So you can imagine our excitement when one night at dinner the sculptor himself, Bill Brown, invited us to join a group of students from the Penland School of Crafts who were scheduled to tour his studio.
My husband and I were early arrivals and thus got a delightful tour of the inside gallery while waiting on the students (who were all studying welding, smithing and iron art at Penland) to arrive. These sculptures were pedestal sized and unlike wall art, offered 4 (or more) distinct views
depending on where one stood. We were enthralled as the artist provided background and titles for each piece.
When the students arrived Bill gave us a tour of the grounds discussing each installation and its significance as well as some of the finishes used and techniques he explored. To say the students (who ranged from college age to retired) were riveted is an understatement.
On to the studio: fires and anvils and cooling baths and hundreds of tools of all shapes and weights, I can't even begin to describe the array of equipment this place contained. Keep in mind that pieces constructed here can be as large as a story high (or wide) and weigh hundreds (and hundreds) of pounds. Installation art, commissions for gates, chandeliers, sculptures, fireplace accessories...you name it, all have been crafted here in the studio.
One of Bill's part time assistants took the time to demonstrate a few techniques for us. He proceeded to heat the iron in the fire and shape it against the anvil using different tools. Bill kept encouraging the students to "watch the left hand" (which holds the piece and turns it), the skill required in the moving of the piece was quite subtle but very important. I was, of course, fascinated by the constant heavy pounding and the even rhythm he kept even when not hitting the piece (so as not to tire the arm by stopping mid air?!)
Next the master himself demonstrated the electric hammer equipment which he controlled with his foot while manipulating the white hot iron block with tongs. Amazing...the machinery moved too fast to photograph and I became mesmerized by the intensity of the heat, the weight, and the concentration it took to be certain the square got hit right where desired. Prior to the demo Bill pointed out that speed was an issue if one wanted to make a living at this craft, as every time the iron got too cold to work with, time (thus $) was eaten up by re-heating it. Only he said it much more eloquently than I. And the students nodded solemnly.
After watching both men my husband and I looked at the garden pieces with a deeper understanding of what it took to build them. Sheer size alone commands respect but after observing the physicality of this art form we had a deeper understanding of what the artist goes through to create. Bill's studio is populated by smaller sized models, experiments and drawings which are all an important part of his design process.
I admit to being a "studio junkie".... nothing more fascinating than going behind the scenes to observe where the muse makes the magic. It was a special opportunity to get a peek into a world I know very little about...enjoy the Anvil Arts Studio website and remember...if you ever drive by a building that is calling to you, don't wait for an invitation to stop. Go on in because you never know what you will learn.