For the past 45 years, Darryl Nelson has breathed new life into the ancient art of blacksmithing.
“I’ve always been drawn to fire—but who isn’t?” says Darryl with a smile. With his signature red bandana wrapped across his forehead, he proudly talks about his blacksmithing operations at both Fire Mountain Forge and Meridian Forge, the latter located in Eatonville, WA.
He gives credit to the tools of his trade, their tradition going back centuries: a hammer, anvil, and fire. From his glowing furnace, Darryl pulls white-hot blocks of molten metal, and works these into artworks imbued with “immortality” and inspired by “the craftsmen who came before me, and what they left behind.” He counts himself fortunate to have learned from a handful of older blacksmiths, who were eager to share their knowledge and passion for metalcraft.
“They say if you do something you love, you never work a day in your life. For me, it’s a great life.”
It’s not an easy process. “You have to beat it into submission…you have to tell it what to do,” he says, speaking of the metal being shaped by his hands. He grimaces and sweats as he brings the hammer down again and again on the hot steel against the anvil. Both the process and the end result are his art. Darryl’s signature pieces are animal heads: a bald eagle with piercing eyes and razor-sharp beak, a ram leaping forward in challenge. His skill in forging these creations is made possible through tools that are all handmade, including the hammer wielded with purpose to shape hundreds of animals. Such was the case when he hand-forged a tomahawk that sports the head of a wolf.
To bring his vision of each one out in hardened steel, he used detailed conceptual drawings of these animal heads in the same manner as any professional artist or sculptor. In reflection, the blacksmith believes his time at the forge is more than a mere vocation: “They say if you do something you love, you never work a day in your life. For me, it’s a great life.”