words :: Feet Banks // photos :: Chris Christie.
“There are only two rules in the blacksmith shop,” explains Eric Gindlesperger as he transfers a glowing steel rod from forge to anvil. “Don’t touch hot stuff, and don’t let hot stuff touch you.”
Banging away with his hammer, smashing the end of a bent loop of near-molten, molasses-like metal back onto itself, Eric explains, “I’m doing a forge weld. This is the oldest form of welding, dating all the way back to 1800 BC.”
After a few more hits, Eric examines his work. Behind him, the gas forge (one of two, with an old-time coal forge in behind) purrs at more than 1,000 degrees Celsius, the light emanating from its brick-lined opening so pure it’s hard not to stare at it. And yet it’s not even the third most interesting apparatus in the shop (which would have traditionally been known as a “smithy”)—that honour belongs to the power hammer, a hulking apparatus that drives a hundred-pound “hammer” down as many as 250 times a minute. Built in 1947, Eric’s power hammer once belonged to America’s fabled Studebaker family. “My dad is also a blacksmith and he discovered it on a property in Ohio,” he says, “and at 3,700 pounds it was a bit of a mission getting it back here to Squamish.”
Eric’s father taught himself the art of blacksmithing, and Eric began apprenticing as a teenager before leaving home in the eastern United States at age 19 in favour of the snow-piled mountains of Utah. “I went for one season and stayed for 16 years,” he says, “but in 2007, my dad needed a hand forging some huge custom railing projects, so I went home. I knew it would be a good chance to spend time with my family. I ended up being there three years, long enough for me to really get into blacksmithing.”
The heat from the forges couldn’t melt Eric’s desire for pow-covered mountains however, and when a job working transportation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games popped up, he jumped at the chance to relocate to Squamish and dip into the mountains of the Sea to Sky Corridor.
“I was driving around, checking out the Duffy Lake road,” he recalls. “I bought a ski pass and started looking for ski partners before the snow even fell.” A friend from Salt Lake City soon introduced him to a local ripper, Sarah Weinberg. “We met skiing and I was stoked,” Eric laughs. “Next thing you know, I’m living here full-time, getting married, and back hammering steel out of a tiny shop in downtown Squamish.”
Five years later, Eric relocated to his current shop, an 1,800 square-foot space fully outfitted with welders, fabrication tables, drills (including a fully operational one built in 1892), stacks of glistening steel, racks and racks of custom-made tools, the power hammer and forges. Multiple anvils, each with its own slightly different shape, dominate the core of the space—this is where the precision and magic happen, but the journey actually begins much earlier.
When creating a new piece of art, Eric’s process generally begins in consultation with the client. Next he hand-draws a 3-D design, which he re-works and adjusts as needed.
“I put a lot of time and thought into the piece before I ever fire up the forge. Everything I make will outlast me by a long shot. If someone wants a coffee table, I know it will be a multi-generational piece for the family. I don’t want to just make that up as I go.”
Eric creates a lot of custom wrought-iron work with design elements of copper, patina or bronze. In recent years, he’s been commissioned to build light pendants, staircase railings, driveway gates—even a wine cellar racking system embedded in stone (with a pivoting rack on a secret stone door!). As a blacksmith artist, his pieces incorporate traditional joinery techniques with contemporary lines and design.
“I think blacksmith joinery stands apart,” he says. “I like the texture that forging steel creates, each rivet and pierce-and-drifted hole shows the handcrafted aspect—you can’t really get that look any other way.”
There’s a keen appreciation of history—the technique, the tools, and his own family story—forged into the core of everything Eric creates. But he’s also constantly innovating—a client recently requested a concealed, vertical-lift fire screen with homemade counterweights filled with melted lead. While the majority of his work is commission-based, Eric and his newly hired assistant plan to add more production items like fireplace tools, light fixtures, axes and knives.
“I’m looking forward to incorporating more sculptural pieces and getting some art into public spaces,” he says. “And also something kinetic, I love taking a raw element like steel and giving it life, the possibilities are limitless.”
Endless possibility with only two rules to follow, and those hot hours spent over the forge and hammering away at the anvils only makes the fresh pow that much sweeter.