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Originally published Friday, October 19, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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New era of metal artisans employs ancient methods

Metal artisans are forging distinctive new architectural elements, furniture and accessories.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Architectural metalsmith Chris Rand fired up a blowtorch at the Ivy Arts Studio in Minneapolis and transformed cold, hard metal into intricate ginkgo leaves.

The leaves — delicately curved and fluted, in copper, bronze and steel — are embellishments for a pair of steel vestibule doors that Rand recently forged for a St. Paul couple. And Rand was having fun.

“I don’t have a favorite metal — I love them all,” he said, as he bent the metal to his artistic will. “I love what I can do to them.”

Blacksmiths have been creating objects from wrought iron and steel for centuries, but a new generation of metal artisans is employing the ancient methods to forge distinctive new architectural elements, furniture and accessories for homes and other spaces.

“In the ’70s, people feared the techniques would be lost,” Rand said. “But more young people are getting into it, and the elders have done a good job to set the stage.”

Rand found his way into metal art after a job putting hitches on cars. His boss saw his interest, gave him the keys to the shop and Rand started experimenting, which ultimately led to his enrolling at the Minnesota College of Art and Design.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be an inventor,” he said. Now, his metalwork combines art and invention. Rand forges all his own tools, each custom-made for the particular project at hand. “I like toggling between left and right brain,” he said.

St. Paul architect John Yust, who designed the Art Nouveau-inspired ginkgo doors in collaboration with Rand, loves integrating custom metalwork into his projects, both public and private, he said. “When done well, it just resonates with amazing emotional connection to people. Like artwork or music, it can bring goose bumps.”

“Some of the best metalwork ends up in the private domain,” Yust said. “The public doesn’t get to see it, see how cool the details are.”

Those details are on lavish display in “Ironwork Today 3,” a new coffee-table book showcasing contemporary metalwork and featuring work by Rand and Minneapolis metal artist Lisa Elias, of Elias Metal Studio.

Elias taught herself to weld while still a University of Minnesota student. Since then, she’s been turning out an eclectic array of objects: lighting, doorbell ringers, railings, gates, trellises and arbors, birdbaths, sconces — even toilet-paper holders. She’s also created a number of public projects, including a downtown drinking fountain and 30 tree-corral grates, adding a little flair to what could be mundanely functional objects.

“I embellish places and spaces,” Elias said. “Everyone needs a gate. If it’s an artistic one, I’m glad to be called.”