Smith plus smith

From jewelry to sculp­ture, black­smith and cop­per­smith forge spe­cial creative en­ergy

Grand Magazine - - HANDWORKS - By San­dra Wal­neck Black­smith San­dra Dunn and cop­per­smith Stephen White work in their Kitch­ener work­shop.

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

Pho­tog­ra­phy Stephen Edgar

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

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