Man of Steel
From his mountain top workshop, blacksmith Jeff Fetty is redefining metal art with a signature style and a little elbow grease.
(page 1 of 2)
The man knows everyone in town. With phone numbers scribbled from his palms to his legs, the way he conducts business might be unorthodox. But then again, so is he. There’s a rattlesnake in the shop freezer and a photo he took of a dismembered bird on his office wall—things he considers art. Walking around his native town of Spencer, there are signs of him everywhere—larger-than-life metal flowers, blooming even in the dead of winter, lacquered and shining. Jeff Fetty isn't just the village blacksmith. He's an internationally renowned artist.
Jeff's works encompass everything from home décor items to large-scale commissions to his famous nature-based art forms you can see in places like the entrance to the Corridor G shopping centers in Charleston. His naturally expressive personality and dynamic sense of craft distinguish an artistic voice unparalleled in his field. From his new shop in the Chestnut Ridge Artist Colony high above Spencer, Jeff and his employees are turning out monumental, magnificent works of art.
The high-ceilinged space is an explosion of color and organized chaos, full of massive pneumatic hammers and punches. Jeff’s anvil sits between two forges—the traditional coal-fired one and a new propane-fired one he’s been using recently. Racks of hand-tools are not far off and examples of his work cover the broad walls. Works in progress fill the space, while large open doors reveal the sweeping hillsides beyond. “It’s a dream workshop,” he says.
It wasn’t always so, however. Jeff, a Spencer native, began his career in a 12 feet by 14 feet workshop with a forge, an anvil, five pounds of coal, and a five-gallon bucket of hand-powered tools. For seven years, he focused on producing “functional” work—fireplace tools, trivets, dinner gongs, and plant hangers—in what he describes as a “hole in the wall.” But today, several years removed from the close quarters of his first space, he’s also quick to note that the experience was invaluable.
For Jeff, it was love at first sight— literally. At sixteen, he began dating a young lady, Charlotte Hopkins, whose father was a blacksmith. He became as enamored with the process as he did the girl. On their very first date, he saw her father, Jack, working at his forge. Jeff recalls the lure of the ringing anvil, the flying sparks, and the smell of the coal smoke. “It was the most interesting thing I’d ever seen in my life,” he says. Nearly 40 years later, Jeff, Charlotte, and blacksmithing are still an item.
Jeff is essentially self-taught, but, as he says, “with a lot of outside influences.” Early on, he buried himself in texts on the trade, and when he had extra money, traveled to work with other blacksmiths all over the United States and Mexico. During this time, he bought land further up the “holler” and built a 1,000-square-foot workshop that he occupied for most of his career.
As his reputation grew, so did the scale of his work. Inspired by the natural forms he saw in the woods, he began exploring abstract forms and making art for art’s sake, and his work started appearing in gallery shows, hospital courtyards, and cityscapes.