Making art flow from metal
Oak Creek blacksmith Brett Lindstrom says it's all about focus
September 13, 2003
Blacksmith Brett Lindstrom talks about working iron the same way that he talks about flying down mountains on a bike or sailing over bumps on the ski mountain.
It’s all about focus.
The sort of focus that keeps you on your line through a mogul field or the toughest singletrack, or that, in the case of iron, helps you craft a seamless, perfect-fit piece.
With that focus, Lindstrom has crafted railings, fireplace covers, kitchen hoods, door handles and a range of other pieces. He recently opened his own blacksmithing shop in Oak Creek, and he creates pieces for clients across the state.
Each of his pieces, he said, typically has two qualities: It’s art, and it’s functional.
“You want to make something that’s pleasing, that’s nice, and it is a work of art,” Lindstrom said. “But it’s got to have a function as well, so it’s not just a piece of something that doesn’t have any requirements, like a statue you just look at.”
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Most people would take a look at Lindstrom’s work — for example, an elaborate piece of indoor railing made of slim strips of scrolling iron that flare out like the branches of a plant — and call it art.
But Lindstrom maintains that some of the most artistic elements are details people don’t even notice, such as his efforts to make welded spots invisible, so the iron pieces look more like they are just touching and not like they are locked to each other.
“It flows right out of the metal,” Lindstrom said, pointing to a post that was welded as part of the railing.
His work sometimes has a light, airy feel to it, even though it’s made of a strong metal.
A lot of it looks like it came from another time, a time when things were handcrafted and months were set aside for projects that now people often want in a week.
“It’s an Old World look,” he said. “With our society today, everything is made in China and Japan — they’ve got it down to a science of how fast they can do it.”
Although his pieces take him a while, the time he spends on each shows through in the detail.
“I like for people to wonder how it was put together.”
Lindstrom came to Steamboat Springs in 1985, when he was about 20, for one reason: the skiing.
He worked construction during the summer and took night jobs in the winter so he could ski during the day.
Eventually, he started working with Jim Selbe of Rollingstone Art Studio. Selbe would design pieces and often Lindstrom would work iron into those visions.
That’s where he learned the rules of iron working.
The first step in working iron is to get the metal red-hot by sitting it in fire. Then it can be forged and hammered and bended to create any shape imaginable — thick reeds, crisp and delicate leaves, a lone bull elk.
Lindstrom does all of his work in his Oak Creek shop, which he named “Angelina Iron” after his middle daughter’s middle name. When she was born, he said, she “came out like an angel,” hence the middle name of Angelina. And when he went home the night she was born to let the dogs out, the name “Angelina Iron” just sounded right.
A look inside Angelina Iron reveals the dirty, fiery, concrete-floor look typical of a blacksmith shop. It’s what Lindstrom does inside the factory-style building that sets his smithy apart.
There are thick catalogues with pages and pages of pieces that people can buy, all more complex than some of the pieces Lindstrom has time to make.
But those stock pieces, all of which are perfect, are also all the same. Every mark and angle is in exactly the same spot.
“You can do a railing with that stuff, and it’s OK and it looks nice, but this,” he said as he turned to a sample of his own railing work, “is handmade.”
There are inconsistencies and differences in his pieces, he said, all of which give them character.
One of Lindstrom’s pieces is in a prime viewing spot in downtown Oak Creek: an iron bench with a silver star that he made in memory of Harold Fulton, a longtime Oak Creek resident who fought in World War II and worked in the Oak Creek mines. The Historical Society of Oak Creek and Phippsburg commissioned Lindstrom to make the piece.
Lindstrom still has stories about Fulton posted on his wall, which helped him learn about Fulton’s life and decide what sort of bench to make.
He knew a silver star had to be involved, because Fulton had received one while serving in World War II. He reflected Fulton’s enjoyment of firearms and the military with 50-caliber bullets, which sit upright at the bench’s back.
He measured countless chairs, looking for a comfortable fit for a bench. And he even made one leg of the bench taller than the other so the bench would be level on the sloping concrete.
All of those steps reflect the details and the focus that Lindstrom puts into each piece he crafts.
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