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Volume 24, Number 9 — September 2017

Maiorana creates flowing metal artwork

Marc Maiorana works with metal in his studio in Abingdon, Virginia. (photo by David Grace)
Marc Maiorana works with metal in his studio in Abingdon, Virginia. (photo by David Grace)
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By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | January 31, 2017

Marc Maiorana comes from a tradition of blacksmithing. His father became a blacksmith because he shod horses.Maiorana's artistic metalwork bears no resemblance to a horseshoe.

Carissa Hussong, executive director of the National Ornamental Metal Museum, writes this about Maiorana, "Marc Maiorana is a master of the line, achieving in steel what two-dimensional artists strive to capture on paper with graphite and charcoal.His forms are fluid, appearing effortless in their simplicity. But don't be fooled. Marc has considered every detail, so as not to distract the viewer with the how. The telltale hammer marks of the traditional blacksmith are eschewed in favor of a flawless surface. Through his hands iron rolls and bends into perfect circles, gentle spirals and softly curving forms. The effect defies the common notion of steel as heavy, structural and hard. At once both sophisticated and playful, Marc's functional and sculptural objects reflect a modern design sensibility while remaining deeply rooted within an ancient tradition."

Maiorana is fascinated with the characteristics of metal. "When heated, steel can be manipulated like clay.When cool, it's rigid and structural.This means the opportunities of shape and composition are limitless.The same material rolled into I-beams holding up buildings can be squished between hammer and anvil to make a nail.The malleability of steel sucked me in from the first swing; it's surprising and empowering to be able to shape a heated iron bar. Everybody should have the experience.

"The material continues to inspire me and has a primary foothold in my design process.I play and test the material constantly. I've always admired the manufacturing process of steel, the melting together of primary earthly ingredientsto create such a versatilematerial, one that when formed starts as a gigantic mass and then is drawn (squeezed) down and down into miles and miles of sheet or bar or wire," he says.

He runs Iron Design Company, which specializes in modern, hand-formed steel housewares, and Marc Maiorana Studio, which creates custom sculptural and architectural commissions, such as sweeping staircase railings. His studio is on Walden Road in Abingdon, Virginia.

"I build two types of work: limited production items and custom architectural and sculptural commissions.

"My studio is basically a blacksmithing shop or a more modernized version of one.I have traditional blacksmithing equipment in hammers, tongs and anvils, and rely on these tools for daily use.Additionally, the studio is equipped with a variety of welders, hydraulic presses, forges and finishing equipment. Everyone's favorite is the power hammer, a foot operated machine that stomps your metal quickly while you maneuverthe heated steel between the reciprocatingdies to shape it.Basically it does what its name implies.

"Upstairs is dedicated to illustrating and model making, generating designs.When a new production item is conceived, the idea makes many rounds in the form of sketches drawn out on paper or prototyped in clay, paper, or aluminum.The more complex custom projects are handled differently, and in many ways I interact with the client much like an architect.Generally I share my portfolio, and through site visits, emails and conversations, I try to study each one's environment and requests as best I can.Then I aim to generate designs that balance the task, the material and the building style of my studio," he says.

When it comes to style, Maiorana admires the BelgiumblacksmithVictor Horta, Maine jeweler Ronald Hayes Pearson, Mia Lynn and Wharton Esherick. He says the Dutch-influenced ironwork that he grew up around in New Jersey also influenced him.

Maiorana's housewares marry form and function, which he says he finds easy.

"I learned the scope of opportunitiesthat come with this material early on.So when I'm approached with a project, a task, I never feel boxed in and can apply sculptural qualities of form to something that would be geometrically routine.

"Take railings for instance, my custom hand railingsdo everything a support should do, yet their composition and line quality is of something more fluid and enticing. The same happens with my smaller utilitarianitems. I have dozens of coat hook models in my studio. Supporting something is easy; shapes are infinite.

"Merging form and function artfully and effectivelyhappen when you have the creativity to see options combined with the material knowledge to bring them to life. Charles Eames was spot-on when he said when you "design deeply' for yourself, you design for others," Maiorana says.

Kathryn Gremley from the Penland School of Crafts writes this about Maiorana's work. "It is not difficult to recognize work created by Marc Maiorana. There are certain identifying characteristics found in the work, whether it is functional or sculptural, recent work or from early in his career. To work with material in such a spartan and ascetic fashion requires a bit of courage. Rather than the addition of some trademark technique or design element it is the absence of such things in Marc's work that is your first clue. Surfaces are clean, clean, clean, with barely a hint that a heavy tool or a loud formidable machine played any part in forming the steel. The surfaces are pristine but also manage to retain a warmth or softness the edges are just touched to remove a physical and visual sharpness, the patina is just barely imperfect enough to remind you that Marc was part of the process made by human hands."

His artwork opens Feb. 2 in an exhibit at William King Museum of Art. An opening reception is held Feb. 2 from 6-9 p.m.

"The exhibit at William King will be a summary and mini-retrospective of the studio, displaying the many shapes and styles that have emerged over the years.It will also feature an educational angle, as I'll have on display long shelves of my demonstration samples amassed from teaching various blacksmithing workshops, in addition to two large videos of me forging.In the center of the room will be a running display of sculpture, production, architectural, and housewares all woven together," Maiorana says.

Teaching metal work is a big part of Maiorana's life. His teaching experience includes Marywood University (Pennsylvania), Touchstone Center for Crafts (Pennsylvania), New England School of Metalwork (Maine) and Haystack Mountain School of Craft (Maine). He was awarded a Penland School of Crafts, North Carolina, residency shortly after completing his BFA at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. Prior to attending SIU, he spent two years in art school at Alfred University in New York.

His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Design Atlanta, National Ornamental Metals Museum (Tennessee) and Kentucky and Mobile (Alabama) Museums of Art. His work has been published in five Schiffer books of contemporary metalwork and featured in American Craft, Audi, Gourmet, Dwell, Food and Wine, Metalsmith, The New York Times, The Washington Post and seen on the DIY Network TV Show "Man Caves."

Recently, he was awarded a Professional Fellowship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and his work was exhibited and permanently acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery. His commissions include the Southeast Center of Contemporary Art, Duke University, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery. His production lines have sold to clients in 20 countries.

Commissions are a big part of his work. Most of them are for private residences and range from sculptural compositions in entryways to unique yet fully functional gates and railings.

"Last fall I won a commission to install a lobby coatrack in the newly renovated lobby of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery. We even made the coat hangers," he says.

His work is on display at the William King Museum of Art from Feb. 2 through May 14. For more information about Maiorana, visit www.irondesigncompany.com.

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Topics: Art



Marc Maiorana's "Renwick Gallery Gate" is on exhibit at The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery


This chandelier is by Marc Maiorana.


Bench by Marc Maiorana


Coat Rack by Marc Maiorana