In an unassuming hallway in the basement of the South Hill Business Campus, artists have found a place to grow their community and their craft. For The Metal Smithery, a woman-owned shop and studio, this space provided the space and accommodations a smithery needed. Now, owner Elaan Greenfield has the only smithery in the area and she’s using it to stoke local interest in hands-on art.
Greenfield discovered metalsmithing when she couldn’t find quite what she was looking for when she wanted a piece of jewelry to represent her relationship with her son when she became a mother.
“I couldn’t find anything I like, at all, that was already made,” she said. “So, I thought ‘Maybe I’ll just learn how to make it myself.’”
She started taking courses at a local community college in Massachusetts where she was living at the time. She knew immediately that it was something she wanted to keep doing. She honed her craft over the last 12 or so years largely through being self-taught.
Metalworking has infinite possibilities, she said, it’s one of the things that attracted her to the art. While you could study for your entire life to master one technique, there would still be so much more to learn. So many things are already made out of metal, and with the right attitude so many more things could be as well.
“It’s really amazing how versatile metal as a material is,” she said. “You take just a boring, flat piece of metal and you can make it into beautiful jewelry.” Greenfield finds metal interesting to work with as a material because each different kind has its own personality.
The Metal Smithery started as Greenfield’s jewelry business that she ran out of her home. She was often asked if she could give lessons in smithing by people who wanted to learn. There really aren’t other smithing opportunities in the area, or outside of established higher education classes. Even as a college town with three local colleges, none of them have a metals department or provide opportunities for residents to learn the craft. Since opening last year, Greenfield’s business has been filling that niche.
“I really enjoyed giving people lessons and teaching people metalsmithing, but it was limited, what I could do in my own studio,” she said.
She found out about the space she has now in the South Hill Business Campus from her business neighbor Julia Dean, from The Clay School. At the time, it was completely empty and she was able to design the space with the building architect to fit what she needed. The back of the large room is her own jewelry studio. The front part of the room, which takes up the majority of her total space, is where she teaches.
Greenfield started teaching classes in the shop last September. It took a few months to get everything set up when she could officially move in July 1 of last year. The furniture is hand-built, and the space needed to be transformed to fit her needs.
She’s taking a bit of a break from her jewelry business this year to focus solely on The Metal Smithery. Since September she has been regularly holding classes, teaching her students how to make rings, knives, bangles, and necklaces, along with classes that teach people the basics of metalsmithing as an art. One-day workshops, as well as ongoing classes, offer something for everyone. Guest instructors come in once a month to teach their specialty, so the students have a variety of things to learn.
For residents, or students, who feel comfortable in their smithing ability, memberships are available to rent space and use of the tools in The Metal Smithery. But the art doesn’t have to just stay in the shop. Greenfield wants to bring her craft to the community by traveling to local schools and other organizations to teach the basics of metal working.
Greenfield wants to use her space and talents to help local teen girls, by introducing them to a craft that they may not have thought about before. “I feel like it would be great for them to have a space to come do something a little different,” she said. “You can’t do this at school, and also just have a space where they can be who they want to be and do what they want to do with all of these tools. Metalworking is often seen as a much more masculine medium. But it doesn’t have to be.”
Metalsmithing across the country has become a very small community. Greenfield believes this is due in part to the fact that teaching crafts that you can do with your own two hands isn’t nearly as popular or necessary as they used to be.
“It takes a lot to have a business like this,” she said. “There’s a lot of education to it. Not a lot of people know what metal smiths are. A lot of people as me if I’m a metalerist, which is like a metal scientist, which I am not.”
When speaking with high-end jewelers, Greenfield said the need for bench jewelers is high, because people going to design school are learning the programs but not always learning how to physically make the pieces. Smithing, like many other trades, is becoming harder to access.
To make the craft more accessible she offers her classes and camps for youth on a sliding scale fee.
Having a space like The Metal Smithery wasn’t something Greenfield ever expected to have when she started making her own jewelry 10 years ago. Before deciding on the South Hill spot she looked at places downtown but couldn’t afford anything downtown. The difficulty of parking downtown made it even less appealing to open shop in the city.
Dozens of other studios in the business campus have already been sold to other artists. Greenfield likes the idea of an artist’s community filling up around her studio. It’s something she thinks the area has always needed but never had. “I would like there to be more of a metal smiting community that’s here on their own,” she said. “I would really love to have more members that are creating their own things outside of classes. I would like to just continue what we’re doing but have more of it.”
It’s too early to think about expanding, Greenfield said. But she’s not totally against the idea. Right now she just wants to make the space welcoming to anyone interested in learning. Whether that be a one-off class, a series of classes, or an entire smithing education. Her one-off classes have been extremely popular and don’t require any smithing experience.
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