Originally created 07/11/97

Metalworkers make smithing an art



Were the Roman god Vulcan to walk into the blacksmith studio of Alan Rogers, he would recognize little more than the hammer and the anvil.

Mr. Rogers' secluded studio in Oxford, Ga., is no dingy, coal-stained pit. It's a wideopen room with 14-foot ceilings and skylights to allow for plenty of sunshine. The biggest source of discomfort is that the birds chirp so loud, sometimes he can't hear himself think.

Mr. Rogers' most prominent creation is a huge balustrade commissioned by boxer Evander Holyfield for his new mansion. It has been years since the blacksmith made a gate or rail that went into a home worth less than $2 million.

As modern-day an artist as Mr. Rogers seems to be, he's in many ways a throwback to the early days of his craft - especially when compared to his contemporaries.

"Blacksmithing is becoming dominated by art school grads," said Mr. Rogers, who was initially trained as a horseshoer. "I'm just a guy."

Mr. Rogers is one of 20 Georgia blacksmiths featured in the At the Anvil show at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art. The exhibit opens tonight and runs through Sept. 12. At an opening reception from 6 to 8 tonight, artist Dan Tull will demonstrate blacksmithing and discuss the craft as practiced in Georgia.

Pieces range from highly functional to purely decorative. Mr. Rogers' entries are a chair, a table and a screen.

Michael Dillion sculpted a prehistoric bird whose head is represented by iron wrapped around a piece of marble.

Mr. Dillion earns a living creating commissioned stairwells for big new homes around Atlanta, but he also makes sculptures. He has a bachelor's degree from the Kansas City Art Institute and is working on a large public sculpture for the city of Roswell, Ga., where he lives and works.

At the Anvil demonstrates the range of work of Georgia blacksmiths, he said.

"I think that Georgia has a real wealth of blacksmiths in all aspects of the craft, from knifemaking to furniture to artistic sculpture," Mr. Dillion said. "It's still growing as people find it interesting."

Blacksmithing was almost dead as a craft in the middle of the century, after arc welding changed the field of metalwork. But the craft went through a revival in the late 1960s, Mr. Rogers said, when a handful of people founded the National ArtistBlacksmith's Association of North America, which now boasts a membership of 5,000.

The basics are still the hammering at an anvil.the phone.} It's still a craft in which the artist works up a good sweat, especially in the summer in Georgia.

Blacksmithing can seem exotic, but Mr. Rogers insists it's not out of the reach of the average person. Many blacksmith artists "built a little tiny forge in their back yard and started beating on a little tiny anvil," he said.

"I'd urge anybody to try it."

Exhibit informationMetalworking exhibit

What: At the Anvil: A Celebration of Blacksmithing in Georgia.
When: Opening reception 6-8 tonight. Exhibit runs through Sept. 12.
Where: Gertrude Herbert

Institute of Art, 506 Telfair St.
How much: Opening is free for members, $5 for others.
Phone: 722-5495