Jonathan White pulls a bar of steel, red and sticky from the heat, from a glowing coal forge and hammers it out in soft thuds on an anvil, sparks showering the concrete floor of his Carbondale, Colo., blacksmith shop. "This is what I was born to do, he says, a worn twill cap pulled low on his forehead and protective glasses shielding his eyes.
White always knew this ancient craft would be his legacy: He grew up working in his uncle's blacksmith shop, which White now runs. He then attended Aspen's prestigious Colorado Rocky Mountain School, where he honed his technique under the tutelage of the late Francis Whitaker, one of the nation's foremost blacksmiths. "Francis will always be important to me, White says, his blackened hands testing the smoothness of an iron rail. "He's a great artist who created great forms. That's inspiring. The craft's rich history also stokes the fires of White's imagination. The small office above his shop is filled with books in a variety of languages dedicated to the ancient art. "I can look at shapes and details from the past and see a way to incorporate them into a project, he says. For instance, the exquisite curves and details in a 200-foot-long fence he forged for a 15,000-square-foot home on Buttermilk Mountain echo elaborate gates he found in one of his dusty volumes.
Sometimes he turns his gaze from his books to his backyard, where a snowy park yawns beneath Mt. Sopris, and his classic forms take new turns: Iron aspen branches twist into a chandelier; a fireplace screen juts up in jagged peaks. Then there's the challenge of bringing a client's rough idea to life, which pushes him to explore new techniques.
When White transforms sketch into sculpture, his unassuming shop comes alive. He heats the steel on both traditional coal and modern gas furnaces, and the air vibrates with the clang of metal on metal. "It's happened the same way for thousands of years, White says. "I'm just carrying on the tradition.
To see more of White's work, go to royal-forge.com.