Led by Lee Sauder & Creekwood Forge
A three-day iron forging workshop (Oct. 1 - 4, 2001) directed by Lexington, Virginia, artist and blacksmith/metallurgist, Lee Sauder, sculptor, Steven Bickley, and Virginia Tech professor and material science engineer, Bill Reynolds.
An exhibition entitled, Fiber and Form / Iron and Paper forged iron sculptures and “Pyroprint” iron-burn drawings by Lexington, Virginia artist Lee Sauder, was curated by Francis Thompson and exhibited at Virginia Tech’s Armory Gallery, (October 4 – October 26, 2001) to coincide with the workshop.
Sauder, inspired by accounts of African iron smelting and the19th century iron industry in Rockbridge County, Virginia,
began smelting iron from local ore in 1998. For his Mountain Lake Workshop, Sauder transported a portable iron-smelting “bloomery” (modeled on the traditional
African bloomery furnace) to Blacksburg in October, 2001 and demonstrated the traditional method of smelting iron.
This process involved was in common use until the 15th Century in Europe - when new technologies changed metallurgy and lead to the development of the “blast” furnace – resulting in a completely different composition for iron.
More than thirty workshop volunteers participated in the profoundly meditative, discipline-centered skill of the
“bloomery” iron smelting process; each participant wrought a significant chunk of red-hot soft smelted iron (as
fibrous as the best hand-made papers) in the creation of an array of new sculptures. Every care was taken to guarantee that no accidents occurred, and participants came to realize and appreciate that the labor-intensive process and the malleable material it produces bear an aesthetic experience in their very nature.
This form of smelting died out in industrial societies, but continued to be commonly practiced by rural and frontier cultures in southwestern Virginia from Carroll County into bordering North Carolina well into the early Twentieth Century. The residues of this traditional method of iron-smelting are important to archeologists in identifying sites of early frontier settlements. Southwestern Virginians gained access to a chapter in their rural cultural history as well as created a new work of art that today resides in the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia.
The three-day iron forging workshop in early October was directed by Sauder and Bickley, with contributions from Professor Bill Reynolds, College of Engineering. This project received grant funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts.