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Toe River Arts: Here and There, Contemporary Sculptural Ironwork

Toe River Arts

And That Was the Light of Men. Warren Holzman, artist

Toe River Arts’ (TRA’s) annual Blacksmith Exhibition, traditionally held in April in conjunction with the Fire on the Mountain Blacksmithing Festival, has had to be cancelled twice now due to the pandemic. Organizers of the event, however, are working around the disappointment by hosting Here and There, Contemporary Sculptural Ironwork, an exhibition curated by master blacksmith Elizabeth Brim. Blacksmiths from Western North Carolina and points beyond are featured in the exhibit that runs through Saturday, October 30, at TRA’s Spruce Pine gallery.

Spruce Pine and Burnsville’s tradition of blacksmithing going back decades led to the popular Fire on the Mountain Blacksmithing Festival, according to Brim. “It is an important and unique opportunity to entertain and educate the general public about the contemporary relevance and vivacity of this ancient craft,” Brim says. “It’s also the chance for metal workers from all over to gather and have fun together.”

When he attends the exhibit, Warren Holzman expects to reconnect with fellow metal artists going back 26 years when he was a student of Brim’s at Penland School of Craft. From his home in Philadelphia, he is bringing a piece titled And That Was the Light of Men, that stands 12’ wide and 5’ tall.

“The sculpture is about whaling,” he says, “and specifically the process called flensing by which strips of skin and blubber were removed to be rendered down into whale oil, the primary source of artificial illumination in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

WNC artist blacksmith Meghan Martin also has ties to Penland, having completed a fellowship there in 2016 and taught workshops as well. She creates a range of works, including functional pieces for the home, hand tools and wall sculptures. “I’m inspired by erosion, rock formation and geologic time, and through my work I try to express my intrigue by emulating certain characteristics found in nature,” she says. “My focus is to put all of the inspiration and observation that is happening in my mind into a forged steel object that can be held, observed and used within the home.”

Kansas native Hoss Haley was an architectural blacksmith in 1997 when he entered the three-year residency at Penland. He will be exhibiting three small maquettes of some of the large-scale sculptures that he creates for public and private commissions. He notes that 6.3 percent of the earth’s crust is iron. “I think most participants in this show would agree that there is a primal attraction to the medium,” he says. “That said, you would find that individual approaches to the material would vary greatly. Iron can exhibit characteristics of strength and rigidity as well as lightness and fluidity. But, in the end, we are all starting with the same raw material.”

Other artists participating in the show are Peter Braspenninx, Bill Brown, Jim Cooper, Maria Cristalli, Maegan Crowley, Rachel David, Andrew Dohner, Andrew Meers, Zack Noble, Bill Price and John Winer.

To learn more about the exhibit and Toe River Arts, visit The Toe River Arts Spruce Pine Gallery is located at 269 Oak Avenue, Spruce Pine.

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