I just love to travel. I love road trips, plane trips and train trips. Maybe it comes from my childhood, where every new place I went to was filled with a sense of exploration and discovery. I also love to learn. And when you travel, you have so many opportunities to learn. I am a dedicated lifelong learner. I believe that the process of learning is one of the key ingredients in a happy, satisfying life.
In 2001, my wife and I took a trip to England, Scotland and France. This trip gave me the opportunity to combine my two passions of traveling and learning. Before we left, a friend of mine in Cochrane, Alberta, who is a blacksmith from England, recommended that I visit some friends of his who lived close to Edinburgh. They worked in a blacksmith shop called Rathos Byres Forge. Pete Hill and Shawna Johnson welcomed us with open arms and classic Scottish hospitality. Though we were perfect strangers, they gave us their guestroom to sleep in, and a full tour of the shop the next day. So began my introduction to the world of modern blacksmithing and design.
This visit opened my eyes to a whole new artistic philosophy. Up until then, I had been working on a fairly small scale in my blacksmithing career. I was making mostly small household items, and had just recently expanded into architectural projects, such as the chandelier for Snow Creek Lodge at the ski hill in Fernie, B.C. If you had asked me at the time what the pinnacle of craftsmanship and design was, I would have thought of something like a Rococo wrought iron screen in a cathedral. I can remember Pete Hill saying to me, “Why would you want to make that? Why don’t you make something that no one has ever made before?”
Pete was referring to a movement that had begun about 20 years before my trip to the UK. A group of craftsman had decided to form an association to help resurrect the art of blacksmithing in England. They envisioned an art form that used centuries-old techniques to create shapes and forms that were at home in the contemporary and modern world of art and architecture. These artist blacksmiths didn’t just want to resurrect blacksmithing from its pre-industrial revolutionary grave, they wanted to reinsert it as a legitimate art form in the 21st-century.
The foundation of this style of work came from contemporary design, and the premise of the design was that it needed to incorporate as many of the old blacksmithing techniques as possible. The results were outstanding. Their work in architecture, sculpture and public art was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Suddenly it all made so much sense. It flooded my soul; a creative seed began to sprout. I knew this was the new direction for my work. As I went back to Canada, I was fully engaged with the modern blacksmith vision. I didn’t know how it would play out, but my artistic approach had been changed forever.