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Cyril Colnik / Man of Iron

Posted by bighornforge on July 5, 2011

Milwaukee, WI I am pleased to announce that finally, a book on famed master blacksmith, Cyril Colnik (1871-1958) has been published, and is available for purchase.

Alan J. Strekow, of Hales Corners, WI, has compiled a plethora of fine images of Colnik’s works, drawings, sketches and blueprints, along with commentary for a truly fine 200 page hardcover book.

Strekow, a graphic designer, has been associated with “Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum” (VTDAM) for decades, and is a co-founder of the “Friends of Villa Terrace.” VTDAM is home to two galleries of Colnik’s works, including his famous “Masterpiece” (below.)

The “Forward” to the book was written by John C. Eastberg, Director of Building Development and Senior Pabst Historian at the “Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion” in Milwaukee. This Flemish Renaissance style mansion was home to brewmaster Captain Frederick Pabst, of Pabst brewing fame, and is also home to several works by Cyril Colnik. (The mansion is open to the general public. See the links at the right side of this post for their web-site.)

Another section was written by blacksmith Dan Nauman, owner of Bighorn Forge, Inc. Nauman writes about Colnik through the eyes of a 20th century blacksmith. Nauman has also contributed numerous professionally shot images of Colnik’s works, obtained through a grant from the “Francis Whitaker Blacksmith’s Educational Foundation” in 1993. He has also reproduced and restored numerous works by Cyril Colnik over the years.

In 1996, Nauman enlisted the help of Strekow, along with several others, to produce a video on Colnik entitled “Forged Elegance/ The Lifework of Master Blacksmith Cyril Colnik”, which aired on Wisconsin and Milwaukee Public Television in 1998. (Available for purchase through VTDAM.)

To obtain a copy of this fine book, ($45.00 plus tax, shipping, and handling) contact Allen Strekow by e-mail at, or contact VTDAM (see link for their web-site at the upper right of this post.)

….Dan Nauman

“Words are plentiful, but deeds are precious”….Lech Walesa

Posted in Master Blacksmiths | 2 Comments »

Repousse’ Artist Nahum Hersom (1918-2011)

Posted by bighornforge on April 4, 2011

“Nahum Hersom in his shop on Innis St. in Boise, Idaho.” (above.)

Repousse’ artist, Nahum Hersom, passed away on April 1, 2011. He would have been 93 on April 15.

“Grandpa” , as he was known to his students, lived in Boise, Idaho. His shop was a converted garage just next to his house on Innis Street.

Repousse’ is a form of metalwork which uses sheet metal as a medium, and employs small hammers and stakes to form the material into myriad shapes, giving the once flat sheet incredible volume, and often flowing, sensuous curves.

Nahum made a huge contribution to metalwork by preserving, teaching and promoting this artform. In an age of instant access to almost anything, the art of repousse’ stands in contrast, as it requires patience, hours of practice, and deep concentration.

Nahum learned this process from one Valintin “Papa” Goelz, a German metaworker who owned and operated Valintin Goelz Art Metal Works. Nahum often talked affectionately about Papa Goelz. (See the poem Nahum wrote about him at the end of this post.)

Repousse’ is about a multitude of tools, and hand-made tools at that, as you cannot buy these tools from the store or catalogue. So Nahum made tools….LOTS of tools, sometimes he would make a hammer or stake for just one minor detail. Below is an image of some of Nahum’s hammers.

Bottom stakes, typically held in a vise, were even more abundant in his shop. Here again, stakes were made for specific forms, and Nahum had hundreds of them. Below is just the tip of the proverbial iceburg.

Here are some more….

And a few more…..

These are his favorites, but he had a multitude more, all gleaming and stored in empty soup cans.

One thing that many may not know about him was this: Nahum was an extremely deep thinker, quite the inventor, and a fine mechanic.

He made a shears, similar in style to one known as a “Beverly”, which is used to cut sheet metal. It is made so that straight, as well as curved lines can be cut easily in the sheet stock. Below is his version of the shears.

He also made his own version of a “Treadle Hammer”, a foot controlled hammer, which is essentially the blacksmith’s third hand. (Below.)

And below is his veining tool, of which had interchangable top and bottom dies.

Below are some horizontal vise stakes, and some of the anvils and top tools for the veining tool. Note that the top tools and anvils are rounded, so the tools can produce curved veins as well.

Nahum attended Lake View High in Chicago, IL. 1933-36, as well as Chico State College in California.

From 1941-1944, he was a welder for Lockhead Aircraft, Burbank, CA, and a Metalsmith 3/C for the U.S. Navy from 1944-1946.

He was also a blacksmith, and did building and repair of machine tools.

A few years ago, Jerry Henderson wrote a book, based on Nahum’s teachings entitled “Nahum Hersom: Repousse'”. The book is something Nahum had talked about since I met him in 1993. It is one of the few books printed on this process. (To acquire a copy, Jerry can be reached at 35493 Millard Rd., Warren, OR 97053.)

Probably one of the biggest highlights of Nahum’s life happened just a few years ago. Nahum was the recipient of the “Idaho Governor’s Award in the Arts”, the first time ever for a blacksmith to win this award. After receieving the award, he said in his fine folksy manner, “I was amazed that I got it with all the people in Idaho who do art and craft work. On the other hand, this is big craft work, not the rinky-dink stuff.” (Quoted from Tim Woodward, in the newspaper, “The West”.)

Nahum demonstrated repousse’ at many conferences, and also taught well over 50 students at his “Golden Pheasant Art Metal” shop in Boise.

Below is a piece Nahum made for the 2006 Artist Blackmith Association of North America (ABANA) Conference. It is also the cover of the book on his work. (Unfortunately, it is the only image I have of his actual work. If you have an image of Nahum’s work you could share, I would appreciate it if you would send it to me so I can publish it on this blog.)

In 1993, I had the privilege of studying under Grandpa at the Golden Pheasant. It was 102 dry degrees in the shade, but I was unaware as I learned to use the delicate tools of repousse’.

The lessons were one on one, and Nahum was never at a lack of something to show me as we worked. He was big on archiving, and he supplied me with a constant parade of patterns, articles, and images from his many years of study.

“Did ya ever have one of those, ya know, ‘Ah-ha!’ moments, Dan?” This was typical of the way our conversations went, as he would come up with a thought from way beyond left field.

“Those ‘Ah-ha!’ moments may seem to be coming from out of no-where, but they are actually coming from your sub-conscious mind, Dan. Have ya ever been working, and it just isn’t going well, and you get frustrated? Then you call it quits, and go and do something else? Then, when you least expected it, the answer to your problem just hit you between the eyes? That was your sub-conscious mind working. Ya-know, you can learn to use that sub-conscious mind of yours. Put it to work. Your mind works on problems even when you aren’t aware of it. Then, all of a sudden….”Ah-Ha!” (He smiles, pauses, and waits for me to say something. I say nothing, and keep working.) He then said, “You think I’m nuts, don’t you.”

Nuts like a wiley coyote. He is right, it works, if you learn to employ it. Though at the time, I might have thought he was a bit off. After I returned home, I tried using my sub-conscious, and I was pleasantly surprised, and a bit shocked at how allowing one’s brain to work in such a way is very effective. (You think I’m nuts, don’t you.)

I could go on, however I am sure my personal memories and ramblings about him are not as interesting to you. But I hold them dear.

Nahum literally changed my life. His teaching’s allowed me to venture into an aspect of metalwork seldom used in recent times.

Repousse’ was and is a process that opens new doors for a blacksmith. It can enhance the work of a blacksmith, gracing gates, furniture, lighting, and much, much more. Below is a chandelier I made using the methods Nahum taught me.

I could not have even thought about producing this chandelier, (which is actually a re-production of a piece made by Master Blacksmith, Cyril Colnik), without Nahum’s instruction years prior.

Over the past 18 years, I have incorporated repousse’ in several of my own works. I still thrill in watching absolutely flat and lifeless sheet bloom into a flowing, curvacious piece.

Beyond his teachings in repousse’ Nahum’s work ethic and inventiveness also rubbed off on me. He once said that “You’ll never get paid for the hours you put into this style of work. But the personal rewards are plenty.”

Anika Smulovitz, a professor of jewelry and metalworking at Boise State University, was commonly at Nahum’s shop taking lessons from him. “I met Nahum at a gem show and was so impressed that I took a summer workshop from him. Now I take a lesson a week,” said Anika. “His work is amazing, and he’s devoted to teaching…..two people came all the way from Australia to take lessons from him.” (Quoted from the newspaper “The West.”)

And so I continue to ramble on about him. I will stop for now.

What I will do is publish some of Nahum’s teachings and provide some of his drawings from time to time to share his knowledge with you. I am sure he would like that.

That said….

Here is a poem that Nahum wrote about Papa Goelz:

“Divine Journey”

I met a man upon my path
His shop a wonderment to see.
Pieces of repousse’ covered its walls
He peered across his glasses top,
And loud in German accent clear,
He said, “You vant to learn dis vork?”
You don’t know vat you ask.
The vork iss dirty and the pay iss low,
But the art makes vork to last.
You will love the vork with patience,
And a heart that’s strong,
As this work becomes a lover,
It’s passion a life-long song.

“Tools” he said, “you make. You cannot buy.
You will fashion them with love to last a lifetime.”
So as I started, his arm around me came,
“You are now my Sonny Boy,
And I your ‘Papa’, the master of your trade.”

“Why are you so glad to teach me this?”
His answer was clear and true.
“God and the craft pick the man to do the work,
And the chosen one is you.”

He now is gone where craftsmen go,
But sometimes in the night,
When I have hammered hours long,
And something is not right.
I feel his hand on my shoulder,
And hear his voice in my ear,
“Do it this way, Sonny”
And his way is right and clear.

Thank you Papa, for this passion, and its song.
Nahum Hersom (Grandpa) July 31, 1996.

“Thank you Grandpa, for your passion, and for teaching me that song.”

….Dan Nauman

I would like to thank Anika Smulovitz for providing information on Nahum. Anika was also instrumental in helping acquire letters of recommendation for the “Idaho Governor’s Award in the Arts” for Nahum.

“God and the craft pick the man to do the work, and the chosen one is you.” ….Nahum Hersom

Note to readers, April 23, 2014:  Since writing this post, I have published several posts that are of Nahum’s writings on French repousse’.  If you would like to read them, simply do a word search on this blog, using “repousse” as your key word.  Included with the writings are Nahum’s patterns for hammers, stakes, some leaf forms, and more. – DN

Posted in Forging Processes, Master Blacksmiths, Repousse' | 19 Comments »

Colnik Book Soon to be Published

Posted by bighornforge on February 8, 2011

I am pleased to announce that after decades of waiting, a fine book detailing Cyril Colnik’s life and ironwork is finally to be published.

VIlla Terrace Decorative Arts Museum is home to two galleries containing Colnik’s works, including his famous “Masterpiece.”

“Masterpiece” (above)

The Masterpiece, along with several other fine works by Colnik in the Villa Terrace collection, will be shown in this book, coupled with works from Colnik’s archives, and existing ironwork in Milwaukee and elsewhere in the country.

Alan Strekow, former president of the “Friends of Villa Terrace”, has put together a hardbound book that is truly in keeping with the Colnik tradition of fineness.

Strekow also worked with me on the Colnik video “Forged Elegance, the Lifework of Master Blacksmith Cyril Colnik”, (Copyright 1998, Bighorn Forge, Inc.) which aired on Wisconsin and Milwaukee Public Television in 1998. (Also available for purchase on DVD thru Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.)

This book is a must for anyone who forges, or fancies fine ironwork. I believe it will be the one of the finest books published on a master blacksmith, and a wonderful compliment to the video presentation.

Please note: The book is in need of financial backing for publishing. If you wish to make a donation to this non-profit venture, contact Al Strekow at

I will announce the availability of the book through an entry on this blog.

(To learn more about Cyril Colnik, see the page on “Master Blacksmith Cyril Colnik” to the right of this entry, or use the search engine in this blog to find articles.)

…..Dan Nauman

“Don’t confuse fame with success. Modonna is one, Helen Kellor is the other.”….Erma Bombeck

Posted in Master Blacksmiths | 2 Comments »

Images of Master Blacksmith Cyril Colnik

Posted by bighornforge on March 16, 2010

Cyril Colnik (1871-1958) came to America in 1893 to help the German government set up their ironwork display at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. Born in Austria, Colnik traveled Europe to refine his forging skills.

Today, I will share some rare images of Colnik, as well as his wife, Marie (Merz) Colnik, whom he married in 1905.

It is said that Marie was vibrant and lively, in contrast to a more quiet and reserved Cyril. Below is a wedding photo of Cyril and Marie. Marie’s posture and grin in this image validate the above mentioned qualities, and also seems to show that she might contain a bit of playful mischief.

Cyril’s daughter, Gretchen, lived with him when Cyril was in his twilight years. She maintained his fabulous works in iron, oiling them regularly.

Cyril and Gretchen (above)

Gretchen Colnik was herself a noted personality in Milwaukee, having first her own radio program, followed by a television program in which she would cater to housewives, sharing helpful household tips and craft projects.

Many say she had an eccentric flamboyance, heightened visually as she was also widely known for wearing outlandish hats. Those that knew her personally agree, however they also confess she enjoyed people, liked entertaining, and dearly loved her father.

She was very hospitable, often inviting women’s groups to tea at the Colnik home, or offering tours of her famous father’s ironwork at the home for a mere 25 cents per person. She would then conclude the tour by allowing the visitors to meet Cyril himself.

Gretchen Colnik’s passed away in 1991, and bequethed her father’s ironwork, including his famous “Masterpiece”, to “Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum” in Milwaukee. The museum now has two permanent Colnik galleries, open to the public Wednesday through Sunday. (See the “blogroll” at the upper right to log onto the Villa Terrace web-site.)

Below is a photo of Colnik and his workforce. Cyril is in the middle row, third from the right (with beard and dark hat.)

It is not clear as to how many employees Colnik had any any given time. Some say no more than a dozen, while others say upwards of fifty.

The next image was likely taken at Cyril’s home on 8th Street in Milwaukee, which has since been raised.

Below is a newel-post made by Cyril Colnik for Herman Uihlein, former president of the Schlitz Brewing Co. in Milwaukee. The railing in which it was incorporated graced the grand balustrade of the mansion, which descended from the second floor balcony from both the right and the left sides. The project took three years for Colnik to complete.

For more on master blacksmith Cyril Colnik, please see other posts in this blog.

…….Dan Nauman

“You’ve achieved success in your field when you don’t know whether what you are doing is work or play.” …..Warren Beatty, Actor/Producer

Posted in Master Blacksmiths | 1 Comment »

Intricate Forged Locks

Posted by bighornforge on February 8, 2010

The locksmiths of centuries past were often highly esteemed by the metal tradesmen, and some regarded them as the epitome of metalworkers. The locks I will present today will show why the locksmiths held such a lofty position in Europe. You could say they were the master’s master of metalworkers.

These are locks that I have cleaned over the years for my clients.

The image above, and below (same lock) are examples of not only a keen command of the material, but also an acute awareness of mechanics.

To put this into better perspective, this lock is about 12″ long. This lock is missing its cover, which is to your benefit, as you can easily see the working parts. Note also the fine patina on the handle from decades of use.

Below is another lock of about the same proportions.

If you click on any of these images you will get an enlargement of the image. Clicking on the enlargement will get you an even larger image. I encourage you to do so as you will then see the details not so visable in the images on this page.

For instance, this lock has been acid etched to produce an intricate design on the surface of the lock….not easily seen unless the image is enlarged. Time has erased much of the etching, but some of the details still remain. The lock images below are a finer example of this acid etching.

The pattern was produced by carefully painting the surface with a paste that would inhibit the acid. Where there was no paste, the acid would eat away at the metal, producing not only a form of relief, but also a color variation.

Note also the intricate designs in the negative space, (often refered to as “open work“) or where metal has been removed by piercing, sawing, and finish filing. In the lock above, the locksmith also did some mild repousse’, by bumping up the material from behind, creating a more three dimensional form. Patience is evident in every aspect of these intricate works of metal mastery.

The lock above was also etched, and note the fine faceted ward cover. The open work is exceptional in this piece as well.

Below is a fine smaller lock of about 6″ long. Please forgive the blurry image, but the form is so refined, I had to include it in this dialogue.

The above image is a brass and iron version, where the brass contrasts nicely with the iron behind it. The locksmith greets us with the year the lock was made (1899), which is unusual for any type of metalwork. The image below is of an even earlier piece, made in 1889.

I am not certain as to whether the initials are representitive of the client, or the locksmith that made the piece.

Below are examples of the compliments to the locks, i.e. the handles, and escutheons on the opposite side of the doors.

Note that these were sometimes engraved with intricate patterns, again showing the prowess of the locksmith.

Lastly, we see a finely engraved keyhole escutcheon, and an exceptinal handle.

Please lock up before you leave the blog…..thanks!

…….Dan Nauman

“Work is a necessity for man. Man invented the alarm clock.” …..Pablo Picasso, Artist.

Posted in Decorative ironwork, Master Blacksmiths, Various Ironwork | 3 Comments »

Colnik Grille Restoration

Posted by bighornforge on January 13, 2010

In 2008, I had the privilege to restore a very large window grille made by master blacksmith Cyril Colnik. The grille belongs to the “Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion” and is situated on the northern exterior of the building. It measures 66″ x 99″.

The approximate age of the grille is 100 years old, and it was literally falling apart.

Restoration provides a window to the processes used by the masters of yesteryear. This was no exception.

Below are “before and after” images of the grille. (To see a larger view, simply click on the images.)

Colnik grille before restoration.

Colnik Grille after restoration.

Below are some close-ups of specific areas, before, and after.

Center after sandblasting, revealing more corrosion.

View of center after restoration.

The twisted wreath in the center was held in place by friction, which was surprising. Note that many of the leaves of the wreath were missing.

You may have been caught by surprise to see the copper leaves, and the bronze collars. Below shows a close-up of a collar. Notice that it is riveted together, then finish-filed.

The next images are of the lower right corner, before, and after. Notice the corner rosette….or lack thereof.

Below are the “before and after” images of the lower left corner. Notice the missing rosettes on the perimeter.

The perimeter rosettes were actually comprised of four pieces, two on the front of the grille, and two on the back. The originals were all stamped, rather than being made individually by hand.

The intent was to save as much of the repousse’ leaves, and the stamped rosettes as possible. Upon closer inspection, it was apparent none of the stampings could be salvaged, as many were literally being held together by paint. They were all removed. After sandblasting, only the large, two corner rosettes on the top of the grille and three other leaves in the mid-section could be saved. Some leaves and rosettes were missing entirely.

Here are some more images, showing the decay of the piece.

Perimeter rosette corrosion.

Below shows where a calyx once resided. This image was taken after sandblasting.
The "remains" of a calyx.

The next image shows missing leaf lobes just below the middle of the grille.

Many of the leaves were so far gone, that you could poke a finger right through them.

The grille was entirely disassembled in the middle, inbetween the bars that contained the perimeter rosettes. Fortunately, Colnik employed the use of screws for most of the joinery, plus some rivets and a few collars. This made disassembly easier. Unfortunately, many of the screws were stripped or bent, and required heat to extract.

Once disassembled and labeled, patterns were made from the best (that is a relative term) of what was left of the repousse’ leaves.

The original leaves were initially stretched (merely by the process of shaping) when they were made, and were stretched again when flattened out to make the patterns. With trial and error, I found that they had grown (stretched) an average of 8%. Photo copies were made of the patterns, and were then reduced accordingly.

Below is a calyx (or husk) after sandblasting. Note that not only is there a degree of decay, but some leaves were missing entirely. The successive image shows the reproduction.

Each leaf was cut by hand, and formed over stakes, using the French method of repousse’. Note that there is not much detail in the leaves. There are no raised veins, and little surface detail. This is largely due to the fact that the grille is so massive, and mounted at a height where such details would not be seen or admired. In other words, such details would go unnoticed.

The perimeter rosettes were another matter, as there were so many of them. Patterns were made as described above, and were cut-out by laser. The surface details were then applied by hand with punches and chisels. Next, a fly press was used to initially dish them out. A fly press is a very powerful manual press that uses a worm screw to slowly lower the ram in a controlled manner.

These rosettes were mounted in a fashion which I have never seen before. Remember, there are two rosettes on each side of the mounting bars, (a small rosette and a larger rosette on each side.) Each rosette has two 3/16″ mounting holes, just off center, so a half-round 3/16″ staple could be inserted. The staple then passes around the bars to which the rosettes attach, and then through the rosettes on the other side. The staple is then clinched over to lock all four rosettes into place. It was surprising at how effective the staples were in locking things together.

The 3/16″ half round stock had to be made for the staples. This was done by making a 3/16″ swedge, which is a bottom die with a 3/16″ radias in it. A hot 1/8″ bar was placed on top of the swedge, and was then forged down into the swedge with the power hammer. The flashing, (or excess metal,) was then filed away.

I thought long and hard as to how I would hold and manipulate the grille in a one man shop. Below are three images showing a mounting frame that I made that swivels 360 degrees, and can be locked into several positions for easy access to the grille.

This made the work much easier. The frame could also be used to safely pick the grille up off the ground by use of two hooks on the top. This required four grown men (friends) to use the leverage of the rotating frame by pushing down on one side of the frame, thereby hoisting the piece up and into position.

The frame was also employed for transport, and for sandblasting.

The image below shows the grille in the frame.

Many of the tapped holes needed retapping, and most all of the screws were replaced.

Painting was no small task. Initially the grille was spray painted , but two days of hand painting was required to paint where the spray could not reach. Bright lights were used to see into the many recesses. Using two different color primers helped to show where paint needed to be applied.

The project went back together almost without a hitch. Hopefully, it will be sound for another 100 years, if maintenance is provided regularly.

I thank the folks at the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion for entrusting me with this project.

……..Dan Nauman

“You’ll never have any mental muscle if you don’t have any heavy stuff to pick up.”……Diane Lane, actress.

Posted in Decorative ironwork, Forging Processes, Master Blacksmiths | Leave a Comment »

Master Blacksmith Francis Whitaker

Posted by bighornforge on January 1, 2010

Greetings, and Happy New Year.

20 years ago today, I was enroute by train to study with master blacksmith Francis Whitaker (1906-1999) in Carbondale, CO.

Francis referred to himself as “a link with the past,” as he was one of the few remaining true blacksmiths alive when the forging renaissance began in the early 1970’s.

He dedicated the last 30 or so years of his life to teaching the trade that he so dearly loved. Coupled with his vast knowledge of hand forging, he has thus been referred to as the “Dean of American Smiths.”

He began forging in 1927, initially studying with Samuel Yellin, the Polish master who had set up a shop in Philadelphia. Later, Francis traveled to Germany to study with master blacksmith Julias Schramm.

Below is a bowl that Francis made while working with Schramm.

Both Yellin and Schramm had an obvious influence on Francis. He often recanted a story in which Julias asked Francis “How will you join this bowl to the stand?” Francis replied that he would “just put a few pieces in where they wouldn’t be seen.” Schramm then growled, Oh Franz, there is never anything that will not be seen!”

These and other words would go far to shape Francis’ character, as well as his uncompromising attitude towards forging. He later adopted from Lexus the slogan :”The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.”

Not long after his stint with Scramm, Francis set up shop in Carmel, CA. He then moved his shop to Aspen, CO. in the early 1960’s. Being civic minded and a visionary, Francis lobbied hard for both Carmel and Aspen to retain their character by keeping nationally owned chain corporations out of these areas, maintaining the charm and natural beauty of the area. Today, Aspen has a holiday, as well as a park, bearing Whitaker’s name.

Below is a railing made by Francis in his early years. (From the book “Beautiful Iron”)

Francis also loved to ski, (he was skiing well into his 80’s) and as a result, in the early 1960’s, he invented a break-away ski binding. He sold the design to a manufacturer, who later went to patent the idea, but was thwarted as just two weeks prior, a German inventor had patented a similar binding.

While still in Aspen, Francis considered retirement, but simply hated the idea. He then approached the “Colorado Rocky Mountain School” (CRMS) and proposed that if they built a blacksmith shop to his specifications, that he would donate all his forging tools, and also teach the CRMS students how to forge. In other words, “Build it, and I will come.” The shop was dedicated in 1988.

CRMS is an elite high school for students from around the globe. It is situated on a old farm, by coincidence previously owned by Milwaukee’s own Pabst family (of Pabst Brewing fame. See “Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion” to learn more about the Pabst family in the blogroll at the upper right.) Located in Carbondale, it sits in the midst of omnipresent Mount Sopris, one of the largest mountains in Colorado.

CRMS is charming with its dirt paths and roads, one and two story wooden classrooms and dorms, and the large, tin roofed barn, which serves as a theater.

Mount Sopris, and the Crystal River, Carbondale, CO, as seen from the southeast of the CRMS campus.

CRMS also provided Francis with a house right on the campus, just yards away from the blacksmith shop, which included a deck with a spectacular view of Mount Sopris. Francis could often be found at “beer-thirty” (3:30 P.M. MST) out on his deck, taking a break and sipping one ….and only one….bottle of Coors.

My 1990 experience with Francis laid a firm foundation, as he instilled discipline, dedication, and direction for me. It was truly a life-changing experience.

That time was also exhausting, as we worked long days, and often into the night, to complete my first real architectural piece, a window grille. (shown below.)

I spent another week with Francis in March of 1993 and made the garden gate pictured below. This was an exercise to make a project with as few straight lines as possible, to reinforce my bending abilities.

The other aspect of this design was to learn how to make a quatrefoil (seen in the center of the gate.) Francis developed a process for this form, which worked brilliantly. While some of the elements in this gate do not work well together, (as they are not of the same style,) it was a fine exercise in forging for me .

One morning, I was having quite a bit of trouble bending the scrolls for the gate. Francis gave me a few pointers earlier, but I was still struggling. I looked around the shop to find Francis for more help, but he was no where to be found.

A few minutes later he showed up donned in his skiing outfit. “I’m off to the slopes”, he said. (He was in his early 80’s!) Off to the slopes? I came here all the way from Wisconsin to learn from him, and he’s leaving to go skiing? I was stunned, as I needed help. How could he leave me alone like this?!

I needed a break so I went to lunch, and later returned to the task of bending the scrolls. The balance of that afternoon went fast, and for some reason, I suddenly was able to correctly bend the scrolls perfectly to the drawing. At about 5:30 PM, Francis returned, all red-faced from the cold. He came over to my work area and inspected my work. “Yeah”, he said, “I knew if I left you alone, you would feel less intimidated, and do better work. Fine job.”

What a fox.

Francis traveled the US annually, often with his beloved wife, Portia. Together, they would go from shop to shop so Francis could teach others what he knew. It was not his intent to teach his style, rather he wanted to instill in his students solid forging practice, process, and fundamentals.

It was Francis’ nature not to charge for his services as a teacher, though he might ask that one donate to his foundation bearing his name, “The Francis Whitaker Blacksmith’s Educational Foundation.”

He authored three books, “The Blacksmith’s Cookbook”, “Beautiful Iron”, and “My Life as an Artist Blacksmith”

He also traveled the globe, camera always at the ready to photograph the vernacular ironwork, and offered many stories of his travels upon his return.

“Finial” by Francis Whitaker (from “Beautiful Iron”)

He could be found often at either the symphony or the opera theaters, as he had a love of classical music, though he forbid music of any type in the workshop.

Below are samples of some fireplace tool handles, typical of Francis’ work.
(from “Beautiful Iron.”)

Many who have been fortunate to have known and worked with Francis knew he was easily angered by a poor approach, poor workmanship, or your hands in your pockets. But to me, his anger was of that of a grandfather, insuring that his own would follow correctly in his footsteps.

Francis taught at many workshops at various craft schools, demonstrated at countless blacksmith conferences, and in 1978 was president of the “Artist Blacksmiths Association of North America.” (ABANA)

Among his many other achievements:

Author John Steinbeck used Francis as a role model for the book “The Long Valley.”

In 1995, Francis was the recipient of the “Colorado Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.”

In 1997, he was awarded the “Heritage Award”, and named “A Living Treasure”, the highest award given by the National Endowment of the Arts. The award was given to him at the nation’s White House, and presented to him by Hilary Rodham Clinton, as seen below.

“The highlight of my life”, Francis said.

He also was honored in 1997 by the “Renwick Gallery” as they installed an iron cross made specifically for them by Francis.

Francis forged for over 72 years. I believe forging and teaching kept him young, as he was forging just five weeks before his death, at 92 years of age.

Below is one of his favorite images, showing him forging at his shop in Aspen.

Francis was an admirer of master blacksmith Cyril Colnik. In 1997, Francis provided seed money for me to produce the video production about Colnik, entitled “Forged Elegance, the Lifework of Master Blacksmith Cyril Colnik.” Francis is featured in the video.

He also provided me with a grant from his foundation to document Colnik’s work through photography in 1993.

I owe much to this man, and I am certain many others can say the same. I am privileged to have worked with him, and feel blessed to have called him my friend.

……..Dan Nauman

“Remember, I’m always looking over your shoulder.” …….Francis Whitaker, speaking to Dan Nauman at a workshop in Cedarburg, WI in 1981.

Posted in Decorative ironwork, Master Blacksmiths | 14 Comments »

Cyril Colnik Outdoor Ironwork II

Posted by bighornforge on December 29, 2009

Once again we shall visit the ironwork of master blacksmith Cyril Colnik (1871-1958.) For those of you who are visiting this site for the first time, you may wish to learn more about this Austrian master by clicking the page on “Cyril Colnik” at the upper right of this blog page. There are several installments on Colnik’s work in this blog as well, which can be found readily by clicking on “Master Blacksmiths” at the upper right, under “Catagories.”

Note to my readers: To enlarge an image, simply click on the desired image. Then, when the new image appears, click on the new image and you will get a much larger image to see all the fine details.

The image above is a mailbox made for Maria Pabst, wife of the famed Milwaukee beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst. This piece is not at the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, rather at another Pabst residence in Oconomowoc, WI, about 30 miles west of Milwaukee.

This piece is rich in form with its cherubs, scrolls, lions, leaf man, crown, coat-of-arms, and more, much of which was made by the process of repousse’. (For more on repousse’, see “Forging Processes” under “Catagories” at the upper right of this blog.)

The two images below are likely from the same building, as 1.) the bond of the brick is identical, 2.) the stonework is similar, and 3.) the job numbers at the lower left are #36841, and #36842. Likely the door with the coat-of-arms was the main entrance.

Notice also the coach lamps beside these grilles, which are also finely crafted.

Below we see a wonderful door grille showing Colnik again at his best. Notice also the door handle, as well as the doorbell escutcheon. This is another fine example of Colnik’s attention to details.

Below we see an interesting photo of a single gate leaf. Upon closer inspection, however, you will see another leaf to the left. The size of the gate, the double drive, and the brick pavers indicate that this was either the home of a very wealthy individual, or the main entrance to an institution or business.

The gate below shows a combination of forged, as well as cast elements. The spearheads at the top are likely castings, while those at the bottom are likely forged. If you enlarge this photo, you will see the “C. COLNIK MFG. CO.” stamp at the lower right of the photo.

Below we see an impressive gate on a dirt road. This piece shows us that Colnik departed from the heavier work to a more light and open French or English style, void of heavy bars and collars. Collars are a type of joint, utilizing a strap of typically flat bar wrapped around two or more bars, joining them together. (In the gate above, the C-scrolls near the top are fastened with collars.)

In this final image, we see a massive grille (66″ w x 99″ h) which is on the north side of the “Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion” in Milwaukee. This image was taken in 1993. Looking closely you can see that time had taken its toll on this grille, as many elements had decayed and fallen off.

I am very familiar with this piece as I was privilaged to have restored this grille in 2008.

All the rosettes around the perimeter were stampings, with the exception of the large composite corner rosettes.

I will discuss this piece in more detail in my next installment, which will also show “before and after” images.

Here’s hoping you all had a blessed Christmas.

…….Dan Nauman

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord……Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Luke 2:11 + 14

Posted in Decorative ironwork, Master Blacksmiths | 1 Comment »

Cyril Colnik Ironwork for Sale

Posted by bighornforge on December 13, 2009

I am offering three pieces by master blacksmith Cyril Colnik (1871-1958.) I am making a strong effort to sell these items.

Cyril Colnik came from Austria to America during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, known as the “Columbian Exposition.” He later set up shop in Milwaukee, and provided some of the finest homes in the state with his fine ironwork.

Colnik is regarded as one of the world’s finest master blacksmiths, and his work is on display at the “Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum” in Milwaukee. He is most widely known for his fine detail work, especially noted in his famous “Masterpiece” (below.)

You can see much more of his fine work by clicking “Master Blacksmiths” at the upper right of this page.

Below are images of the pieces I am offering.

Note: These are exceptional pieces, of museum quality.

Colnik Piece#1

“Roe Deer Antler Chandelier”, 17″ x 60″, 12 lamps, plus three in center, iron, copper, brass, glass, and six (6) sets of trophy Roe Deer antlers (a European deer). Natural patina, wax finish.

Originally priced at $49,500.00
New Price: $30,000.00

Condition: Good. Two oak clusters missing from Roe deer skull caps. Missing pieces could be reproduced for an additional charge. Recently rewired. Glass globes not original.

Provenance: I purchased the piece from a restaunteur who had the chandelier in his restaurant. He bought the piece from Gretchen Colnik, who was Cyril’s daughter. Gretchen bought it back from a bank that was raised in Milwaukee. Three months after I purchased the chandelier, a fellow brought me a piece that belonged to this chandelier. He bought the missing piece from Gretchen in 1982.

Colnik Piece #2

“Rose Table”, 25″ x 32″, iron, pink granite top, natural patina, wax finish.

Originally priced at $7,500.00.
New Price: $5,500.00

Condition: Good. Some petals missing on buds and roses.

Provenance: The image below is from the Cyril Colnik archives at “Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum” in Milwaukee, and shows an almost identical table on the right.

Cyril Colnik Piece #3

“Plant Stand”, 17″ x 32″, iron, white marble top, black paint finish.

Price: Orinally priced at $8,500.00
New Price: $5,500.00

Condition: Good.

Provenance: This table has features identical to the “Rose Table”, i.e. the roses, leaves and buds. The other features are typical of Colnik’s workmanship.

Package Offerings

Package #1 :

Both tables for $9,500.00

Package #2:

All of the above for $38,000.00

All prices negotiable to serious inquiries.

Veiwings of the above work by appointment only

Note: Shipping not included in prices.

Dan Nauman at (262) 626-2208. Bighorn Forge, Inc., 4190 Badger Rd., Kewaskum, WI 53040.

Posted in Decorative ironwork, Master Blacksmiths | 3 Comments »

Cyril Colnik Outdoor Architectural Ironwork I

Posted by bighornforge on December 12, 2009

Today we will again explore the work of master blacksmith Cyril Colnik (1871-1958), and Austrian immigrant who settled in Milwaukee in 1894.

Note to my readers: To enlarge these images, simply click on the desired image. When the new image appears, click on that image to get an enlargement to study the fine details.

Above is a grille, which was later reinstalled on Terrace Avenue in Milwaukee at the former Mayor Black home, across the street from “Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.” If you look closely, you will see that there must have been some work going on across the street as there is a reflection of a ladder in the window. This piece shows off Colnik’s flair for repousse’, with the fine acanthus and calyx work.

The below images show an iron door of an unknown location. Here we see a different type of repousse’ applied, likely performed on a bed of pitch.


Below is a sign bracket for a wallpaper and fabric company. Note how Colnik blended the oak leaf motif with the building ornamentation.

At the H.C. Prange Co., Colnik installed this massive overhang, shown below. Note the contrasts in this image, indicating the old and the new.

The Salomon grille below shows Colnik again using much from his arsenal of details, i.e. spiral ornaments, acanthus leaves, rosettes, water leaves, flowing scrolls, etc.


Finally, we have a gate from the former Uihlein Candy Company, which was located on Port Washington Rd. in Milwaukee. This is one of two gates of the same design at the Candy Co., the other set being slightly smaller. The Candy Co. was owned by the Uihlein family, the same of which owned the Schlitz Brewing Co. The Candy Co. was their answer to Prohibition.

The smaller set of gates were recently purchased by a decendent of Herman Uihlein. I was fortunate to have been elected to restore these massive gates. Each leaf of the gates weighed approximately 900 to 1000 lbs. I erected an overhead crane in my shop just to accomodate this job.

The smaller gates were advertised in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in the classified ads. I was called upon to see if the gates were of any real value, and to see if they were by Colnik’s hand. I surveyed the gates, noted that they were in good condition, of fine workmanship, but could not find any evidence that they were by the hand of Colnik. About 2:00 AM, I awoke and realized I may have an image in my Colnik archives of these gates…..curious how these things happen in the middle of the night. I went downstairs to the office, and sure enough, I found this image, providing solid proof (provenance.)

I called the prospective buyer at 8:00 that very morning with the good news.

…..Dan Nauman

“We’re all proud of making little mistakes. It gives us the feeling we don’t make any big ones.” ………Andy Rooney, CBS Commentator.

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