Master blacksmith forging through lockdown in rural Pewsey Vale
An artisan's experience
In 2007 Melissa Cole was awarded a prestigious Bronze Medal from The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in recognition of the blacksmithing skills seen in her public and private work and the successful forging-in-schools projects. This made Melissa a Fellow of The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and she is now regarded as a Master Blacksmith.
She artistically crafts bespoke creative decorative metal sculpture. Making handmade contemporary designed ironwork for the home and garden from forged steel and wrought iron in her workshop near Marlborough, Melissa has honed her craft over 25 years. Her unique experience provides the public with the opportunity to commission bespoke gates, railings and public and private sculptures
From her forge in the Pewsey Vale near Marlborough, Melissa offers private tutored courses in blacksmithing and sculptural metalwork to novices and more experienced clients.
“I have a lovely rural forge in the depths of the Pewsey Vale so was lucky enough to not have to stop working due to illness or travel restrictions in spring 2020. I work alone too, which has had benefits in this instance.
"Lockdown as an individual maker was a challenging business experience – the regular blacksmithing courses that I run throughout the year had to be cancelled from mid-March and understandably many refunds given.
"As the courses form a major part of my working life this was a big hit for me, but luckily my Etsy shop seemed to get a lot of interest from overseas shoppers and I spent time in the forge during lockdown making hearts, hooks and giant nails to ship across the world. I love it when I get orders to send hearts to Honolulu!
"Early lockdown was spent drawing and painting in watercolour – a step away from the forge for me. I have a major public art commission in progress at Ridgeway Farm in Purton, North Wiltshire. Originally started in 2013, I was half way through the community engagement stage, just when I couldn’t get on site to meet with people.
"To help form a bond with the community, I negotiated a two-year lead time for this project which incorporates a hand-illustrated, nature trail old-fashioned fold-out map of the development. A combination of my artwork and the local school children’s plus residents’ input with a new urban myth about the history of the site.
"I improvised to keep the momentum going with the community and found social media really helped to be able to share black and white colour-in-at-home versions of the nature trail map at the time when children weren’t allowed to go to school. Once the map was printed, I then hand delivered one to each of the 700 homes on site, creating a lovely buzz about the project.
"There is also a large-scale hand-forged entrance sign, a community orchard and bat box making community workshop to come. The overall aim is to use the fabulous public open spaces as a means of bringing a new community together to participate and share their experiences in outdoor activities.
"We have all learnt to value our natural open spaces during the last six months so I feel that the ethos of the project is really important and meeting current needs.
"While the design process for the public art project worked its way through public vote and planning, I was able to make some smaller commissions for private clients including a Japanese- inspired well cover, a curved driveway entrance feature and some ‘Eddy’ balustrade panels for a mill house.
"I have also been making some beautiful firepits from a design I did some years ago, but didn’t find time to make them. I always keep design sketches just in case one day I might have time to make them.
"I had some of my larger landscape sculptures in the last Friends Of The Garden outdoor sculpture exhibition near Marlborough in September – a brilliant bit of cultural engagement at a time when we had been restricted in what we can experience in the flesh, and I had two pieces selected for The Society Of Women Artists Annual Open which is online this year and the first time I have been selected. You can still see the exhibition online at SWA online open exhibition.
"In October, I was awarded the Wiltshire Life 2020 Individual Arts, Culture and Music Award for my work in visual arts and crafts and for the Moravian Star-inspired public sculpture for the garden area of the new Rausing Building (Athelstan Museum wing) in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
"It was a really lovely surprise to be a winner and I am really delighted to get some recognition for my work and this sculpture in particular, which is a really dynamic and uplifting piece of public art in my home town.
"My courses are still on hold, but I plan to continue with my commissioned work and make some of the smaller gift shop items that I can sell from my forge and online.
"Cloud Openers unique designer bottle openers make brilliant gifts all year round, but the popular interlinked hearts and extra-large nails continue to be my bestselling items – good for Valentine’s Day – but I always have plans for new products when I can find the time for developing them.
All in all, 2020 was a super busy year and I have no idea how I have managed to do so much!”
XL hand forged nails and Interlinked Hearts
JENNYWRENVIL FLIGHTPATH X STEEL & BRONZE
Moravian Star sculpture
Netheravon Heron Panel