Lives Shaped by Steel

Lives Shaped by SteelBook Description:

Blacksmiths do more than shoe horses. In fact, many have never been near a horse. Artistic blacksmiths create fine additions to houses, gardens and public spaces. This book celebrates East Coast metal artists, and focuses on their outdoor work - the kind of gates or railings, signs or sculptures that add beauty to the world. The very best examples of this kind of metalwork show that the metal has become a part of its place. Each needs the other: a gate would look interesting but lost in the blacksmith's shop; the garden would be just a garden without the gate in place. When the gate and the garden are together, magic happens. The author asks how the artists do their work, where they get ideas, what challenges they face, and how they got started in their special profession. Blacksmiths will learn how others have established successful businesses, working with discriminating, high-end clients, as well as clients with smaller projects and pocketbooks. There are also fascinating interviews with over forty metal artists, delving into their philosophy of design and approach to their craft.

Excerpts from book:

Michael Dillon's reputation for creating incredibly beautiful railing and architectural iron features is a natural consequence of the work he produces. "I enjoy creating pieces that make people take a second or third look, trying to figure out how we did that, where the joints are, how it got put together." It will take two or three or more thorough examinations to even begin to find those answers, because Michael makes sure that everything that leaves his shop in Roswell lives up to his fine reputation. His shop, like his work, is spacious, clean, and clear with well defined work areas and a minimum of clutter, a design that can efficiently expedite large projects.

Michael has always been interested in large scale iron work. He graduated from Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri in 1990, and moved to Atlanta in 1993 because his wife, also an artist graduate from Kansas City, wanted to return to her roots, "Atlanta is a land of opportunity," he says, "I'm glad to be here."

He intended to be a sculptor and finds the architectural iron work fully satisfied that artistic side of him. "There are set parameters in traditional ironwork," he says. "That makes it easier than sculpture." Whether it is called sculpture or curved railing, however, his unique blend of artist-metalworker comes through. His excitement and passion for the work he does shined through his quiet, understated persons. "The design is 85% of the success of a piece," Michael asserts, and he says that he tells his clients, when they ask, what will work in the situation they bring.

He has done floral patterns, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and traditional designs, but his work is mostly traditional, with a French overtone. "That is what people ask for, and what works with the kind of architecture that is found here." Michael's ideas come from what the customer requests, the budget they have to work with, and the time element needed to complete the job. With his artistic training, he has a good eye and imagination, and a strong sense of what will bering elegance to a setting.

Michael works in iron, bronze, aluminum, and often employs brass accents. He find it very satisfying to work in bronze, because it is so responsible to the artist, but the cost is usually prohibitive. His work is mostly for private customers. He does very little commercial work, and most of his projects are for indoor installations (compound curves are one of his specialties), but he does do some outdoor gates and railings. He likes the finish to show the natural material, preferring not to use colored paint. He sands the work by hand to bring out the unique worked surface of the material, uses a black paint base, and applies lacquer. Hand rails need an additional application of wax from time to time.

Recently he increased his staff to two employees. He and one other person had been able to turn out 100 feet of railing a year, but it was time to expand when a new job required over 200 feet in six months. "This is a wonderful career," says Michael. "The work requires a combination of creativity plus all your intellectual capabilities plus intense physical demands. That combination is hard to beat, and practically impossible to find in other fields."

Available for purchase on Amazon.
Author: Nancy B. Zastrow
Title: Lives Shaped by Steel: Celebrating East Coast Outdoor Metal Artists
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Iron Artists (2004)
ISBN-10: 0975948911
ISBN-13: 978-0975948910