Dan and Tekla Howachyn specialize in hand-forged iron works at their Black Mountain studio. But like all unique couples, their backgrounds and approach are quite different.
As a youngster Tekla enjoyed playing with scraps of metal in her father’s heating and air-conditioning workshop.
“That’s when it all started,” she said of her art. “In Winthrop, South Carolina where I grew up, I taught myself how to weld stuff I found in Dad’s workshop, and then on our farm and in junkyards using a makeshift visor. Soon I realized there were only certain kinds of metal you could weld together, which eventually led me into sculpture in college. All told, I was taken with shapes and forms and the way they flowed together.”
Possibly because of his New England background, Dan Howachyn’s projects were functional, wrought solely from forged iron.
“Some 40 years ago,” he said, “I found work in my native New Hampshire at logging camps. In those days, not only was shoeing horses integral to logging, I was also asked to put things in the forge and fix things that got bent or (to) make tools. From there I went on to a town east of Concord where I had a blacksmith shop and made items for a retail furniture store like hooks and fireplace pokers. Later on, while in the service during the Vietnam war, I saw how Asian artisans fashioned things in a simpler way, and I learned a lot from that.”
A freewheeling period followed, initiated by a mutual friend and lighting designer who introduced Dan to Tekla four decades ago. While Dan was lighting disco dance floors in Raleigh and Charlotte, Tekla was designing tombstones. The owner of the South Carolina monument company offered Dan a studio in York to do whatever he wanted with metal and stone while Tekla taught art and painting.
In 1993 it became apparent to Dan that there was no market for iron work where they were. Looking around, they were receptive to an acquaintance's offer of storage space in downtown Asheville. But the street - Lexington Avenue - was run down then and, by chance, the couple saw - and was taken with - a headline in the National Enquirer that read “Big Foot sighted in Black Mountain.”
“Coming across an empty metal building where Dobra Tea is now,” Tekla said, “we could not believe how easy people were to work with here. So, in 1993 that became our downtown gallery. You see, Asheville at that time was not at all artist friendly and had all these rules and regs, plus parking meters all over the place. We only had $5,000, but you have to follow your heart. Finding that individual voice inside is an everyday thing. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing at any given moment, it’s of no use.”
In the year 2000 they moved to a more spacious location at 203 Padgettown Road. Their Black Mountain Iron Works (blackmountainiron.com) offers custom-wrought iron fixtures, furniture pieces, gates and commissioned outdoor sculpture pieces, examples of which can be viewed on their grounds.
Inspired by Damchen Garwa Nagpo, the Mongolian spiritual blacksmith, Tekla presently forges healing tools for shaman practitioners. Her work includes ornate tongs for pulling, tiny hammers for protection, snakes as power totems, and other symbolic creations for cutting, digging and wearing as necklaces.
In a sense, Dan’s functionality has been augmented by new departures into creative sculpture and abstract burning bushes while Tekla has become an expert craftsman under the influence of her husband’s precise technique.
For further information call 828-669-1001 or visit the gallery between 10 a.m. and 5 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic feature about what draws people to the Swannanoa Valley.