Metalsmiths raise money through auction

By Gus Bode

Jack Nawrot and his wife, Robin, do not practice the art of metalsmithing or consider themselves artists, but they do enjoy the look and function metalsmith work has to offer.

“We tend to decorate our home or the garden with functional art,” said Jack Nawrot, a senior scientist for SIU’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory. “And I think the blacksmith, metalwork art kind of fits that bill.”

Nawrot was able to buy numerous pieces Saturday at the Southern Illinois Metalsmiths Society’s annual art auction.


The auction was part of an all day event that raised roughly $7,000, which will be used to purchase tools and supplies for both the blacksmith department and the small metals studio.

Before the auction, participants attended tool and lock making technique demonstrations by Peter Ross and Tom Latane, who both specialize in 17th and 18th century tool making.

“This was a really important demonstration for us because we don’t do a lot of tool making around here,” the society’s President Margaret Kramer said. “We tend to focus more on the aesthetic, artistic blacksmithing aspects.”

Students from different departments in the School of Art and Design, alumnus and local artists donated the items up for bid at the auction, such as jewelry, glass vases and titanium chopsticks.

Kramer, a senior studying small metals from St. Louis, said the event is a way for the community to come together to encourage local artists.

“It’s such an incredible gathering of people from all backgrounds, not only coming together to support the metals program, but to support the local art community in general,” Kramer said.

Bill Price, a graduate student studying blacksmithing, said the auction raises money to help the department buy new equipment, which it could not otherwise afford.


“We have people that come back every year that are art collectors,” Price said. “And they come just for the auction because they can get some really high quality pieces at reasonable prices.”

Price said it is not only a fun event that brings the community together, it is also educational.

“It’s definitely a learning experience,” Price said. “Especially the fact that we get people coming that are professionals and the students have an opportunity to interact with them and get information from outside of the school realm.”

One of the first high bids of the night was from Jim Ribordy, who is from Wisconsin. He bid $500 on a piece by Doug Hendrickson titled “Cotter bag.”

Ribordy said the piece does not have a particular function but the fact that it was made by Hendrickson, a renowned blacksmith from Missouri, attracted him to it.

Ribordy, who practices blacksmithing as a hobby, said he came to participate in the demonstrations.

“My main objective for coming here was to learn something,” Ribordy said. “And it was great. I loved it.”

David Wehrenberg, a sculptor from Chapel Hill, N.C., was another of the evening’s high bidders. He purchased an untitled piece by Brent Kington for $1,600.

Wehrenberg said he spent time earlier in the week speaking with Kington, a retired professor from SIUC, and said the piece, comprised of wood and steel, relates to artwork his friends back home are creating.

“It is very different than anything that I’ve seen of his so far,” Wehrenberg said. “It correspond with several things that I’ve run across back in my hometown, so it has a very special significance to me.”

Encouraging artists is important, Wehrenberg said, and he knows how exciting it can be to watch people bid on your work.

“When I was bidding on that, I was bidding on the piece,” Wehrenberg said. “I will enjoy it for what it is now, knowing that the money is going to something that’s going to help many other artists.”

Rick Smith, assistant professor in Metalsmithing and Blacksmithing, said the auction has taken place for the past seven years and is the department’s primary fundraiser.

“When we started out, the auctions were a lot smaller,” Smith said. “Now, it’s kind of blooming. It’s nice this kind of community is strengthening and growing.”

He said an auction is the perfect type of event to help raise money and it empowers the students who are auctioning off their work.

“We feel like an auction provides an open forum for buyers to compete against themselves,” Smith said. “And for us, it allows us to command a market value that is reasonably good for the people that are here.”

Smith said the event also gives the community a chance to see the quality of work the department is doing.

He said the auction not only helps the students learn about the business side of selling their work, but also gives them a sense of how to raise money.

“Because they raised it,” Smith said. “It empowers them to make the decisions of what they can bring into the studio.”