Episode #59 Jerry Coe “Tango and Blacksmithing”

Jerry Coe is a sculptural metalsmith who specializes in bronze. He’s the founder of Coe Studios Architectural Lighting in Berkeley, California. His interest in blacksmithing began when he was a mountain climber and park ranger at Yosemite National Park. It was there that he became an apprentice stagecoach builder and has been blacksmithing full time since 1979. Jerry also enjoys tango dancing and is currently organizing a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina with a large group of blacksmiths from around the world.

Jery in shop Plaza Iralanda - Copy Timofey sculpture

What we talked about

  • Jerry traveled to Argentina a few years ago and was amazed by the amount of iron work there. He said the quality and quantity rivals London, Paris and New York City. Yet because of political changes, no one has cared for it or developed any more since the 1930s. In fact, there are almost no blacksmiths left in the entire country.
  • Jerry shared his pictures and stories from Argentina with a friend who edits a magazine and then produced a short video. A colleague who watched it encouraged him to apply for a grant to go back to Buenos Aires and study more about the history of the metalwork there.
  • He traveled back to Buenos Aires in October of 2014 for 3 weeks. He met with architects and a local blacksmith and they formed the Association for Architectural Preservation.
  • Using his own money, Jerry invited a couple of blacksmiths to California last spring to work in different shops for three weeks.
  • Jerry came up with the idea to go back to Buenos Aires to teach some free classes to try to revive metalworking there. He contacted the US Embassy and they immediately wanted to get involved. “They decided this was a perfect program that fits the ambassador’s plans for Argentina to have community involvement and education and all free,” Jerry says.
  • Soon about 40 people had expressed interest in joining Jerry on the 12-day trip coming up at the end of February.
  • Jerry contacted a mayor in Buenos Aires and she offered the group a public park in the middle of the city with all the amenities they will need. In return, the group will build a permanent sculpture for the park over the 3 days they teach there.
  • At the park, they’ll teach basic blacksmithing, tool making, sheet metal work as well as putting together the sculpture. They want to encourage locals to learn and help as much as possible.
  • 20 full-time blacksmiths will be helping out with this project. Another 17 will be there for support. Additionally, another 45 people from a local blacksmith club will be on hand and as many as 100 other people who have expressed interest in this project may also join them. Jerry is hopeful that the community will also be heavily involved in the entire project.
  • Jerry hopes that the community will learn enough to restore and care for the metal in Buenos Aires. “I’m hoping to inspire a group of craftspeople to take it on,” he says. He also wants to inspire young blacksmiths. “It’s a beautiful opportunity to express yourself in lasting, functional art.”
  • Jerry says that pulling off an event of this magnitude is challenging. “We’re trying to make something happen there that hasn’t happened in 85 years, so we’re really pushing the envelope.” He says they will do their best to come up with enough anvils and forges and basic items to make the project happen. Blacksmiths will be brining tools along and plan to leave them there for the community.
  • Even meals will be a challenge with this size of a group, so he’s arranged for locals to walk with guests through town and break off into small groups to visit local eateries.
  • Jerry is also looking forward to enjoying the night life of Buenos Aires where he can put his tango skills to use. He’s encouraging all travelers to learn some dance moves.
  • For a website dedicated to this trip, please see http://www.restorationcraftsmen.org

To see the video fo the interview click below

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