From outside his forge at Markham Farm in Somerset comes a “cooee”. It’s fellow craftsman, furniture maker Andy Butterly’s signal that he’s putting the kettle on. Alongside potters, spray paint artists and an assortment of other creatives, here in the rolling hills of Easton-in-Gordano, Sam Bailey does what has been done for centuries, a livelihood once at the heart of every community. “The blacksmith would have been a fixer, doing everything from mending scythes to furnishing grand houses, and even pulling people’s teeth out,” Sam says.
“I don’t know if that’s actually true. But I’ve heard rumours. And he would have had the tools to hand and been of the right strong constitution, so it’s certainly possible.” Here in the forge, there are several brutal looking tools – including a power hammer resembling a Marvel villain – but thankfully none for the extraction of teeth. Sam throws his net wide, doing everything from gatemaking and repair work for fellow tradesmen to making props for films and TV (most recently The White Princess and Paddington 2). And his latest sculpture project is a pubic art collaboration with illustrator Dan Arnold in Bristol. “We’re making some dancing anteaters,” he says.
The Bristolian became interested in all things metal aged fourteen. “I helped out at a local forge as a teenager and had this realisation about what can be done with metal. Instead of something that is perceived as being cold and hard, it was actually something that can be turned into this beautiful, curved, fluid thing. I found that transition fascinating.” His work takes on natural shapes: leaves and flowers regularly feature, and the steel, he says, lends itself well to twirly, organic forms.
“The majority of what I do is a combination of fabrication and forge work. I’ll get things hot on the forge, and then because of the nature of trying to get my work out the door, I’ll use the electric welder. So it’s the combination of old technology and modern technology... bringing the two together.”
Working with traditional methods means Sam
can put some soul into his pieces. He explains: “You put a bit of yourself into your craft, which is something you lose when things are mass-produced with machines. And being a blacksmith you make your own hammers, tongs and punches to produce things, so you literally put your own stamp on your work.”
Does it come with any pitfalls? “I once fell on a spike which went into my arm,” he says. “Luckily there was someone around to take me to A&E pretty quickly. You occasionally burn yourself and cut yourself. You’re aware that these tools are going to hurt you, so you try not to be too silly around them.”
“I’ve grown to love the solitary aspect of it,
I quite like having my own space now. It’s a really satisfying thing to do; being so hands on in the workshop. I think there’s something very special about this craft. I think everyone should be able
to make things, and there will always be
a desire for handmade items.”
“I’ll be doing this till the body gives up. It’s a joy to be able to create things that make people happy and earn a living from it.”