Unique fireplace items can fire up your income

WWW.THEFABRICATOR.COM AUGUST 2003

August 28, 2003

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Fireplace screens don't have to be boring. Fireplace tools don't have to be ordinary. Re-thinking the function of fireplace screens and tools can add a new dimension to these items and attract customers like moths to a flame.

Figure 1
Craig A. Kaviar's Tree Screen. Kaviar frequently uses images from nature in his work. Courtesy, artist.

The idea is to view a fireplace and its accessories as another work of art. Like a painting that hangs on a wall, a fireplace screen should attract the eye. It should command attention, coordinate with a room's d├ęcor, and adhere to its basic function of protecting against flying embers.

The examples shown are intended to help you look at fireplace hardware as accessories that reflect the theme of the home and, perhaps the personalities of the people who own it. Metals shops and artist blacksmiths have an opportunity to outdo the factory made, stamped out, fabricated screens by thinking outside the hearth. If you create customized fireplace hardware, homeowners, builders, and decorators will beat a path to your facility and you will shovel up, and sweep in profits.

A Natural Theme

Study carefully Craig A.Kaviar's fire screen with hanging tools and log basket (Figure 1) that is the focal point of the Belliarmine College Library in Louisville, Ky. It reflects the building's environment among a tree-studded campus. Observe how the tree's branches extend above the rectangular fireplace. The tree trunks are hinged to create doors so subtle they almost appear nonexistent. The same is true for the vines that camouflage the severity of the rectangle and also provide the door handles.

Figure 2, 3
(2) Glenn A. Gilmore's DOG SCREEN Photo, McNabb Studio. (3) The detail of the dog's head shows the artist's skill in modeling in metal. Photo, McNabb Studio

Then there are the fire tools hanging from a branch with vines entwined. Note how vines protrude forward to become the log basket. The tools' handles are also twined; they end with leaves that enhance the composition and carry out the theme. A forged bird perches on the branch above the tools.

Kaviar, whose metal arts studio is in Louisville, Ky., studied art in college and became intrigued with forging about 30 years ago when the whole concept of artist-blacksmithing was beginning to emerge. Since then he has been commissioned to create many customized fireplace screens and hardware, as well as architectural pieces, furniture, and public art.

Man's Best Friend

Figure 4
Glenn Gilmore designed a ship's wheel into the fireplace screen for a room with a nautical theme. Photo, McNabb Studio

When it comes to using themes and scenes in fireplace hardware, Glenn A. Gilmore's work stands out. Gilmore, from Hamilton, Mont., has customized fireplace screens throughout the country. Give him a theme or someone's special interests and he will incorporate them into stunning fireplace accessories that could easily outshine any painting or sculpture in a room. The dog screen (Figures 2 and 3) illustrates a commission for a homeowner who wanted to memorialize his pet.

Gilmore has woven clients' special interests, such as baseball, boating, running, hunting, fishing, and water sport themes into his fireplace accessories. He incorporated a captain's wheel in the fire doors for a home with a nautical theme (Figure 4). For a den with a sports theme, he created a screen that depicts joggers navigating a path along the screen's lower center. The fire tool shafts include a golf ball. A bat in the center has carved symbols of a baseball team and the baseball is autographed. The fireplace area serves as a display for the owner's treasures and is still fully functional.

Figure 5
Jerry A. Coe's forged bronze and copper screen is based on a Yosemite Indian basket pattern. It has bronze feathers on each side. Photo, Richard Sargent

Staying True to Style

Tailoring a screen's design to the home's architectural or decorating style seems like an obvious choice. Yet, left to the taste of a homeowner, it's not unusual to see a Spanish style screen in a contemporary home. The artist blacksmith schooled in art history and architectural styles is in a position to strike a happy balance between the fireplace hardware and the home's style. Jerry A. Coe of Berkeley, Calif., has designed unique fireplace screens that reflect art deco, art nouveau, and elements from different cultures (See Figure 5). He always adds his own fillip in the form of a small carved or cast animal, bird, or other object.

Figure 6
Edward Gustave Trinkkeller Screen. Courtesy, Hearst Castle

Telling a Story

A screen that tells a story is not a new concept. Historical examples of fireplace screens often included mythological images. This screen (Figure 6) by Edward Gustave Trinkkeller, produced for the Hearst Castle, San Simeon, Calif., about 1926, depicts Satan dancing around a fire. The andirons have basket shaped tops with a cooking pot suspended from the poker that rests across two spit hooks. The design is symmetrical.

Asymmetrical Beauty

Today's artists incorporate symmetry most of the time, but they may deviate from that design concept. Roland C. Greefke, of Gilbertsville, N.Y., forged this wrought iron asymmetrical three-panel folding screen (Figure 7) for actress Bette Midler. It shows her personal symbols and a phrase that had special meaning for Ms. Midler.

Figure 7, 8
(7) Bette Midler Screen by Roland C. Greefkes. Courtesy, artist. (8) Douglas E. Wilson's Gull andiron drawing. Courtesy, artist

Asymmetry also can present a different look when used for andirons, grates, and baskets, and provide a compelling design challenge to the smith. Douglas E Wilson of Little Deer Isle, Maine, illustrates a design for an asymmetrical andiron that he forged in iron (See Figure 8).

Tool Art

Figure 9, 10
(9) Jeff Fetty's geometric fireplace, free standing diamond arrangement in forged steel and brass. (10) Photo, Richard Sargent.

Jerry A. Coe's fire tools, forged in bronze and copper (See Figure 9), show an Art Nouveau design (left). The tool set at right is based on cattails in forged brass and copper.

Shape and Form

If you're tired of making scrolls, acanthus leaves, and French rococo designs, think of using geometric shapes in repeat forms as your basic element, as in this forged iron screen (Figure 10) by Jeff Fetty, of Spencer, W.Va.

Your Artistic Side

Hopefully these samples of fireplace art will inspire you to explore your own creative metalworking talents. If you would like to see more examples of the featured artists' works, enter their names into your Web browser. Be inspired!



Dona Z. Meilach

Contributing Writer
Carlsbad, CA
Phone: 760-436-4395
Dona Z. Meilach's early book, Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork, was a driving force in the renaissance of modern ironwork. Her more recent books include The Contemporary Blacksmith, Architectural Ironwork, Fireplace Accessories, and Direct Metal Sculpture, all published by Schiffer Books.

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