Studio Briefs – Chris Doherty

Chris, how did you get into your craft?

Well, I’d always been interested so when, back around the last decade of the twentieth century, I got a chance to take a class at BCC I grabbed it. Back then they used to drag a forge and an anvil out onto the lawn and run a class like that.  For some reason there was a local TV news show there that day and I was on the air that night, quenching a coal rake in water for no good reason at all. After that I was pretty much hooked.

How did you learn your craft? (courses, apprenticeship, workshops…)

Many classes, regular practice, a lot of blacksmithing group meetings and demos, reading books and a summer assistance ship at Peter’s Valley.

What inspires you to create?
If I read this as “why do you make stuff” I can only think of the Thurber story “Interview with a Lemming”. At the end the interview the interviewer has one last question and the lemming says that he has one too, but you go first. The interviewer asks “why do you lemmings all rush down to the sea and drown yourselves?” The lemming replies “How curious, The one thing I don’t understand is why you human beings don’t.”

Which is to say, given the opportunity I can’t imagine not doing some sort of creative work, I always have, one way or another.

Any awards or recognition?
My cats seem to recognize me, I think, at least they know I have something to do with the cans getting opened.

NYT recognized Chris’s teachings at the BCC Forge –Becoming a 21st Century Blacksmith The New York Times 231226

How did you get involved with BCC and what are you doing within BCC?

I got involved many years ago, volunteering to supervise Open Forge on Friday nights. Later I got more involved, building up the forge facility, recruiting faculty, teaching classes etc. I have served on various committees, hung shows, painted, raised funds, curated exhibitions, participated in planning sessions and I also sweep the shop a lot.

Why do you do it? How do you benefit from practicing your craft/art?

Other than the fame, adoring women, and tables at the best restaurants you mean? I guess it scratches that creative itch, the urge one has to bring something out of nothing, to make a mark on the world through the work of one’s hands – and if it involves fire and hitting stuff with huge honking hammers, so much the better.

Do you have and would you share an “Artist’s Statement”?

I have written a few over the years, containing words like decontextualize, dichotomy, semiotic transformation and six different euphemisms for the word “thing”. All in an effort to convince people that, to quote Bill Watterson, “My work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance”.

Which it may very well be, but for myself –  I like the greasy perfection of a new steel bar. I like the lines of stress that form when you bend it at red heat. I like the smell of the coal and the ring of the hammer and the way the rain sounds on the shop roof. I like the frozen grace of iron twisted hot nearly to its breaking point, and the leap of sunlight off a polished steel blade.  I like making delicate jewelry by hitting steel with a large hammer.

For fun, here is a listicle of things I have learned while Blacksmithing.

Don’t touch that, it’s Hot.

Do like you oughta, add acid to water.

The grinder/buffer/drill press is stronger than you are.

If you drop tongs you’ve been using to hold red hot steel – don’t catch them.

The power hammer is stronger than you are.

Really, it’s HOT.

Epoxy does not set well in sub-zero temperatures.

If you can’t hold it, you can’t hit it.

Righty tighty. Lefty loosey.

Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

What was the most challenging piece you have created and why?

The most challenging piece is always something you’ve never done before, figuring out how to do it, the order of operations and so forth. When you’re done, if you succeeded, it always seems fairly easy in retrospect, so the most challenging piece is probably the next one.

What is most important to you about sharing your unique artwork with others?

It’s always pleasant when other people enjoy the work, find it useful or beautiful, and one is gratified when they fail to see the obvious flaws, or, at least, are too polite to mention them.
Sometimes I actually have something to say through a piece, and it’s very rewarding if people pick up on that too.

Story written by Chris Doherty, edited by Terry Tougas – Photography by Terry Tougas