Episode #78 – Sandra Dunn “100 Bronze Discs for Ypres Panel”

From Kitchener, Ontario, Sandra Dunn is one of the owners of Two Smiths, a studio that creates contemporary forged metalwork. She regularly collaborates with builders and other artists on architectural projects, restoration and large scale public art. She’ll be one of 25 master blacksmiths at the Ypres 2016 International Blacksmithing Event in Belgium, where she will lead a team to develop one of 25 unique panels for a large World War I Cenotaph.

Campbell Railing Sandra DunnFold Formed Copper Door Sandra Dunn Two Smiths Staples Ypres Panel

What We Talked About

  • Sandra received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Waterloo University, but discovered blacksmithing while in a painting class with a friend who worked with a glass artist. That artist set up a forge to make lamps and after Sandra came in to try it, the thee set up a shop together.
  • After a year at the shop, Sandra gave up her night job teaching art to focus on blacksmithing full time. She says she knew nothing and had no skills, but took two weekend courses and attended some ABANA conferences. “That’s really what enabled me to learn. Just the environment of people who are extremely open and friendly.”
  • After forging full time for four years, Sandra joined with coppersmith Stephen White. They worked together 14 years, which allowed her to learn about how to work with copper.
  • Dunn recently won a public art competition for a piece that’s displayed at the Waterloo Service Center (the city department that deals with sewers). She describes the piece as a section of “sewer pipe” suspended 12′ in the air with a column of copper “water” coming from the pipe and three fish swimming in and out of the water before it pours into a drain in the ground.
  • Sandra explains how several grants have enabled her to travel, research and ultimately build several pieces, including a commercial door using a full sheet of copper.
  • Dunn’s best advice on landing grants is to have really good photos of your work. She says her writing skills and English degree also come in handy.
  • Sandra spent 12 years as a seasonal instructor at Haliburton College of Fine Arts in Ontario teaching Forge Fundamentals, Applied Design and History of Ornamental Ironwork, but ultimately left because of the 4-hour commute and the increasing time commitment.
  • For this September’s Ypres International Blacksmithing event in Belgium, Sandra will appear as a master blacksmith. She will design and build one panel of 25 that will surround a 12-ton World War I Cenotaph (empty tomb) to be installed in a public park.
  • Her panel design consists of several plant stalks leaning at angles and at different heights. Each one will have about 20 bronze discs as flower tops to represent the ID tags the soldiers wore. Each disc will be stamped with words from actual letters describing the soldier’s experiences, desires and fears.
  • Sandra’s father is a veteran and her grandfather fought in WWI, so this piece has significant personal meaning to her.
  • As for the techniques involved in creating the piece on the spot, she’s feeling confident. She will use traditional joinery techniques and try to keep it simple so it can be installed in the two day window.

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