Turning Steel Into Hand-Crafted Magic

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Although we live in an era of mass produced everything, the appeal of original artwork is still very much alive … perhaps especially in forged metal work where the romance and raw physicality of hammering raw steel into visions of beauty is awe inspiring. And this is what’s celebrated in the Calgary Stampede’s Metal Art Showcase.

“The ability to manipulate metal is only limited by your imagination,” explains metal artist Patrick McIvor. “That’s the beauty: once you have the basic techniques and knowledge of metal forging, you can create anything.”

Patrick is one of those artisans who has felt the pull of art since childhood. He first began his love affair with metal art at eight years old, feeling the fascination for metal work playing with swords and armour in the backyard. He’s since taken his affair far afield, devoting the last dozen years to mastering his art.

“I went on a journey, studying with master blacksmiths in Austria, Turkey and Finland,” he explains, adding that the term “journeyman” actually comes from the historic practice of graduated apprentices taking their services as skilled tradesmen and artisans on journeys from place to place.

“Blacksmithing is still considered a highly regarded artisan-ship in Europe – culturally, historically and architecturally,” says Patrick. “In 2008, I had the opportunity to work with Professor Alfred Habermann, known by all us blacksmiths as the best in the world. He passed away at age 79, while I was still studying with him. It was a true honour to get to learn from the master, and a humbling privilege to be asked to blacksmith his grave marker, which I did, together with Jacob Cranz who was also studying with Professor Habermann at the time.”

The Calgary Stampede Metal Art Showcase started out humbly enough in 2002 with less than five pieces of metal art vying for ribbons. Last year, 22 pieces were submitted, and eight more were forged and crafted live in front of a viewing audience, using scraps of metal discarded from the World Championship Blacksmiths’ Competition.

“In 2010, we had 20 artists participating,” says Heather Hartmann, co-chair of the Metal Art Showcase, a subcommittee of the World Championship Blacksmiths’ Competition.

The showcase encompasses three classes: Traditional Forging, Non-Traditional Forging and Potluck Forging. With the first two, participants submit metal artwork they’ve completed before the Calgary Stampede starts. And anything from silver, to bronze, to wire can turn up in the Non-Traditional Forging class. “One year we saw a piece made entirely of snowmobile gears,” says Heather.

The draw and prestige of showcasing metal art in the Calgary Stampede lures local and international artists, with metal artists from as far away as Europe and Australia submitting their work. Pieces from these classes are on display from the Wednesday evening prior to the official start of Stampede in the Western Art Showcase in the BMO Centre.

On July 9 they are moved to the Metal Art Showcase in the Palomino Room in the BMO Centre to be auctioned off in a gala event that evening. Competitors in the Traditional Forging class are awarded ribbons and prize money in three categories: Judge’s Choice, Collector’s Choice, (which gives all Stampede attendees a vote) and Peer’s Choice, (a particular honour, as only other metal art and blacksmith peers choose the winner of this category). An overall champion is awarded as well. In Non-Traditional Forging, Stampede attendees have the only say, as Collector’s Choice is the only award granted.

“While we do distribute invites for the Metal Art Showcase to raise its profile and as something of a memento for the auction, it’s not an invitation only event,” says Heather. “We very much hope that anyone who’s interested attends, with or without an invitation card.”

The Potluck Forging class provides a unique opportunity for Stampede viewing audiences to gain an insider’s appreciation for the brawn and talent in metal art. In the Potluck, artists work in teams to create an original piece of metal art in a timed competition under the Big Top, on July 9. These pieces are also auctioned off that evening, in a silent auction with proceeds going to the Stampede Foundation.

“I really felt that I wanted to gain knowledge and techniques to make me a better blacksmith,” says Patrick, “And after my journey, I came back to the Calgary Stampede Metal Art Showcase with more confidence in my artistry, and I’ve been winning more awards.”

Regardless of the accolades, Patrick embodies the mysterious appeal of a true artist, and the intrigue of the Calgary Stampede’s Metal Art Showcase.

“When I wake up in the morning, I’m excited to get to creating. It’s a fascinating process to take a raw material, translating something that once existed only in your own head into something beautiful and tangible that other people can touch and feel. Watching an idea become a part of the world is something I do as much to amaze myself as amaze others.

“I’m a metal artist, and I focus on blacksmithing as the means, but I also play around with other mediums, nonferrous materials as copper and bronze, sometimes combining stone and glass as well.”

If you would like to attend the Metal Art Showcase and live and silent auction, July 9, please call (403) 261-9174. For more info about the Calgary Stampede Metal Art Showcase visit http://ag.calga rystampede.com/events/462-metal-art-showcase.html. To view some of Patrick McIvor’s work, check out www.dancingscotforge.com. .

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