Smith plus smith
From jewelry to sculpture, blacksmith and coppersmith forge special creative energy
IF NECESSITY is the mother of invention, local artisans Stephen White and Sandra Dunn are like proud parents. Since 1999, White, a coppersmith, and Dunn, a blacksmith, have been combining their formidable talents to bring their clients’ visions to reality.
White describes the Two Smiths as >>
>> “problem solvers.” No matter what the request, White is confident they can find a way to get it done. “We always come up with a solution…. We trust that we can do it,” he says.
A visit to their studio offers a glimpse into their world of invention — and art. Despite the constant demands on their time, they give visitors a warm welcome. That said, their entire studio is given over to their craft so visitors are advised not to wear white if they drop by.
The work is noisy, dirty and fascinating to watch. On this particular day, Dunn is hammering a huge copper disc into what will be a birdbath. Even in its initial stages, it is beautiful.
There are two forges, and one is lit. Resting near the flame are the shapes of leaves which will be gracefully wound around a four-posted pillar that is waiting
nearby. Scattered throughout the space are various works in progress, and tools and forms that were used in previous projects. White points out several that were used in the restoration of the roof of a pavilion in Victoria Park. Standing on its own over to the right of their forge is the very tall figure of a donkey. At this point, it only consists of a metal frame, but it is obvious what it is destined to be. Around its neck is a knitted purple scarf, presumably to protect against the cool breezes that blow in through the open bay doors. The donkey will be joined by Sancho Panza, and they are to be moved to the market garden at Hacienda Sarria, located at the end of Union Street in Kitchener. Waiting for them there is Don Quixote atop his horse, Rocinante. The copper Quixote statue is magnificent. The product of the combined efforts of numerous volunteers who contributed their skills as blacksmiths, coppersmiths and welders, the work was completed at the Two Smiths studio last year. A similar team will work on Panza and his donkey.
White and Dunn create everything from fine jewelry to towering sculptures. Their restoration projects have included the doors of the Registry Theatre in downtown Kitchener and the gates on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The smiths are in great demand from clients looking to add interesting details to their home or garden.
“We work really hard to develop designs for architectural work that adhere to building code but also provide really interesting possibilities for contemporary architecture. This is difficult to achieve given the strict parameters of (the) Ontario Building Code,” Dunn says.
White creates and perfects the tooling required for their projects. “The tools enable me to do the job easier,” he explains.
However, it is like reinventing the wheel each time they embark on a new project. To allow the metal to be shaped and formed, unique tools and moulds must be created.
Modest in describing their own talents, each partner points out the other’s individual accomplishments. Dunn praises an art deco lamp that White re-created. “Steve’s really skilled in replicating things,” she says. “(He) is skilled at accurate and fine work.”
Dunn’s own creative talent is currently on display in the United States departure area of Toronto’s Pearson Airport. She created three unique items for the installation, one of which is a chair that is both functional and artistic. White is quick to show a picture of the piece, encouraging Dunn to describe her participation in the project.
Their successful business partnership began after an introduction by Scott >>
>> Little of Artefacts in St. Jacob’s when Dunn was working in the Artefacts studio and grappling with a project forming copper hinges. Little had met White at a mutual friend’s party and suggested Dunn get in touch.
“I hired Steve to do a set of (copper) hinges. We worked well together,” explains Dunn. About the same time, space came open at Globe Studios in Kitchener, and the Two Smiths set up shop. Seven years ago, they moved to their current workspace on Borden Avenue in Kitchener.
Dunn laughs when she says that she had to “convince” White to work with her. But watching the two friends describe their work and their admiration for each other’s talents, it probably didn’t take much convincing.
They work closely, which requires a good relationship, and during conversation they sometimes finish each other’s sentences. Dunn teases White after he says he is getting married in “Juneish.” She also reveals that she plans to finish the copper birdbath in six hours “because he thinks I can’t.”
But as in all partnerships, there can be conflict. “We disagree a lot! It can be really difficult, we really argue. But we always come back …,” Dunn says.
White readily agrees: “It keeps things moving forward. We don’t allow it to get stagnant.”
They came to their respective callings in very different ways. White, who immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom at the age of 12, returned to England in 1970 to serve an apprenticeship. “My father thought I should follow the family tradition,” he explains.
During his four years there he learned many trades and attended a technical college. “I ended up in coppersmithing.”
Upon his return to Canada, he worked in a variety of factories engaged in heavy steel fabrication. In 1996 he moved to Waterloo and commuted to work at De Havilland. “This took its toll,” he says, “I quit that job.” And by 1999 he had found his new calling with Dunn.
Clearly, White made the right choice. He shows real emotion when he describes his work. “The tooling and the end product are dance partners, they dance together,” he says. “I enjoy that process. It’s such a satisfying feeling for me.”
His restoration work sometimes gives him a glimpse back in time. White recalls phoning Dunn to tell her about the markings he found on the Registry Theatre doors. Working through the technical difficulties of the project in the same way as the earlier coppersmith was very moving. “I felt like I was communicating (with him.)”
Dunn became a blacksmith almost by >>
>> accident. “I studied English and fine art at the University of Waterloo,” she says.
She first tried her hand at the forge when she was invited by a friend to visit the Artefacts studio and was hooked.
“I identify myself as a blacksmith, but it is less about the material — more as a way of thinking. I heat the metal to form solutions,” she explains.
Dunn uses the term “holistic technology” to describe her work process and how gratifying it is. “I am connected with the project from the beginning.”
Eager to share her knowledge, Dunn trains other blacksmiths each fall at the Haliburton School of the Arts at Fleming College. She teaches a course called Forging Fundamentals, the History of Ornamental Ironwork and Applied Design.
She especially enjoys working with beginners. “That’s probably what I love most about teaching — opening up opportunities for people to work with their hands and realize the potential for not merely shaping a material that seems so solid, but to develop the skills and knowledge to actually make functional tools out of the stuff.”
Those looking for more informal training are encouraged to come to the studio’s workshops and try their hand. Never one to turn people away, there is even a 12-yearold boy who comes by each week for a two-hour training session, and they always have projects for him.
Perhaps in an initial step to passing along the family business, Dunn’s son Liam, 15, spent March break learning the trade. She was pleased to find his work detail oriented, and accurate. Similar to traits Dunn admires in her business partner.
The Two Smiths recently enjoyed a reunion of sorts while visiting the home of the cabinet that needed 26 copper hinges back in 1999. Both were delighted to see the piece which had first brought them together. A pleasant reminder of how far they’ve come, and inspiration for where they still want to go, together. For more on the Two Smiths, check out: www.twosmiths.ca.
A description from the Two Smiths states that these driveway gates, created for a residence on the Bruce Peninsula, were designed to “evoke the layers of sedimentary rock and the inevitable and unstoppable growth that emerges between the cracks.”...
This inventive copper and stainless steel railing has the effect of a sound wave moving through a set of strings while also adhering to building code restrictions. Photographer Patrick Wey
This photo shows the “pomegranate blossom” top of a floor-standing candlestick. It was made for a chapel in Hamilton. Photographer Stephen White
Sandra Dunn and Stephen White run a Kitchener business called the Two Smiths. The pair create everything from fine jewelry to huge whimsical sculptures such as the donkey in the top photo. Photography Stephen Edgar