Bex Simon Artsmith – Keeping Tradition Alive – My first interview with Bex Simon was some 10 years ago in 2010, and my goodness how times have changed.
Not only is Bex now a Mum to two wonderful daughters, as a blacksmith she has become a household name. A regular on our TV screens (Money For Nothing BBC TV) and in the media as well as in our homes with her Cast Iron Accessories Range.
Therefore, to touch base was well overdue.
How has your inspiration and creativity changed over the years with the ongoing influence of technology into our lives?
‘I think it is important to move with the times because otherwise you will get left behind but equally, especially working in ancient craft, it is very important to keep traditions alive. Keeping it (blacksmithing) relevant is where the challenge lies so mixing the old with the new or approaching your craft at a slightly different angle.
What is the driving force behind your passion to continue to learn?
‘Going back to college to learn has been really important for me because I want to break away from commissioned work and create my own body of artwork. By going back to college forces, you to commit that time to yourself. I have a thirst for knowledge, I don’t just want to make nice things, I want to make relevant and interesting things that reflect society and have cultural influences.
What has been your most inspirational project to date?
‘The most inspiring project so far has to be the Ministry of Justice commission for Westminster Magistrates’ Courts on Marylebone Road London.
We designed and built a 40-meter piece of wall art that spans the entire side of the building and tells the story of what the site was before it became the courts.
Within the artwork, there are lots of nods to influential artists and important points in history. Local prisoners made all the parts for a sculptural QRcode that when scanned on a phone, the viewer can access a video showing who worked on the job, the incredible workshop with all the machines and share a tiny portion of the excitement of creating work like this which you loose completely when you just see it frozen in time mounted on a wall.
My sound engineering friend sampled all the sounds of the tools and wrote a dubstep tune with a cello playing a rift over the top, representing the ancient craft of blacksmithing.
We recently won the Tonypandy Cup from the Worshipful Company of blacksmiths, which we feel so honoured and apparently, I am the first women to have ever received it.
Is there anything you would still like to achieve in the world of a Blacksmith?
‘I would like to revamp the public opinion of the blacksmith.
We don’t look like Vikings or make horseshoes which seems to be something I hear quite a lot. Blacksmithing doesn’t involve just hitting hot metal as hard as you can with a hammer on an anvil it’s an incredibly difficult craft to master. Learning heat control with your fire and considering what pressure of hammer blow is needed. Using all the various hand tools and learning to make your own tools for a job.
Blacksmiths have been vital in the development of civilization but never really valued. Getting paid for this craft is increasingly difficult because of the lack of understanding. This has been going on for years look at Tijou (1600-1700) who made most of the ironwork in St Paul’s, Chatsworth as well as a number of other high-profile places and Hampton Court Palace.
He worked at Hampton court for a couple of years for the cost of around £2,600 and was never paid.
Because of these reasons I call myself an Artsmith to rebrand the craft and try to create interest in what really is going to be a dying craft.
How has life changed since becoming a mum to two children? How old are they now?
‘My daughters are 9 and 6 and are the best creations I have ever made. They are fascinating to see grow, develop and funny with their little personalities. My wonderful husband, Dave and I share responsibilities to make parenting work with the business. It does completely change running a creative business. I have had to learn patience which is incredibly difficult for someone like me. But they are growing so fast that before you know it, they will have left home, so we want to make the most of them whilst they are so little.
Do they carry your creativity? Will they follow in your footsteps?
‘Molly the eldest is a mini-me, love’s creating all sorts of things all the time, Lyonie is keener to learn her homework but still loves drawing. Neither are interested in becoming a blacksmith because it’s dirty and noisy.
What is your latest business venture?
‘We have recently moved to North Devon and are looking to set up a luxury holiday and blacksmithing experience. Teaching various blacksmith courses plus other arts and crafts.
The property is beautiful. The couple before us lived here for 30 years and David is a woodworker and really has put his heart and soul into the place. He also planted all the trees on the property and dug out a lake.
There are 14 acres altogether. We put our resources together with my husband, Dave’s parents. We live in the house and they will convert the stone barn and workshop into their home.
There is a strawbale cottage with a hot tub that we will rent out.
Also, we will be building a few unique beautiful structures dotted around the land. Giving each one its own quiet space to enjoy the tranquil environment. We are 10 mins from the sea and walking distance to the local village of Woolsey.
There is a Pole Barn on the land where we will be teaching traditional blacksmithing using old bellows and hand crank hearths. Arts and crafts will be on offer in the little craft room.
The land has always been called Old Pound so we have called the new business Old Pound Smithy there is a newsletter you can sign up to receive all the developing information.
We have set up a new workshop 2 minutes up the road. It’s an amazing space and I am very excited about changing and developing my new artwork. I call it my self-space because I just want to get in and get on and create.’