contemporary mindset of modern lines, blacksmith and sculptor Eric Dewey manipulates night-black steel into sublime translations capturing the moment in life when quality overtakes quantity.

Standing at his steel-topped work table, Dewey takes a block of mild steel, about the size of a deck of cards, and draws lines with a small piece of soapstone. He’s working on a group of avian-shaped sculptures inspired by an eagle-falconer.

“I wanted to make these from a single piece of steel and do it in a way where I could replicate it,” Dewey says, using a straight-edged ruler to mark his way across the gray rectangle, stopping a few times to check his notebook. “Most of my sculptures are shot from the hip. Not planned out, like these.”

Those ‘shot from the hip’ pieces reflect on the human form, at once elegant and visceral, reminding us of the existential loneliness of modern humanity.

In one piece, “Phoenix” the elongated spire of steel, knuckled in the middle, reaches beyond its ends as if pulling itself from its own shape, stretching, longing. The piece, although made of steel looks as if it’s about to fly.

“I made that piece two hours after my dog died,” Dewey says (Phoenix, 2012 -- 13"x2"x2", shown at right). “I came here and I just had to make something with everything I felt.”

Layers of sounds thread through Dewey’s shop: the hum of a steady flame, the whirr of forced air, the clang of steel against steel, and the hiss of cold water quenching seared metal.

When Dewey is sure of his marks, he grasps the mild steel bar with a set of tongs and buries it in the flames of his forge.

“I burn coke,” he says, adding the small round pieces of coal-like fuel to the fire pot. “It has all the carbon and none of the volatiles of coal. It burns pretty clean.”

As the heat changes the molecular structure of the iron, it allows the material to become malleable under the force of Dewey’s hammers.

“These days I get a concept in my head, an idea of what I want to explore and express, to understand a feeling or a thought,” he says, scraping more coke into the fire. “I want something that has a technical challenge and something that I’m really interested in discovering.”

He turns up the forced air that feeds the forge and flames rave. “It takes a long time to develop a relationship with the fire.”

On the cusp of being too hot, Dewey pulls the neon-orange piece out and immediately takes it to the power hammer, a machine that gives Dewey the steady force of constant blows, but allows him to control the speed with a foot pedal. The power hammer, built in 1947, would have been powered by steam, water wheels or a gas engine back in the day, but is easily plugged into electricity now. With each strike flames flare as sparks splinter.

After a few quick minutes the metal regains it solidity turning a dull raspberry color and Dewey returns it to the forge to get up to a red-hot temperature again.

Dewey learned this art through a series of first-rate apprenticeships after art school.

“It was important to me to work with as many people as I could,” he says, keeping his eye on the fire, stoking it with coke. “It’s so valuable to spend that close, intimate time with people to learn their techniques andunderstand their aesthetics.”

Since artisan apprentices are rare in Bozeman, Dewey has started Making for A Living, a festival aimed at educating aspiring artisans about what it means and what it takes to be a professional working artisan. The first of these festivals will take place on February 7th and 8th at the Cottonwood Club.

“My goal is to create an accessible resource for aspiring artisans,” he says. “I’d like to add two or three events a year with community demonstrations and lectures by professional working artisans about their trades. I feel there’s a big gap between art school and life.”

Ever onward, 2012 (25"x4"x4")

Reaching into the forge he retrieves the searing piece moving around the work areas with a measured assurance. This time taking it to his anvil and positioning it so he can pound it by hand. The steel changes shape easily.

Choosing his hammer from over a dozen of slightly different but completely variant ball-peen and cross peen hammers, all made by Dewey, he returns to the piece.

“It’s an advantage blacksmiths have over everyone else,” he says. “We can make all our own tools.”

Exchanging one hammer for another and bringing his attention fully onto the avian figure, concentrating, not only on the shape and proportions, but on the imprint his hammers leave behind.

“The marks of the tail feathers are directly from the process,” he says. “In a lot of pre-contemporary blacksmith work any marks made from the process would be completely eliminated.”

But for Dewey, the marks are the beauty, as is the gritty, centuries old work of a blacksmith.


Michele Corriel, a frequent contributor to the Magpie, has the broad range of her work well represented at

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