…of how we came to be striving to be the best in our field
From the beginning of their work together Bethan Griffiths & Chris Topp were aware of the combined strength of their skills and knowledge. They also realised there was a need for design and consultancy services which were independent of any workshop, thereby providing impartial advice with no conflict of interest for clients wishing to acquire craftsman made work, and obtain directly comparable quotations from different suppliers. In recognition of this they joined forces and founded The Ironwork Studio in 2010, with the specific focus of providing independent architectural metalwork design and consultancy services.
From first hammer blows to jewelry for buildings
Growing up on a farm in Mid Wales becoming a blacksmith was not an obvious choice. However, the fire, anvil and hammer were a familiar sight, sound (and smell!) of Bethan’s childhood, with regular trips to see ‘Smithy,’ the local blacksmith. It was not, however, until Bethan was studying at University for her BA Hons in Three-Dimensional Design that her passion for metalwork developed. Bethan designed and made individual contemporary work in wood, ceramics and glass, but it was the metalwork that proved to be her strength. The course was predominantly silversmith based and Bethan’s first venture into blacksmithing was a pair of pewter spoons with contrasting burnished mild steel handles. Determined not to make a scroll & wanting to see what the metal would say for itself, she created a decorative detail by a combination of simply folding, forging and unfolding the metal. However, Bethan wanted to make larger objects with more practical purpose and function, and so began her use of blacksmithing for architectural metalwork – or as she calls it ‘jewelry for buildings’.
Following her formal design training Bethan realised she need to hone her practical making skills, and so worked in a number of workshops, gaining invaluable hands on experience. With a talent for design, an intuitive gift for understanding and interpreting a client’s brief, as well as a keen eye and persistence for getting the detailing right (inherited from her mother), Bethan was always determined that the focus of her business would be on design and craftsmanship. Now based in North Yorkshire, Bethan works with a network of people nationally, as well as some internationally, and has been involved in a wide range of prominent projects.
New perspectives on heritage ironwork
Collaborative heritage projects with Chris Topp, of Topp & Co Architectural Metalwork, gave Bethan a deeper and more profound understanding and appreciation of historic ironwork. Chris’s enthusiasm for the subject was, not for the first time, contagious; he has inspired many a smith and the odd architect or two, and soon Bethan was just as hooked. Her instinctive understanding of ironwork and clear logical approach to surveying, researching and report writing naturally led, with Chris’s support, to the addition of heritage consultancy services to her business.
Keeping it fresh
Chris and Bethan have been working with iron for a combined experience of over 66 years, yet they readily admit they’ve never stopped learning. As Bethan says, “Ironwork continues to inspire and challenge me as my skills and knowledge develop and evolve. I believe that a vital element of this evolution is that I regularly attend conferences, talks and exhibitions, keeping my work fresh and interesting. Also, the sharing of ideas and networking helps me keep in touch with what’s current and relevant.”
Giving a little back
Bethan & Chris have always believed in giving something back to their craft, and as a result have been involved with many voluntary projects. They are significantly involved with the development of guidelines, training and accreditation for the restoration of heritage ironwork. Bethan is a Trustee for the National Heritage Ironwork Group (NHIG). They are two of the five founding members who established the Group in 2009, and since have played key roles in its development, including the establishment of Conservation Principals for Heritage Forged and Cast Ironwork, and developing and running the first Blacksmith Conservator training course. They also had advisory roles in the first National Occupational Standards for heritage blacksmithing, published in August 2010. Prior to NHIG, from 2004-09 Bethan served on the Council of the British Artist Blacksmiths Association, taking responsibility for five exhibitions, and Chris served as secretary to that organisation. Bethan also undertook a research project for the Association to assess publicity options. Its conclusions guided crucial policy decisions by the BABA council in the allocation of resources. In 2007 Bethan was one of just 15 internationally selected team leaders who designed and then supervised a master class to make a elements for the ‘Pillar of Friendship’ a major public art project created collaboratively by 300 blacksmiths from across the world.