A freelance writer and father of two, I am interested in almost anything the ever-changing city of Brisbane has to offer. When I am not seeking the kid-friendly and affordable, I am tracking the home-grown and the unique... Come and discover with me!
Published February 12th 2012
In the ancient world the art of metallurgy was widely believed to have been a direct gift from the gods. The inheritor of this gift—the indispensable blacksmith, who fashioned the tools, utensils and weapons upon which Iron Age civilisations relied—was therefore revered as a conduit of divine power. This mysterious sorcerer, with his wondrous ability to fashion resilient and beautiful objects from the raw elements of earth and fire, frequently doubled as shaman, healer or fortune-teller in the communities he served. The mystical aura surrounding the iron-worker and his wares persisted well into supposedly more enlightened times. As recently as the 19th century, villagers in remote parts of Britain still laid their children on the local blacksmith's anvil as a cure for sickness, while the practice of hanging an iron horseshoe above the front door to ward off evil and attract good luck remains common throughout the world today.
The blast furnace and the steel mill may have ended the blacksmith's long heyday, but like many ancient artisanal traditions which cold logic suggests should have vanished during the past century, the art of blacksmithing has endured. In the hearts, minds and hands of a rare breed of highly-skilled craftspeople, this arcane magic still thrives, and continues to transmit itself into the world through a range of functional, ornamental and artistic creations limited only by the inherent properties of iron itself. During a recent Saturday excursion to the town of Gatton, some ninety kilometres west of Brisbane in the fertile Lockyer Valley, I was privileged to witness this sorcery in action, in the wizard's cave which is the Ironic Art workshop.
I was invited on this unusual outing by my dear friend Lady Rose, who had recently become engaged to the redoubtable Sir Steele. Inspired by love's endless creativity, she had decided to present her beau with a keepsake whose very form incorporated both their surnames, and whose beauty and durability would serve as a lifelong commemoration of their commitment.
In typical resourceful fashion, Lady Rose had tracked down a master-craftsman capable of producing such a singular art-work—a modern-day adept named Kim Duff—and commissioned him to perform the important task. This magus of metal, she informed me, cloaked his mystical powers from the uninitiated under the title of "Blacksmith Artist", and from his humble shed in a sleepy country town regularly produced marvels—not only gifts, but furnishings, homewares, and sculptures: all masterpieces of the blacksmith's craft. Doubtless knowing that such an offer would be irresistible, she then told me that if I cared to accompany her on her clandestine mission to collect the finished art-work, Kim had agreed not only to show us around his cave of wonders, but to demonstrate his powers in action. Needless to say, I arrived at Lady Rose's house well in advance of the scheduled 9am departure, clutching notebook, pen, back-up pen and thrice-checked camera.
To meet Kim Duff is to be reminded of how often humility accompanies true mastery. A third-generation blacksmith also equipped with the modern expertise of a trade-qualified boilermaker, Kim learnt the ancient way of the hammer and tongs from his grandfather on a traditional forge, and after nearly two decades of professional practice and delighted clients surely ranks among this country's leading exponents of the craft. Despite his wealth of experience and talent, however, upon our arrival Kim immediately fulfilled his website's promise of a "warm welcome", ushering us politely and without fanfare into the office-cum-showroom of his business Ironic Art. Once inside, I quickly realised why this Blacksmith Artist felt little need to use more words about his work than were required to patiently answer our questions. From every corner of this small, rustic space, an immense variety of products—tables, chairs, candelabras, light fittings, door handles, towel-racks and shelving units to name a few—spoke loudly and confidently for themselves. All were exquisitely-crafted and refreshingly different from others I had seen in the past; all looked as though they would easily outlast our grandchildren with a minimum of maintenance.
My jaw may have been slackening somewhat at this point, but when Kim opened a display folder and began showing us some of his balustrading and ornamental fencing and gating projects, I found my mouth dropping open at embarrassingly regular intervals. To his credit, Kim managed to limit himself to a small grin as I asked what was surely the prize-winning newbie question of the day: how did you manage to weave the bamboo into that?
I still can't believe it's not bamboo...
In my defence, though, at that moment I had undoubtedly already fallen under the influence of a powerful enchantment, whose form and flavour had hitherto been unknown to me. Already I was becoming fascinated with the potential of the versatile metal which we take so much for granted in our daily lives; thus, also, beginning to understand the sparks of quiet passion in Kim's eyes as he introduced us to his life's work.
may be an Ironic Art specialty of which Kim has every reason to be proud, but it was only when our conversation turned to his stand-alone art-works and sculptures that I saw those sparks in his eyes begin to glow like coals under the breath of the blacksmith's bellows. Whether in the form of delicate creations like the Steele Rose;
'Reminisce' - a Kim Duff creation for the Hornibrook Bridge Artwork Collection
Kim's artistic projects are emblematic statements which clearly signal that the timeless craft of blacksmithing is undergoing an exciting contemporary revival. The trailblazers of this revival are not only restoring the accumulated skills of countless generations to popular awareness, but are proving as innovative and as unafraid to mix media—Kim himself has successfully incorporated timber, glass, sandstone and marble into previous projects—as any artists practising today.
Beauty, innovation, iron
I was already thoroughly in the grip of the blacksmith's spell by the time we left the showroom; little did I realise that I had only heard the first few lines of the wizard's incantation. So impressively magical for me was the next half-hour or so in the Ironic Art workshop that at this juncture, dear reader, I wish to let the videos below tell the story better than I feel my words ever could. I do not doubt that this footage will speak to you as strongly and as clearly as the creations in the Ironic Art showroom spoke to me. Enjoy.
In yet another link to the past, Kim here uses a hundred-year-old power-hammer to flatten and lengthen the iron, which has been pre-heated to 1100 degrees celsius.
Having reheated the length of iron in the forge to renew its pliability, Kim then works the metal into a classic scroll shape in much the same way that blacksmiths two thousand years ago would have.
Kim now fashions a new piece of iron into one of the organic shapes which are a specialty of his work. Note in this video the double-horned anvil, which is a rarity--Kim himself does not know where it originated. More magic?
The final stage in the creation of the leaf, which Kim does so easily as to appear positively casual. However, eighteen years of personal experience combine with millennia of accumulated skill in this short burst of creative activity.
A quadruple-carriageway bypass may have diverted the Warrego Highway from the streets of Gatton more than two decades ago, but perhaps this is all the more reason to make the trip out there sometime soon. An unassuming jewel in the broad mantle of the Lockyer Valley, Gatton is a place as much worth visiting for the scenic journey as for the destination. An hour's drive from Brisbane will take you through the patch-worked fields of South-East Queensland's "salad bowl", the rim of which is formed by the rounded hills of the Minden Ranges to the east and by the spectacular forested escarpments of the Great Dividing Range to the west, and upon your arrival in the township itself you will find much to take your mind off the hustle and stress of the big city. Perhaps you'll want to linger a while on the shores of picturesque Lake Apex, strolling into the recently-built Lockyer Valley Cultural Centre afterwards to take in some inspiration at the Art Gallery, or some refreshments at The Staging Post Cafe Restaurant. Perhaps you're enamoured of all things motorised, in which case you will find much to satisfy your senses at the Queensland Transport Museum, and afterwards will probably feel moved to pay homage to the people who keep Australia moving at the nearby Lights on the Hill Trucker's Memorial. Perhaps you are a gardening enthusiast, and are on your way to the Pohlman's Nursery—largest on the Eastern seaboard—to fertilise some green dreams among 82 acres of horticultural heaven. Perhaps your private passions drive you to dig in the dirt for different reasons, and you are on your way to the Gatton Gemfest (March 24th); perhaps you're a local history buff following the Cobb and Co Tourist Drive and have just reached the final post on the trail.
Westward through the beautiful Lockyer Valley
Whatever brings you to this particular part of the world, however, be sure and take up Blacksmith Artist Kim Duff's offer of a warm welcome, and pay a visit to Ironic Art—which at 74 Western Drive is located within walking distance of the Lake Apex Precinct. Whatever your other passions may be, the combination of contemporary art, ancient skill—and no small amount of magic—that you find there will leave you spellbound; and that, dear reader, is an iron-clad promise.
Ironic Art, 74 Western Drive, Gatton - a warm welcome guaranteed