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Area Blacksmith sets up in Alton Mill Arts Centre

October 13, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Straight up and straight forward, Blacksmith artist, Jason Duclos says of his early life, “I was a trouble maker in my younger years; I had to get away from my negative life style.”

Very recently, he took up tenancy in the old blacksmith shop and forge at the Alton Mill Arts Centre.

As it happened in those early days of his life, Mr. Duclos knew a few blacksmiths, working metals into art.

“I’m self-taught,” he told the Citizen. “There was no art school or anything. I worked in the trades, all sorts of jobs. Drilling holes in things at $10 an hour – that kind of thing. But it was good experience and I learned to use all kinds of tools. It helps that I came from an artsy family.”

He went on to say, “I like knives. I have a nice collection but I thought if I’m going to make something, they’re going to be the best.”

So, he began on his own, with the gas forge he purchased to make “functional art knives.”

Basically, these knives are for display but if anyone wanted to impress their camp buddies, they could show them one of Mr. Duclos’ knives. While they have an impressive appearance, they’re still high quality blades, ready to work.

Recalling the days when the Franklin Mint used to sell knives, Mr. Duclos says he’s still got them and, “they are absolute junk.”

On to an altruistic place in the forge, Mr. Duclos continued to teach himself, saying, “I am a chemistry and physics hobbyist. The little shop also came with a coal forge. I spent three weeks of swearing at it until I finally figured it. Now, I use that and my gas forge. So, I can make anything!”

He continued to explain, “The temperature adjustment and consistency [between the creation of one thing and another] – it has to be just right. I’ve only been at the [Alton] Mill since September. I was in the Alliston area and heard about this historic mill and came here to see it and took the shop right away.”

The antiquity and the ambience of the mill are very attractive to Mr. Duclos, “This place is fantastic and the people are great,” he declared.

Once he realized the potential in the high traffic area, he changed his focus away from knives to other blacksmith items: architecture, jewellery. Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 stopped Jason Duclos from doing his job of repairing sewing machines, which had been his main source of income.

“But then it was clear $1,000 knives were not going to support me and I began to do art work, making it up as I went, then, I started making jewellery, as a means to an end. I used available material. A friend of mine collects scrap metal and he had a broad collection of copper sheeting and asked me if I wanted it. It was alright to play around with it. What can I do with it?”

The answer came in the form of jewellery: pendants, mainly which have become a staple for him. They are copper pendants, “I have done oblong squares, 1 x 1 1/2 inch.”

Forging leaves into steel, he hammers one of the steel leaf designs into the copper, which makes an impression in the metal. Each copper piece is then cleaned and finished on top with natural ingredients and sold on a leather cord.

Priced similarly, Mr. Duclos commented, “They all take the same amount of time and material to make them and they’re about the same size. They sell as quickly as I can make them.”

A much bigger project, coming already from his very short time established at the Mill, is a fence and gate to be installed around an Alton property.

“I’ve 600 feet of iron to hand texture,” he told the Citizen. “I designed an art deco style rail, made out of half inch steel bars for a person in Alton. I’m going to hit the whole lot with a hammer to make it look interesting. A person dropped by the forge and mentioned she had a project. So, we talked about it and now I have this to do. This sounds big but it’s the design: there’s 33 feet of linear iron but it’s nearly 1/4 mile of iron.”

Having said all that, like so many artists, Jason Duclos likes to build big and he has nearly finished a large and complicated statue on his own bat, which he will offer for sale once it is completed.

This project has taken 800 hours in forging and he wrote a book on the construction.

“The biggest thing that I’ve done is nearly finished: a magic mirror, the sort sorcerers consult; it’s an Antique parson’s parabolic mirror, a reflector..”

He has framed by hand and foraged a crown of thorns and an Ouroboros – the ancient symbol of the serpent eating its own tail; about the eternal circle of death and the return of life. The whole is set upon a base, representing a tree.

No longer in the business of repairing sewing machines, Mr. Duclos is happy to be a full time forager, a blacksmith. He can keep making money at the new place for his business at the Alton Mill.

In the long run: “I’d like to retire. Honestly, if I could sell two or three big sculptures, I’d invest the money and go [to] a [remote place].”

This weekend, visitors to the Alton Mill can find Mr. Duclos in his forge, “running a gas forge for a lot – a whole bunch of bars and they’ll see a crazy blacksmith in a rush – I’m going to put on my forage hundreds of these bars, standing up and down in my shop. I’ll run all those and they have to be hammered up. This makes it one of a kind. I promised the [client] that.”

Be sure to visit: Mr. Duclos claims he has not been much of a talker through his life but here at the Mill he discovers he loves talking to people. And, so it seems, he loves being at the Mill, “getting up in his mornings at 4:00 a.m. and not returning until 6:00 p.m.”

“My place has gone from artist studio to production facility,” he said. “This project has got to be installed in less than two months. For now, I’ll try to make money – make connections – be creative and enjoy life here.”

For an interesting read and to learn more about Jason and his Blacksmithing, his website is www.happyknife.ca



         


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