Fire and hammers forge beauty at Richmond blacksmith’s studio

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Fire and hammers forge beauty at Richmond blacksmith’s studio
Celeste Flores of Clay and Steel LLC. (All photos by Kathy Chouteau)

By Kathy Chouteau

Clutching a two-pound hammer in one hand and metal tongs in the other, blacksmith Celeste Flores of Clay and Steel LLC recently set about teaching this Richmond Standard reporter how to make a bronze bracelet at the city’s Seaport Art Studios.

First displaying examples of the stages the bracelet would pass through as it was being designed, Flores then got busy repeatedly firing up a small and thin piece of hot metal and pounding it with her hammer. With occasional “help” from her student, she formed and texturized it on an anvil until she fashioned it into a bronze bracelet perfectly sized for this reporter’s wrist.

There’s something utterly awesome and satisfying about being a part of creating cool jewelry for yourself from fire to hammer—even if you had very little to do with it. Flores said her work with hot metal involves a great deal of focus to the point of almost being in a meditative state. It’s cathartic for her. Fire and hammers might bring to mind a destructive process, but instead you’re constructing beautiful things from it, she notes.

Flores got her start at the Academy of Art University, where she was introduced to blacksmithing her first semester. While the school’s anvils were mounted high “for very tall people,” and the hammers were pretty heavy, she was fascinated and dove right in, ultimately earning her BFA.

“I have always liked doing things that are very physical, very hands on. And I mean, it’s fire and hammers, and so I thought it was super cool,” she said.

While she discovered her passion at art school, Flores said she wouldn’t necessarily recommend the same path for other budding blacksmiths and artists. “Even though I went to art school, I don’t usually recommend people go to art school,” she said. Rather, she suggests young artists start learning at home via YouTube and by taking classes in their area of interest, so they’re exposed to an instructor who knows what they are doing and can offer feedback.

Other suggestions? Flores said developing artists should also seek out a related art community and “just start doing it.”

As for her own artistic passion, Flores said she loves making organic forms and that she often creates them for her architectural artwork, such as railings and gates, which appear to have vines or plants growing from them.

One of her wide-ranging upcoming blacksmithing classes will evoke Flores’ love of the organic, teaching students how to “Forge a Rose and a Rose Leaf” out of aluminum or steel during an all-day session on Saturday, Feb. 10 for $300. It might just be the perfect labor of love for Valentine’s Day.

Kathy Chouteau and Celeste Flores.

Other classes she offers include forging a bronze bracelet, bottle opener and railroad spike knife—to name a few—and which typically are offered for a lower fee. Check out the Richmond class schedule here. Flores also occasionally teaches classes at The Crucible, an industrial arts school, in Oakland.

“Even though it’s portrayed on Forged in Fire as something that big, strong guys do, it’s not a strong man’s game. The hammers we swing are two-to-three pounds. And as long as you can swing a two-pound hammer, you can do this,” said Flores, encouraging people to give blacksmithing a try.

Seaport Art Studios is located at 4925 Seaport Ave. in Richmond. There, Flores teaches her classes and makes art/commissions through her Clay and Steel LLC studio alongside other artists designing myriad creations—including for the movie Dune and Burning Man—near the Richmond Inner Harbor and the UC Berkeley Field Station.