By Kelsey Sutton
What can you tell us about blacksmithing?
It’s an ancient trade. Mankind has been hammering and heating steel for 4,000 years. They sat around a campfire, and some of the rocks oozed out metal when they reached a certain temperature. That’s when it started. It became the pinnacle of society. For instance, when the settlers built their towns, the most important person wasn’t the mayor—it was the blacksmith.
And because blacksmithing has been around for so long, there’s no such thing as a new idea. So, when I’m working on a project, it’s inspired by something else. Technically, I steal old ideas and incorporate my own touch.
I get most of those ideas just as I’m waking up in the morning. My eyes are like a blackboard, and someone is drawing the shapes in the darkness. So, then I go out to the shop, turn on some music, sometimes clean or stare at the wall, and then I’ll start heating the metal and putting it together. There are a lot of failures. That’s why my motto is: “Too dumb to know you can’t do something.”
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been interested in metalworking since I saw the first Conan the Barbarian movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I liked the swords they were using. I’ve actually been doing it since 2009, thanks to YouTube. That’s how I learned how. But my first inspiration was a gal whose website I stumbled across. She sent me her book and signed it, “Keep on forging.” And the first thing I ever designed was a candle holder for my mom.
Now that I know more, I’ve learned the mark of a great blacksmith is that when you’re done with a piece, there are no hammer marks. Nowadays, however, people want those hammer marks. They like the look and texture of them. I also know that I should try to finish a piece in as few heats as possible. If you reheat it too many times, you’re stressing the metal. Although nothing happens fast when you’re doing metalwork.
How would you describe your art?
If I had to pick one word, it would be “adventure.” The reason I say that is because I’m on a blacksmithing adventure right now. My viewpoint is different from when I was younger, and I realized I wanted to do something new and exciting.
This trade resembles life, really. It doesn’t matter what the medium is, but the twists and turns do. Just like when I heat the metal. It eventually turns into art.
And just like life, there’s a certain feeling you get when you’re on the right track. You know it’s right. There’s a sense of satisfaction, and that’s the easy part. The hard part is the cleaning-up afterwards. I have to make it look shiny. Once the creative process is finished, that cake-like scale needs to come off.
When things get difficult, what do you do to encourage your own creativity?
Everyone goes through slumps, and what I try to do is talk to other artists. Put yourself in that environment again. I’ll watch some of my favorite videos, too.
What are you currently working on?
It’s a secret project for a Hollywood production company. I have been a subject matter expert for the producers of a new survival show airing on the Animal Planet this fall. It’ll be called Catch and Release. I’ve forged primitive axe heads for them, and they’re used on the show. But I’m always busy. Ninety percent of the work I do is custom-made. Actually, I was just elected as president of the Northern Minnesota Metalsmiths. We have our meetings on the first Monday of every month, and everyone is welcome.
Go to www.olsonironworks.com to see more of Jeff Olson’s work, or to purchase one of his creations.