As children, we manipulate Play Doh and craft pipe cleaners into new forms. It’s a safe way to dip our hands into creating something out of nothing, to watch something we imagined become. They're stepping stones to larger ambitions such as ceramics, sculpture and welding. For artists Josh Meyer and Ben Craigie, they choose to excavate the art from the world using fire, steel and the world around them.
Meyer is a blacksmith with a studio in Flagstaff’s east side neighborhood. He prefers to find the potential art in found or already existing material. Meyer side steps the idea that blacksmithing and sculpting are just for steel and clay.
“Instead of just taking a blank piece of steel, I like to use something that was something else and is still something else, and leave just a little evidence of what it used to be,” Meyer says. “I enjoy taking things that used to be something else and surprising people with what it originally was. It’s a lot of fun. With steel, you can manipulate the shape and turn it into something fun.”
Blacksmithing is an art that requires constant learning. Prior to the Middle Ages, the properties of iron and steel were relatively unknown. Much of what was created came from accident. This combination of art and science allowed our society to advance, whether it’s housing to last longer or railroads to travel farther.
Meyer uses objects found among Flagstaff—rocks, various metals and wood.
“I work a lot with railroad spikes because they’re so cool as a source to use,” he says. “You can take it and create notches in the side and along with that the different effects that happen with heat is pretty cool.”
“You can buy new steel and rust things, dip them in acids to corrode, but nothing looks as cool as something that’s been out in the woods for a hundred years. I spend a lot of time just walking around and finding stuff. I don’t like to be limited,” says Craigie.
Craigie helped redesign Bookmans after the roof collapsed in 2010 due to heavy snowfall. He’s also worked in antique restoration and, for the past few years, he has been exhibiting his work around town at local galleries and art spaces. He works with various mediums in his own sculptures, such as paint, steel, ceramics and various found materials.
“When I first started doing ceramic work, I was pit firing a few cups which made them unusable so I welded them into a sculpture,” Craigie says. He describes one of his first pieces wherein he encapsulated four cups in a center bowl so that they were unable to move. “Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. I wanted to put functional ceramics in a sculpture because I could. I believe in the pursuit of human knowledge. You should be able to explore whatever you want and develop what you’re interested in.”
Meyer is also enticed by exploration.
“I was always the guy playing with the fire when you go camping and playing with fire and metal is very different than any other medium,” he says. “With hot steel, you can take something that’s as hard as a rock or harder and turn it into something softer. It’s a really fun material.”
Meyer explains that everything is a learning process, especially when the medium is as moveable or new to Meyers as steel is.
Craigie will be working with ceramics at Notre Dame this upcoming school year to further his own knowledge of the medium. He wants to be able to help teach others to work with clay and perhaps even bend traditional thinking of sculpting.
Despite the medium used, despite how long or how little you’ve been working in it, you’re always developing your art, always learning.
“It takes a lot of time to get good at it. I’m not an expert yet. You start with what you can and move forward to make beautiful things,” Meyer says.