Featuring Felicity Jones
Words by Laura Neilson
Blacksmith Felicity Jones is endlessly enrapt by the shapeable, often contradictory components of metal. No two projects are ever the same—and that’s the appeal.
Felicity in her workshop located in East London.
Growing up, Felicity Jones never envisioned herself as a blacksmith, but sometimes life leads one down a curiously fateful path—and in Jones’ case, onto a boat. When the vessel she lived on was deemed too deteriorated beyond repair, the London-based artist resolved to take matters (and tools) into her own hands. Now blacksmithing for nearly two decades, Jones has forged large-scale installations for musical festivals and cultural events such as Glastonbury, Burning Man, and the Paralympics—featuring pieces that, while tremendous in scope, exquisitely piece together from finer, more-detailed components. Here she talks about how she arrived at her trade, what inspires her, and the almost poetic contradictions inherent in metal work.
I’ve always been an artist, but blacksmithing came later. After I graduated from college, I went off traveling—just doing various creative things around Europe—and when I came back [to London], I ended up living on a boat. We made it all lovely, and then my roommate was like, ‘Right, let’s take it out of the water,’ because we had to weld the bottom to protect it. And it was completely rusting, there was nothing to weld to. It was going to be cheaper to buy another boat, so we had to scrap it. And I remember being heartbroken and thinking how I didn’t want to rely on a welder, I was going to learn how to weld myself. I had heard about this course at Hereford, the National School of Blacksmithing, so I went and did that for two years, and then an apprenticeship for a year.
In the area where I lived, there was a blacksmith who was retiring and he was selling everything very cheaply. It felt like a sign. So I got all these tools, and just started out. I didn’t entirely know what I was doing, but you sort of learn as you go.
There weren’t a lot of other women learning blacksmithing at the school at the time. Out of 60 in my class, there were three of us. Even still, sometimes people call me and they’re like, ‘Oh, can I speak to the blacksmith?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah. It’s me.’ But I’m seeing more and more women doing it these days.
I like to say there’s an element of danger in my work. When you’re shaping it, metal has this inherent softness. And I love organic textures, shapes and everything, but I also like how metal can be spiky, it can be sharp. It can be delicate and pretty, but I also like it to have a bit of a darker element to it.
I’m often inspired by mother nature. And traveling and immersing myself in something like tropical plants or the sea. I was in New York and went to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and just seeing all the different forms and shapes of leaves on plants and the trees—it’s amazing.
Metal is actually really easy to work with. You can just get it so soft and manipulate it. There’s so much you can do. You can literally put it back together and take parts out. And it’s quite indestructible, but also quite forgiving.
The biggest piece I’ve forged was a 26-meter stage background for Glastonbury, which I worked on with another person. It had to be symmetrical—mirrored—and there were individual feathers we made. Each one had to be measured to match the one on the other side. We didn’t have a lot of space in the workshop to look at it from far back, so we were constantly measuring.
I think more women are seeing that blacksmithing is something everyone can do. It’s more brain than brawn. Sometimes it’s more about having the idea and knowing how you can make it, rather than being some big strong person who can just hammer.
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