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Master sculptors Dan and Tekla turn iron into art
The sounds of hammering iron, the smell of forging metals and unexpected sights announce that Black Mountain Iron Works is creating something special. It claimed its spot as an innovative Black Mountain business in November 1993.
Today, after more than two decades, Black Mountain Iron Works is known for its hand-forged designs for homes and gardens. Its owners - Dan and Tekla Howachyn turn fantasies into reality in wrought iron, including chandeliers and lighting fixtures, handrails and banisters, driveway gates and doors, fire screens and fire tools, pot and wine racks and garden and wall sculptures.
“When Dan came to Asheville in 1992 to scout for a place to work and live, I stayed behind in York, South Carolina, where I was teaching art in the public school system,” Tekla, whose given name is Teresa, said. “We had a ‘weekend’ marriage for a while, which provided me with a red carpet treatment at the airport when I flew in to see Dan. Literally they found me and my older plane so unique they rolled out a red carpet for me.
“I stayed in York also to sell our house that we had spent five years restoring. We lived and had an art gallery in the house that is now on the National Register of Historic Places in York County.”
On one of the many visits to the area, Teresa and Dan spotted a National Enquirer in the window of the Town Pump with the headline “Big Foot Spotted in Black Mountain.”
“We knew this was the place for us,” Dan said. “I was working for Asheville Iron Works (now in Greenville, South Carolina) and had a small studio in the Westgate shopping center in Asheville. (In Black Mountain) we rented the building where Dobra Tea is now and stayed there for 13 years, until we outgrew the space.
“The building literally had trees growing in it,” Teresa said. “Auctions were held there. It was in pitiful condition. Dan installed a wood-burning stove, and we started cleaning and turning it into our studio. I was particularly drawn to Black Mountain because of the history of Black Mountain College being here. I read the book ‘The Arts at Black Mountain College,’ by Mary Emma Harris and knew that I wanted to live in the Black Mountain area.”
Running out of room in their studio, the Howachyns opened Black Mountain Gallery on Cherry Street. Two years ago, the gallery closed and the studio and gallery consolidated at its current Padgettown Road site. Terri Godfrey, a metal artist who ran the Cherry Street gallery, continues to work with them.
“I describe myself as Dan and Tekla’s longest-running apprentice,” she said. “I have a hot metal casting degree from Warren Wilson College and wanted to learn the iron works art. I’ve been with them for 12 to 13 years now. I do a lot of the small items like iron hooks for the studio and piece work for custom works. Dan especially likes the vines I create.
“I am a sixth-generation blacksmith in our family. My Godfrey ancestors ran the stagecoach line that was in Black Mountain, and now I am continuing the blacksmith trade only in an artistic way. And I’m the first woman in the family to do so.”
The Howachyns remember the kindness people showed them when they were newcomers (and artists to boot).
“One day I was struggling with hacking down a tree by hand at the studio,” Dan said. “The late William Burnette, who worked for the Black Mountain water department for many years, inquired what I was trying to do. He brought over a backhoe and made quick work out of removing the tree.”
“After we moved to Black Mountain and opened Black Mountain Iron Works, other artists followed,” Tekla said. On Exhibit, the name of their Cherry Street gallery, showcased a different artist every month. “We had champagne and danced in the street,” she said.
“We had a lot of fun, but didn’t make much money,” Dan said.
Dan is an iron artist but not a fabricator. He is a blacksmith artist which means he doesn’t use a welder, and he brings years of life experiences to his work.
“I’ve been an undertaker apprentice, which lasted about a year and a half,” he said. “I worked for the New Hampshire state highway department, horseshoed Belgium draft horses that worked in logging camps in the early ‘70s. I’ve built Shaker-type furniture for the House of Kirk, which is now in Virginia, and renovated houses between iron work jobs.”
Today, collectors around the country and abroad own his work. Dan has been featured in television documentaries, covers of books, periodicals, and in exhibits around the world.
He met Teresa in York, South Carolina, when he came home from military service in Vietnam.
“I had known his military buddy since I was 4 years old, and he thought since he hadn’t heard from Dan that he hadn’t made it home from Vietnam,” Teresa said. “We married in 1984 and started our art careers together.”
Teresa’s first memorable contact with metal was in her grandfather’s shop when she was a small child. He used sheet metal, and Teresa played with the scraps. As she grew as an artist, while living on a farm, she taught herself to weld.
After graduating from art school, Teresa/Tekla designed commemorative monuments for a company and traveled to Europe with Monument Builders of North America to study commemorative works that included Paris’ Pere Lachaise to the Great Pyramids at Giza. She met a blacksmith who taught her how to forge steel and use traditional techniques of heating, hammering, joining and working iron. Since then, she has studied with other iron craftspeople at Campbell Folk School. She has been designing since 1978 and focusing on forged iron for some 15 years.
“The sculptures I create are mostly inspired by ancient cultures and expressionism,” she said. “They include much symbolism related to African tribal art and address women’s issues in a modern society. I strive for truth, excellent craftsmanship and durability in my work.
“As I have grown as an artist I don’t feel as compelled to make a statement with each sculpture. In Dan’s sculptures you will usually find that they appear to be growing. We influence each other and often don’t even realize it.”
Tekla’s work can be seen in downtown Asheville on the Urban Art Trail, and in Hickory and Sarasota, Florida. One of Dan’s iron art pieces is the “Family” in iron on permanent display in Town Square in Black Mountain.
For more, contact Black Mountain Iron Works at 669-1001 or blackmountainiron.com.