Blacksmith Artist • Quadeville, Ontario
Madawaska Metal Works
Blacksmithing and Sculpture
Blacksmith-sculptors work with an inorganic medium of formidable resistance, which takes skill and patience to manipulate. With every blow, the artist must think several steps ahead in order to achieve a pleasing and functional three-dimensional piece.
In contrast, the traditional blacksmith is a no-nonsense, function-oriented sculptor. Form follows function, but only when appropriate or sought-after. The industrial revolution greatly reduced the need for traditional blacksmithing and it’s now mainly relegated to artistic application. Blacksmithing is alive and well… with a tendency toward artistic expression.
I study my subjects thoroughly. I’ll have ideas, sketches and photos attached to bins into which I throw material I think may suit the project. This ‘collection’ stage may take months or even years. These bins are visited from time to time and the contents reviewed and adjusted, and once time and inspiration allow I’ll just dump the lot onto the table and see what happens.
No work is ever completed uninterrupted. I’ll usually come to dead ends after which the piece awaits new inspiration, material or clarity, I then just move onto the next incomplete work. I’ll have at least a half-dozen pieces on the go at any time. The size of the components I collect dictates the scale of the piece; this is so that individual tools and machinery items remain somewhat recognizable. Far from just ‘assemblages,’ my materials are further heated and forged into organic shape.
The love of natural history and the outdoors has always been my preoccupation and inspiration. As a kid, I’d bike or bus to the Museum of Natural History in Ottawa and revel in the displays and devour books on outdoor life, self-sufficiency and conservation. I imagined myself in the times of Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold living close to, and in tune with, nature.
It was a charmed world, of my making certainly, but punctuated by as much time as I could muster in the wild, even if it was only on the back-lot of our family cottage in Quebec’s Pontiac region.
If through my art I can inspire in others a greater appreciation in the natural world and its conservation, I’ll consider my time at the bench well spent.
About the Artist
In my early teens, the Dewey Decimal System steered me to Twain, Angier, Thoreau, Leopold and Carson. Rambles and camping trips into the outback filled me with wonder for adventure and wild things and places. In high school, I started organizing outdoor clubs and private trips with friends into the wilderness. A career in outdoor adventure was inevitable.
Attempts at post-secondary education were futile. More direct and applicable outdoor pursuit training was the ticket and I founded the School of Wilderness Arts & Technology (SWAT) in 1979. My technical expertise resulted in me teaching a wide range of wilderness adventure training—as well as vertical, moving water and ice rescue—to wilderness professionals, police detachments, fire departments and special forces across Canada and the northeastern U.S.
In 2006, I retired from SWAT. My fascination with heritage trades, in particular blacksmithing, bloomed and I’m now creating forged and welded artwork. All of my creations remain informed by my lifelong immersion in the wilderness and rural environments.
Most of my artworks are made from discarded steel and iron, reclaimed from heritage tools and farm machinery and further forged into organic form. Although I acknowledge traditional blacksmithing, I remain unburdened by the historical assumptions of the craft. Most of my artwork is fashioned ‘old-school,’ from a coal-fired forge and between hammer and anvil.
I host a few weekend beginner-level workshops in the spring and fall. These are designed to give the basics needed to get you on your way to further exploring this fascinating heritage craft.
Classes are limited to six students. Camping is offered on-site, free of charge. Room and board options are available (space is limited). Equipment and materials are provided. Please come with safety glasses and at least one pair of leather gloves.
The Madawaska Valley Studio Tour
The Madawaska Valley has long been a haven for people seeking an alternative lifestyle. The Valley is beautiful and remote. To this day, a few communes still operate here in ‘the valley.’ Needless to say, the Madawaska Valley art community is very much alive and well also.
Well known glass blowers, potters, blacksmiths, painters, jewellers, weavers and alchemists etc. come together and open their studio doors to the world and give you a candid glimpse into their lives and craft.
I work with scrap steel and iron, particularly old tools and machinery from abandoned farmsteads and rural industries. I use heritage blacksmithing tools and methods to forge and ply the medium. Most of my work is done in a coal-fired forge and wrought between hammer and anvil. My pieces are unpainted and traditionally finished with linseed oil.
My artwork is mainly near-scale sculptural renditions of farm and wildlife.
People are surprised by sculptures of such inorganic material and upon further scrutiny, amazed to recognize some of the tools from which they’re made. Comments on the responsible use and recycling of scrap steel as a medium are common.
During a thirty-five year career as professional wilderness adventure guide and educator I drew inspiration and energy from the natural environment. A lifelong fascination with living history and an appreciation of traditional skills steered me to artisanal blacksmithing. My artistic lines remain informed by the natural world and I surrender to the old-time practice of balancing function with organic form.
My functional pieces and sculptural artwork are one-of-a-kind originals. I strive for simple and purposeful art of heirloom quality. It’s also my hope that with my use of scrap iron, I can bring attention to animal welfare and wildlife conservation.
I’m thrilled to give discarded metal and tools a new life.
I’ve enjoyed a fulfilling 35-year career as an outdoor adventure educator.
I instructed sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking and canoeing, rock climbing as well as professional-level wilderness first-aid, moving water and ice rescue disciplines across North America and abroad. Through my company, The School of Wilderness Arts & Technology (SWAT), I spent years training and certifying wilderness adventure guides though the LEAD Guide Training Program.
A love of the natural environment a fascination with living history and a respect for the traditional trades led me to blacksmithing in the late 1990s. After a few years of dabbling, I set myself to full time work restoring, repairing and replicating heritage-grade hardware for a number of discriminating clients. The lines of my art and craft remain informed by my years immersed in natural world.
A few years ago I was convinced to offer my artworks at various farmers markets, art festivals and craft shows. This venue took me by pleasant surprise and I now focus almost entirely on creating heirloom quality forged craft and sculpture.
My methods are those of traditional blacksmiths, by coal-fired forge and on the anvil under a hammer. The materials I use are primarily discarded iron and steels from the century-farm and antiquated or obsolete industry permitting me to both re-use and repurpose.
When possible I allow my pieces to retain telltale signs of their origins. Each of my creations is a true ‘one-of-a-kind’ with a past and story of its own, long before it found its way into my forge and under my hammer.
Mike Desrochers, Blacksmith Artist • Madawaska Metal Works • Quadeville, Ontario