These days, it seems to be extremely uncommon to see the word “blacksmith” written on the roadside signs while driving down a highway, and yet, I find myself spotting just that on my way to Duerst Studio in Godfrey, ON.
Stefan Duerst is a blacksmith. He is an artist.
The drive through Godfrey leads me down winding country roads lined with homemade signs and the occasional colourful, metal landmark to reassure me that I’m on the right path. Coming to my destination I am faced with two buildings; the artist’s home and his studio. An old barn sits further on the property and everything else turns green as far as the eye can see.
The studio itself looks far more industrial than artistic but as I enter I am faced with the beautiful, colourful, twisting structures that have been created within. One, standing fourteen feet above the ground, reaches for the sky in bright oranges and yellows. Staring up at the steel tree I feel as though I have entered a world created by Doctor Seuss and Stefan tells me that the piece was in fact a direct product of his recent discovery of the children’s author.
Inside sits another dozen pieces, wrapped in cloth for protection. As he pulls aside the covering on each standing structure, the artist reveals to me metals shining in rich hues – purples, reds, oranges. Once finished with a piece, he picks a colour and sends it down the road to a painter. He considers this a great collaboration; allowing someone else to create something out of his creations.
He explains to me his process of heating the metal to outrageous temperatures in order to bend and mould it in any way he pleases. I think about how fantastic and empowering it must feel to command steel. To make it liquid.
Stefan’s hands are proof of his hard work. They hold past scars and crushed nails as reminders that his art is still physical – but now that he has a family, he must be careful. He tells me this as his young son places a freshly picked flower into his worn hands.
He is more cautious with his work recently and more intentional than he has been with past choices. He assures me, with a smile, that the loss of his reckless ways has only improved his work.
Leaving the studio, Stefan leads me past the old barn and down a path lined with more of his pieces. It is a garden of steel. The metal appears to be growing from the ground, organic and natural. He has been cultivating this path for the past few years to lead visitors through his work, giving them a chance to view it in the most pleasant of settings.
With the sounds of young children playing in the field and the wind blowing the grass at the base of the gorgeous steel sculptures, Duerst Studio is a fine place to spend a morning (or more).