When the assignment to interview a blacksmith appeared in my in-tray, my first thought was of a burly, 14th-century man, all hair and muscles, fashioning horseshoes. However, the reality of Bex Simon – artist blacksmith and metalworker – is very different.
Not only is she a rarity in the profession – there are, perhaps unsurprisingly, few female blacksmiths in the UK – but she has also developed her own unique career style from the age-old discipline.
When I arrived at The Horse workshops in, London I stepped into a workshop that was noisy, dirty and extremely cold. Having entered the front door I tip-toed over carefully placed piles of steel rods, sheets of metal and fearsome-looking tools, all the while attempting to avoid the fiery sparks and flames cascading out of blow torches being used by fellow workers. Eventually, I reached my goal and introduced myself to what seemed a very out of place, attractive, a petite, feminine young lady who looked little more than a day over 25.
In any other environment, no one would believe that Bex, barely 5” 1′ in height, is a leading blacksmith in her trade and responsible for creating some of the most wonderful and original metalwork I at least have ever seen. Yet here amongst the sparks and twisted metal, I can suddenly see her comfortable in her environment.
Her portfolio is bespoke and comprises of handcrafted gates, furniture, window grills, fountains, garden sculpture, candlesticks to name just a few. Nature and the mixing of traditional and contemporary styles heavily influence Bex’s handcrafted work and the use of anthuriums is recognisable on many of her pieces.
“Believe it or not,” she opens with a smile, “when I was a child I wanted to be a ballerina. I think I must have filled in the wrong application form!”
Her school life was difficult and she found it hard conforming to the rigid structure of the education system.
“I’ve never been a conformist. I was a daydreamer at school and often felt misunderstood. I was also dyslexic, which made learning at times more difficult.”
However, this did not prevent her from studying her chosen subjects of Art, Ceramics and Art History at St Georges College in Weybridge. She then followed this with a year foundation course in 3D Design in metals at the Surrey Institute at Farnham.
“I preferred the design side to the technical, and the tutors were fantastic, with a great mix of students.” Bex then went on to achieve a further National Diploma in Blacksmithing at Hereford College of Technology.
“In my first year there were 37 of us and only 5 were girls. I knew from the start that I was following the career of my dreams and yet it still amazes me that I can use ancient skill to turn hard metal into something so detailed and so beautiful. I used to work with clay but that requires patience and I found it frustrating and slow. I have always wanted to run before I can walk and being patient is not my big thing. Welding metal is instant; to see a vertical piece of metal welded to a flat piece and it just stays in shape is creativity in its own right.”
Bex’s artistic talents were quickly recognised and she soon had claims to Blacksmith fame including celebrity commissions and young artist commendations at Chelsea and the Hampton Court flower shows. She was awarded a Bursary in 1999 from the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths to expand her skills. Having won prizes at both the Three Counties and Royal Welsh shows in 2000, her work was recognised again, this time by the Princess Trust who granted her a loan of £3,500 to kick start her business and she has now been awarded a second bursary from the worshipful company of blacksmiths.
“Design is an important part of my work. I enjoy developing ideas with my clients to produce a piece that is unique to them – all in all, this can be an eight-week process from the design stage to the finished product. Each new piece becomes my favourite until the next one!
“My inspirations are nature, textures and the environment, I like the idea of bringing nature back with the world becoming greener. The Art Nouveau movement and artists like Gaudi have been a major influence on me. I just adore Gaudi’s work and how he takes shapes from nature and uses them as a template for design, something I incorporate into my own design process.”
“I worry about everything and if I am not worrying, I worry about not worrying. Having Bipolar disorder doesn’t help. David my husband is my rock. When situations get fraught he guides me away in a different direction. He so understands and makes my life complete. Our next challenge will be to start a family. I am very excited to see what the future holds.”