The evolution of 'The Moonlight Smithy'

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He is a firefighter and volunteer rescue worker by day. But after-hours, between emergency calls blasting from the scanner in his home or workshop, Dal Leck is "The Moonlight Smithy."

He gave himself the nickname several years ago after he realized most of the blacksmithing he was doing was at night. He had attempted to make a career out of his steel-shaping business, but as he said, "the term starving artist is a reality."

Leck is by no means a career blacksmith. He does make a few dollars here and there from festivals, craft shows and private buyers by selling his handmade steel knives, furniture, coat hooks, dinner bells, tools, structural facets and various trinkets. But Leck didn't get into blacksmithing for the money.

"I just enjoy doing it," the former Hayden trustee and Planning Commission member said."I like working with iron, always have."

Sitting in his living room with his feet propped next to the coffee table he made, Leck discussed how his grandfather and his grandfather's grandfather inspired him.

From the time he was 6 years old, Leck spent almost every childhood summer in his grandfather's fiery blacksmith shop. It was the glimmer from the bright, hot metal and the welding machine that sparked his interest.

After "starving" a couple of years trying to make a living from his art, Leck got into the construction business. Just as he was getting away from blacksmithing, he met a friend who was a blacksmith.

Now, Leck works -- often by moonlight -- in a shop a few steps from his house on Chestnut Street. He said he bought the house with the intention of buying the neighboring garage and turning it into a shop.

"It was meant to be," Leck's wife, Cindy, said.

"The commute to work kills me," Leck joked as he walked out to the old garage, which has been converted to suit his needs.

People will get the chance to see Leck working in his shop Aug. 9 as part of the third annual Steamboat Studios Art and Cultural Tour.

Sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Art Council, this event takes participants on a self-guided tour of artists' working studio space, as well as cultural and historical points of interest from Steamboat to Hayden, along Twentymile Road.

After eating breakfast and meeting a tour guide at the Eleanor Bliss Center for the Arts at the Depot, participants will be able to view the artists' studios beginning at 9 a.m. Featured artists are potters, painters and sculptors, including four other Hayden artists: glassblower Brad Smith, sculptor Patrick Zabel, fine artist Lana McFadden and weaver Lauretta Davidson-Monger (featured in the July 9 Hayden Valley Press).

Leck has all the tools necessary for metal shaping and fabrication: a coal-burning forge; a rack of hammers, chisels and other shaping tools; a welder; an acetylene torch for cutting; drills; and of course, an anvil.

When he enters the shop, he usually warms up by making something simple, such as a hook for hats. It is quiet, except for classic rock playing on the radio.

While Leck makes many different items, he is perhaps most noted for his knives, which he crafts using a special pattern-making technique called Damascus.

Damascus involves welding together many layers of hard and soft steel and etching them with acid. The acid attacks the hard and soft steel at different rates, creating the visible wavy pattern seen in his knives and some crafts, Leck said.

A man who saw Leck's work at a craft show while visiting Steamboat commissioned him to travel cross-country to build Damascus steel doors for the man's Manhattan home. Leck said he was honored to do the work, especially when he arrived to find artists specializing in everything from tile to molding had come from around the world to work on the house.

Though blacksmithing allows for Leck to travel, make money, have fun and enjoy solitude, he says he wishes he had more time to work in the shop.

At least he isn't wasting any time on the commute.

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