The Wareham Forge

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
ATTRIBUTION: Pre-Raphaelite William Morris (1834 - 1896)

On Development of a Distinctive Style

Roger Dean
Architectural Renderings
'Shrine of St Patrick's Bell'
early 1100's in the 'Irish Urnes' style
Wood Carving on the Urnes Stave Church
1100's, Norway
Entrance to 'Castle Henriette'
Victor Guimard, architect
(metalsmith unaccredited)
Conceptual designs by Allen Lee
Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring
'Magnetic Storm'
Roger and Martin Dean
'Treasures of Early Irish Art'
Polly Cone / Metropolitan Museum of Art
'The Viking World'
James Graham-Campbell
'Art Nouveau Decorative Ironwork'
Theodore Menten
'the Lord of the Rings Official Movie Guide'
Brian Sibley
As a high school student back in the early 70's I had been drawn to the sweeping curves in the distinctive art work of designer and illustrator Roger Dean. His work was seen on a large number of album covers of the times, most especially a large series of interlocked story images for the English group Yes. Dean's work featured a type of organic architectural design plus repeated use of a ribbon like 'reversal curve' rendered in bright colours. A lot of my earliest art work was in the mediums of large acrylic paintings and silk screen prints. Although I did attempt pieces in a wide range of materials and techniques, metalworking was not among these. I had barely managed a passing mark in grade 10 metal shop!

In college, I became increasingly interested in the art and artifacts of the Irish and Scandinavians. Through a widening of my exploration of historic styles, I began working back from contemporary artists to original sources. Dean it turned out had himself been influenced by the artists of the Art Nouveau period 100 years earlier. This movement in turn had been based on the unearthing of Celtic and Norse antiquities in the 1860's through 1880's. Objects like the Ardaugh Chalice and the Oseberg Ship Burial had electrified the designs of the times. Again it was the combination of sinuous curves and interlaced lines that I was drawn to. Further explorations revealed the bold patterns of 'La Tene' Celtic Iron Age bronze work, which was echoed by the lines of the Norse 'Urnes' style. I was also fascinated by the blending of artistic traditions and cultural influences seen on such objects as the St. Patrick's Bell Shrine - with its mix of Celtic and Norse, Pagan and Christian.
About the same time, I started my first working of forged metals. Frustration with my inability to touch weld had caused me to take a hammer and attempt to destroy the steel piece I was working with. In an Eureka moment, the process of deforming the hot metal grabbed my attention - and has never let it go! Working against discouragement from course instructors, I slowly began teaching myself the methods of the blacksmith.

From the very start, I had been drawn to the fluid lines of the Art Nouveau metalsmiths. At first it was the overall style of organic curves and sweeping asymmetrical designs that strongly influenced my own work. Because of my own long developing technical skill, and most importantly the physical limits of my own strength, much of these early pieces used lighter weight stocks. The stress was on line, with sculpting the mass of the material limited. Slowly I began to tie in my various influences into a developing personal style.
I had seen the Artist Blacksmith Roberta Elliot demonstrate working with heavy steel pipe at a conference, and had began exploring the possibilities myself. This lead to experimenting with forging other structural shapes - angle, channel and T section. Into the late 1990's, now with over 20 years at the forge to back me up, I took a fresh look at those individual Art Nouveau artists who's work I admired the most. Designers like Victor Guimard especially had blended work in stone, glass, wood and metal into their architectural designs. I now looked again at the work, but now in detail, with my own experience helping to clarify the picture, The 1870's to 1880's represented a unique combination of factors in forged metalwork, the like of which may never happen again. Ancient wrought iron material, with its excellent forging properties, was being replaced by the new cheaper mild steel. Blacksmiths had learned via the apprenticeship method a vast depth of traditional skills. At the same time, new tools and technologies were being introduced, the recently invented oxy-acetelyne torch for example. The new steel was being made into structural profiles that had never existed before. Of course the first thing the Artisan Blacksmith of that age did when presented with something like angle or channel was to cut back and explode the ends and explore all the possibilities of hot working the new materials.
In my own work I too started exploring the effect of aggressively forging structural shapes. The purchase of a small air hammer made it possible to work with larger stock sizes that would have proved far to physically demanding to hand hammer in the past. It was often said that 'A smith does his best work between 40 and 50'. I had reached that point where experience and skill could back up maturity in design.

I had developed a strong personal style, clearly visible through a body of past work. Like Art Nouveau, it was strongly influenced by historic European artifacts, and featured aggressively forged elements combined into flowing lines and often asymmetrical overall designs. I had forged a style - but one without a name.
In 2001 Peter Jackson's 'Fellowship of the Ring' was released. The films that made up his monumental 'Lord of the Rings' would have a huge impact. Most significant was the incredible detail in the conceptual designs at the hands of Allen Lee and Richard Howe. When I saw the film the first time, I found I was in such familiar ground - Howe and Lee had based so much of their cultural landscape for Middle Earth on those same Norse, Saxon and Celtic objects I knew so well. In the conceptual designs for the Elves of Rivendale especially, I saw the same blend of the Norse Urnes style blended through Art Nouveau lines which marked by own (long developed!) style.

So although I certainly had charted my own long progression to an artistic style entirely independent of Allen Lee, there is no doubt we had both been influenced by the same ancient sources. I have come to use the term 'Rivendale ' to describe my metalwork style. Those striking images from Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' are firmly rooted in present popular culture and the term creates an instant impression on the listener.
Like any artist, I expect that my work will shift and develop with time. The scope of the projects undertaken may (hopefully!) expand as a reputation for high quality original art metalwork increases into the future. My artistic vision is a result of all my past influences however, and I expect my RIVENDALE style to remain distinctive for years to come...

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All text photography unless otherwise credited © Darrell Markewitz - the Wareham Forge