Cedaredge man creates Art with Iron and Copper
March 17, 2014
Jan Frame of Cedaredge, Colorado loves being married to an artist blacksmith. For one thing, it means her husband of 53 years, Wayne, has a full-sized shop where he spends a lot of time. But for another, it means their home is filled with beautiful, hand-crafted and forged items, including lampstands, coffee tables, bowls, chandeliers, and an assortment of heavy wall hangings. "If I need something, he'll make it," she smiles.
What really catches the attention, however, are the full suits of armour that stand regally in the living room and den. Each is displayed with hand-stitched leather gloves, helmet plumes (large, single feathers), or broken lances, making them appear like men who just returned from jousting. (Ladies may have tucked embroidered handkerchiefs into the suits of their favorites, as well, to be carried during competitions.) "About 2,000 hours of labor went into each life-sized knight," Wayne says modestly. As for details, they're astonishing. The smooth steel of one set of gauntlets, for example, has the meticulously-stamped outline of a nail on each finger.
Although Wayne had a boyhood fascination with medieval plate armour, he didn't start blacksmithing until 1984. While visiting the Living History Museum in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, this retired Aerospace Engineer stepped into the blacksmith shop to get out of bad weather. "There were dozens of hand tools lining the walls, and the resident smithy was forging a part for a saw mill," he recalled. "I was greatly intrigued by what I surveyed, and remember thinking, 'Could I do this?'"
Getting started wasn't easy, however. For one thing, "There aren't many books out there specifically about forging armour. Methods and techniques of the armourer's craft used to be passed down from master to apprentice," he added. "For the most part, they've been lost."
In 1989, when Wayne travelled to England as part of his job, he went straight to the Royal Armouries section of the Tower of London. "When I first saw the artistry and workmanship of those 15th and 16th century craftsman, I was absolutely awed by their skills," he admits.
The white-dressed employees (there fiddling with displays) were initially reluctant, but Wayne eventually was given permission to both touch and measure the ancient suits, which are also known as "harnesses." The employees told him where to go for additional information, as well – the conservation shop (which is not open to the public), located within the Tower of London complex. There, he met Master blacksmith Ted Smith, who was happy to pass on tips.
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"Four years later, I returned with a photo of a breastplate that I'd made," Wayne says with a little chuckle. "By then, Ted's son, Chris, had taken over. Chris took one look, saw how it was done, and said, 'That certainly is all wrong,' so I started over."
The third trip was the clincher. "When I arrived at the Armoury, that time with a slide of the helmet I'd forged, Chris was impressed, mainly because it had been entirely made from one flat sheet of steel." Only then did Wayne become "a member of the club".
But the pinnacle of his visits came in 1996, when he was introduced to "the best armour-maker in England," known here only as Bill. Extremely shy and reclusive, Bill was impressed enough with the curious American Yank to take Wayne to his home, 150 miles north of London, for a weeklong apprenticeship. Sworn to secrecy about what he was taught while there, Wayne hedges. "Let's just say I learned a much better way of working the steel," is all he admitted… but the end result is top-notch product.
For years, Wayne paid for his expensive hobby by doing iron work in high-end, front-range homes, making ornamental items such as wrought-iron fencing. In order to get just the right touch, and look, to his creations, he often had to make his own tools, first. All were created in his own shop, which has three forges that run on either coal or propane. One unit, which is open on both ends, is used specifically for heating long bars.
Among the assorted pieces he has sold, Wayne once custom-made a "shanfron", or headpiece, for a horse to be worn in parades. The owner had a helmet to wear, as well, but not the full suit of armour. If Jan has her way, the three that remain within her home will not be sold or worn, either. "I cried when we parted with the first suit he made," she grinned. "I missed him." With such a highly creative spouse around, however, there's no doubt she'll have still more Knights to come. ❖