The Little Gate in Valle Arriba

Posted in Works and Words on September 1, 2013 by Steven Nickeson

I never painted iron work before except for a clear protective lacquer to preserve the natural color of the steel. And I was not in favor of it at first, but then too I had a bias against colored sculpture until I saw “Border Crossing” by the late Luis Jimenez one day in Santa Fe. It destroyed all biases because it is a finer work than Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” I’m saying I’ll paint ironwork any day.


I did this front design first and forged the elements. Our friend and neighbor, Aquilino de Gois, had his people fabricate the base and frame and do the installation. We searched Caracas for six weeks and finally found the exact color paint in Miami. It took two months to get one gallon of the base and three spray cans for accents to get here.


This is the male side, the outside. It is in relief, solid.


This is the inside…female, sinuous, hardly ever touching and can’t always stay inside the lines.


Male and female handles, coiling in, pushing out. I like the more detailed outside handle because it recalls bits and piece of forgotten ironwork in the old street of Florence…stuff no one ever sees any more unless they have magnets in their blood.


Steel as Precious, as Power

Posted in Works and Words on September 5, 2012 by Steven Nickeson


Wasted too long up north. Too good to be out of those cloying civilized latitudes.

Iron was once a precious metal, steel more so…precious and feared—read Finland’s epic poem. And smiths were magicians, encantadores, because they could transform pieces of the universe with fire and secrets. They could hammer archetypal intentions full into solidity so they could be read across the room, down the road, across the hills.

We still can.

A short symbolic spear, one like Athena’s or one like the Valkyries.

This little piece was commissioned by one such as they were, may it serve her soul, her hand.

The Rail in Santa Ines

Posted in Works and Words with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2011 by Steven Nickeson

Mid-2009 I get this commission from a Portuguese restauranteur in an upmarket burb of Caracas, high up in the hills in a district called Santa Ines.  I finish this thing, I call it The Commission From Hell, in August 2011. I’m ready to sack it all up in Oct. 2010, but the Portuguese tells me that his mother died last night back home, so don’t bring my steel around his place and five days later we split for British Columbia where we hang for the next eight months. This was the second time this pattern was manifest–the Portuguese in Portugal and me in North America, far from home, far from the forge. But now it is done.

The Rail in Santa Ines

There are two splendid qualities (among others) to Venezuela. The first is there is no enforcement of traffic laws, yet still almost everyone gets where they are going since almost everyone survives to prove that anarchy works, and second, there are no noticeably enforced building codes. This thing would never fly north of Nogales. And in this aspect of life I feel it a privilege to have lived in such a lawless state. Gang blood runs in the gutters down the street from our house, we’re coming back from Santa Ines but can’t make the last 100 meters to home for the bodies blocking the street.  But where one can be free to design whatsoever and put it out in the world such an inconvenience really does not matter.

The piece is three-dimensional and asymmetrical. It takes up all the space it can hold.

This is how it started out. I like this photo for the crisp little trucker’s hitch that is holding all the steel together.

And more or less the same view installed.

The middle span: one way…

And then another.

Credits: Emilio Mercado was my striker and holder almost all the way through this project and he made more money off it than I did. Mi amigo, Joel Colmenares, saw it through with me for the last two weeks. My best friend and lover, Marianthi Constantinu, always did impeccable translations from a Portuguese version of an almost unintelligible Venezuelan variation of the Chihuahuan kind of Castellano I came to speak long ago in Santa Fe.

The Perfect Space

Posted in Works and Words with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2009 by Steven Nickeson

It isn’t often that I get to create something that combines asymmetry of design (an absolute essential for intelligent work), classical proportions and freedom from the constraints of the Building Code. But this interior balcony in a Santa Fe, NM, (USA) remodel, (interior designed by Robin Gray) was The Perfect Space. A cabinet maker named Tom Douglas who worked out of a shop two doors down from my forge was doing a rigidly symmetrical book case  and he put me on to the opportunity, gave me Robins’ phone number…salud to Tom wherever he is. Perez-rail-for-printing First of all: The distance between the floor of the room and the floor of the bookcase balcony just happened to be 29.5 inches (0.75 meters)—half an inch higher and all openings in the rail would have to be 4 inches (10 centimeters) or less. And everything else (except for the little hand rail going up the steps) is based on the Golden Ratio and Fabonacci Numbers simply because the distance between the newel post at the top of the steps and the (unseen) wall to the right constituted a space that was perfect for designing minimalist outlines of visual elements, that had at least one dimension that was a factor of 0.620 or 1.620 to one of the adjoining elements. My excellent friend, Cooper Lee Bombardier, helped in the forging and installation of the piece.

The Anti Hoffi Hammers

Posted in Works and Words with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by Steven Nickeson

Hammers When I first came to South America all I could find by way of hammers was one standard issue 2.5 lb. Ridgid with a cross pein that can double as a cold chisel.  But it worked well enough to help forge both of these from a 2” bolt of tool steel that was probably scrapped out from a Venezuelan oil field and sold to me for about 18 cents a lb. (U.S.$). Because I lacked a good tempering block and I’ll be damned if I’d stoop to using a torch, both turned out to be perfectly tempered using the reserve heat process and a couple of fairly well educated guesses as to timing. They were annealed and then slowly brought to a uniform cherry red heat. Then I quenched them in 50 wt. motor oil until I decided to take them out. Then I waited a little until they were uniformly colored again and quenched them in water just to a barely black heat on their surfaces. Next I pulled them from the water, thought about it a little and quenched them again until cool. I have been using them for about five years and their faces are as good as the first day they went to work. The little one lives on the vice post and the big one on the anvil. I don’t know, nor really care, how much they weigh, but its enough. The little Ridgid can be seen below as Vladimir, my striker (golpeador to him), and I start to pierce the handle eye in the larger piece. Vladimir and I I’ve been around long enough to have grown fairly cynical about all occupational cultures. Making one’s own hammers might seem high-order Blacksmithing to some, but to me its a waste of time and fuel unless one can’t find what they need in a store. After all a hammer is just a chunk of steel on the end of a stick and hardly worthy of being named or dedicated or baptized and christened Conan or Mildred or made the object of any other kind of sentimental and romantic nonsense. And they don’t have to be pretty or polished or shapely. All that is needed is heavy and hard enough. In the late 90’s I rented a corner of Frank Turley’s forge in Santa Fe, NM, U.S.A. and one day during one of Frank’s class sessions, Tom Joyce brought Uri Hoffi, the apparently world class Israeli smith, around to show a few tricks; like he forged a screw driver with an overhand knot tied in the shaft. But what I found fascinating was his stylish little short handled hammer that he gripped near the head.  While I cut him all the slack I could find laying around because his health was poor and years were many, I couldn’t help but think that here was a man who never got the chance to learn how to play baseball, never learned to hold a bat full length and swing for the fence, or never learned how to hold racket for a truly uncivilized game of tennis. He never learned how to do any of that and all the tricks needed to keep his body healthy and whole as well.  So he had developed a striking technique that was a perfect imitation of how Walter Brennan used to hobble through The Real McCoys. I was amazed, still am, but nonetheless that big, ugly hammer has a 15” handle that I hold at full length and swing for the fence every chance I get. Don’t misunderstand here and think the Anti Hoffi hammer style means that I am against his pattern—whatever piece of steel on the end of a stick turns out the work is the one to use. It is just that my two are on the far end of the hammer spectrum from his, sort of polar opposites like Christ and Anti Christ, which seems like an apt analogy since Uri and Jesus hopefully enjoyed the fruits of a common culture that is not one I could call mine. I grew up on ranches in Wyoming.

For Ji

Posted in Works and Words on November 8, 2008 by Steven Nickeson
A Welcome ot the World for Jihyeon Ha Nickeson

A Welcome to the World for Jihyeon Ha Nickeson

The Post-Categorical Perchero

Posted in Works and Words with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by Steven Nickeson

This might be a little too eccentric to put on the market…it goes into my collection.


Perchero? It’s just what you see.

And a couple of the details:



It was all great fun. Its a little over 6’, 17 mortise and tenon joints (uniones de caja y espiga), three asymmetrical feet, stresses and well calculated destruction all over the place.


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