Driftwood and Iron: Making people happyAug 5th, 2012 | Category: Crafty
by Samantha Schuller
Steve and Carol Bryant of Conway turn found and repurposed materials into art. The name Driftwood and Iron, as they call their work, comes from the chief materials they use. The garden courtyard outside their workshop is packed with iron sculptures and creatures, while glass and ceramic flowers rise on driftwood stems from half-barrels and planter pots. On one garden wall hang three salmon made from radiator cores and saw blades, and atop an 8-foot iron pole sits a prehistoric fish made from clamp pieces, garden shears, and horseshoes.
“We’ve turned a lot of old ashtrays into flowers,” Carol said with a smile. She does the glasswork, carefully drilling through the center of each piece, then stacks smaller pieces inside larger ones, to mimic the layering of petals. She adds glass knob pulls or painted beads to the center, giving some the look of a tea rose, while others have the cup and saucer shape of daffodils, made from actual cups and saucers.
Throughout the studio (“A three-car garage with no room for cars to park in it,” said Carol), there are milk cartons and shelves packed with salvaged materials, grouped by size, use, and form. A bin of rusty ricers have a destiny already; “Bird’s head,” Steve said, turning one upside down. Other things are waiting around for inspiration to strike. “You have to look at things with creativity and think about how they might come together.”
Steve is a blacksmith with wide experience in electrical and mechanical engineering. He learned to weld early in life, and says he’s always had a mind for how things work. “I grew up with the farm boy attitude, that anything can be fixed with bubble gum and baling wire,” he laughed. Coupled with a creative knack, his make-do spirit naturally leads him to create unwanted junk into art.
Steve’s first piece was a lark—a propeller-fan flower he presented his wife. He was pleased with the results and enjoyed the metalwork, deciding to take blacksmithing classes from other local artists. “I was hooked,” he said, “and I just fell back in love with metalwork.”
The Bryants sell from their studio and at art and garden shows throughout the spring, summer, and fall. “The next show we’re preparing for is Fresh Paint in Everett. It’s a working show, so we’ll pack up our anvil and I’ll go pound iron on the pier,” Steve said smiling. The anvil the Bryants pack to shows is light and small—just 130 pounds. “It was originally a farrier’s anvil for making horseshoes,” Steve explained.
Each piece in his workshop has a back-story that Steve is clearly passionate about telling—one 6-foot tall machine called a trip hammer is almost 100 years old. “It was made in 1920 and was used in a rock quarry to sharpen tools and bits. Then it got put into storage and forgotten about for 40 years, when a blacksmith happened to find it. He converted it to electric power with this belt here,” he said pointing. “Each blow with the trip hammer gives me the force of swinging a 50 pound sledgehammer.”
Next to the trip hammer, Steve’s forge, which resembles a drum-style barbeque, heats metal up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. “White hot,” he said. “When it’s that hot, it gets soft and malleable. I can draw it out, texture it, roll it, anything I want.”
Carol brought over a shiny metal feather that Steve’s worked, as Steve picked up the tool he created to texture it: a pair of tongs with protruding ridges on the grabbers. “It’s almost more fun figuring out how to make my own tools than it is to use them,” he laughed.
“Art is something that makes people happy. It can completely change the way you see a street, or a room, or a garden,” Carol said. “We love what we do. We love making people happy.”
You can visit Driftwood and Iron’s home studio in Conway by appointment and find their calendar of upcoming shows at www.driftwoodandiron.com.
This article was published in the August 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.