L.A.'S New Iron Age: Ornamental Ironwork Springs into a Bold Era of Artistic Invention

By Crosby, Bill | Sunset, June 1996 | Go to article overview
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L.A.'S New Iron Age: Ornamental Ironwork Springs into a Bold Era of Artistic Invention


Crosby, Bill, Sunset


The tracery of metal gates, grates, screens, furniture, and hardware that ornaments many Southern California houses from earlier eras - in styles ranging from Arts and Crafts to zigzag moderne - illustrates a rich tradition. But those examples are just a point of departure today. The latest generation of artists is hammering, welding, casting, and bending iron and steel into functional, free-form contemporary sculpture for the home.

Of the many practitioners in greater Los Angeles, Gale McCall, Norman Grochowski, and Dahlia Strong are producing work that illustrates the remarkable range of possibility in metal. Innovation is especially apparent in large-scale pieces commissioned by individual clients, but it also appears in smaller items as simple and utilitarian as drawer pulls, curtain hardware, and fireplace tools. These everyday objects are being crafted one at a time in forms that reflect both the possibilities of the medium and the exuberance of the artist; increasingly, such items are showing up in mainstream home furnishings stores.

Inglewood artist Gale McCall favors cold bending and welding. Her designs have a grace that suggests movement; it's as if she's persuaded the steel to do the unexpected. Topanga artist Norman Grochowski's inspiration comes more from nature, and from an impressionist he admires. "I think of my work as van Gogh in steel," he says.

Grochowski is a smith: he forges his work one meticulous increment at a time. As with many metalworkers in this region, his craft went full circle, from fine art to production work, then back to fine art. "I began my career as a fine artist, then got into steelwork to make ends meet. Finally, I've been able to merge the two."

Los Angeles artist Dahlia Strong has been heavily influenced by her travels throughout the Mediterranean region, which made her work a perfect fit for Southern California. "There's such a tremendous tradition of that here - Spanish, Italian, Moorish. Ironwork fits perfectly with all the tile, beamed ceilings, and arched portals that are part of so many houses here.

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