The motto of the City of London’s Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths—“By hammer and hand all arts do stand”—is a bold statement, and one not lost on furniture-designer-turned-blacksmith, James Price.
A design graduate, with experience of working for a high-end international design company, Price was working with wood, making furniture in a shared space in Brighton, England, when one day “a woman came in carrying a pair of tongs and a hammer. We got talking and [it turned out] she was a blacksmith. My career path changed there and then.”
Smitten by the idea of working with fire and metal, Price returned to college to study blacksmithing, before honing his skills with a master in a water-powered forge in Switzerland.
Metals are so resilient, yet for a brief moment they are fluid, becoming an expressive medium—James Price
“Blacksmithing is at the root of other crafts—in the past blacksmiths made the tools, axes, chisels, and drill bits that enabled other crafts,” Price says. “The tool-making element grabbed me, but I love the completeness, the wholeness of it. I’m very interested in the techniques of rural crafts, adapting them, and moving the narrative forward. Working with fire and metals is honest. There is a process, an immediacy, and finally a transformation. Metals are so resilient, yet for a brief moment they are fluid, becoming an expressive medium.”
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Price is both blacksmith and designer, working almost entirely on commissions at his East Sussex forge, and has created everything from fireside tools to staircases, garden benches to estate fences.
Blacksmithing is at the root of other crafts: in the past blacksmiths made the tools, axes, chisels, and drill bits that enabled other crafts—James Price
It is labor-intensive work no matter the size of a piece or the metal used. Price works mainly with steel, beginning with 20-foot (6 m) sheets, and “beautiful bronze.” The same processes—forging, shaping, and hammering—are applied, but bronze is worked at a much lower temperature. Every element of every item is made this way and never cast. Some smaller articles, such as his loop candlesticks, are made in small batches; other works are one-offs.
Projects come from around the globe. Architects and designers are very “involved” from the earliest stages, but it is working with private clients that Price finds most rewarding. “They live with the finished work and have ownership from the outset, they are taken on a journey and it is never about box-ticking.”
It is a wonderful image, a traditional craft flourishing in its original home. But Price is quick to point out it is a modern, steel-framed functioning forge—perhaps lacking the romance of the smaller first-time business where horses were shod. The question is, has he ever had to shoe a horse? “No!” he says, “Thankfully.”
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