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Lee Sauder


A three-day iron forging workshop (Oct. 1 - 4, 2001) directed by Lexington, Virginia, artist and blacksmith/metallurgist, Lee Sauder, sculptor, Steven Bickley, and Virginia Tech professor and material science engineer, Bill Reynolds. An exhibition entitled, Fiber and Form / Iron and Paper forged iron sculptures and  "Pyroprint" iron-burn drawings by Lexington, Virginia artist Lee Sauder, was curated by Francis Thompson and exhibited at Virginia Tech’s Armory Gallery, (October 4 –October 26, 2001) to coincide with the workshop.




In 2000, sculptor and art professor Steve Bickley was working collaboratively with Bill Reynolds, professor of material science and engineering at Virginia Tech. Their work was part of the innovative interdisciplinary programs that Tech’s Art and Art History Department was advancing in the Science and Technology Colleges. Aware of the interdepartmental work going on at Tech, I simultaneously—and fortuitously—learned of Lee Sauder’s artwork when I saw one of his “burn”-imprinted framed works on paper in a Lexington art gallery and asked the owner how I could meet the artist. As it turned out, Sauder worked very close to other Lexington friends. He had taken over Larry Mann’s blacksmith shop on McLaughlin Street—which earlier had been one of Cy Twombly’s studios—and was making custom forged wrought iron gates and railings. When I visited him in 2001, he was working at the forge. It struck me that the process of working forged iron not only was vividly beautiful but had a special cultural legacy in rural America and the Appalachian region in particular. Sauder had, in fact, written an informative narrative about the technical elements of “bloomery” iron forging as well as its local cultural relevance.1


I was delighted to learn that Lee had made a portable “bloomery” (a furnace for producing iron) that fit into his pickup truck along with his forging tools. I was planning an exhibition of his artwork for Virginia Tech’s Armory Art Gallery when it occurred to Steve Bickley and me that we could do an iron-forging workshop as a related program.2 Using Sauder’s portable bloomery, iron was forged on the Tech campus to an enthusiastic audience of students and community participants. We then took a smaller group of volunteers to Sauder’s Woods Creek Forge in Lexington, where he and Bickley engaged the volunteers in the labor-intensive hammering of red-hot iron on a huge anvil to pound it into a formed object.3 The workshop’s group efforts resulted in a beautiful sculpture titled Aristotle’s Sword that is in the permanent collection of the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia.


Cy Twombly lived just a block away from Sauder’s studio and visited one evening to watch the forging process. I think that his visit that evening may have brought Cy closer to his decision to work with Steve Bickley on casting bronzes, a two-person collaboration using traditional processes for a distinctively contemporary result that I describe later in this chapter, in “Cy Twombly: Foundry Sculpture.”

1 Excerpts of Sauder’s article, which originally appeared in the July 1999 issue of The Anvil’s Ring (the quarterly of the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America), have been revised and included here as Appendix B, “The Basics of Bloomery Smelting.”


2 Fiber and Form / Iron and Paper, an exhibition of forged iron sculpture and “pyroprint” iron-burn drawings by Lee Sauder, was curated by Francis Thompson and shown at the Armory Art Gallery from October 4 to October 26, 2001, to coincide with his on-campus “bloomery” demonstration workshop.

3 The three-day iron forging workshop in early October was directed by Sauder and Bickley, with contributions from Professor Bill Reynolds, College of Engineering. I was a project coordinator along with Francis Thompson, graduate assistant in arts administration at Tech. This project received grant funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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