SpankySmith

"Donor Tree" project and Blacksmith's Endless Generosity

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I had a local charity that I've supported over the years approach me about doing a "Donor Tree" for them, based on a design they "sort of" had conceived.  It would stretch across an entire wall, with plans to have it continue stretching across nearby walls as time and need required.  I agreed to do the work pro bono, with them just reimbursing me for materials, because I REALLY support the work they do, providing much-needed mental health services in the community.  They asked me about this a year or so ago, and then waited for me to finish grad school before I could tackle it.  Well, this summer was it.  

When Al Stephens - well know to IFI'ers here - first taught me in an "intro" class a couple years ago, I was immediately struck by the amazing generosity of blacksmiths.  Every single smith I encountered was always anxious to share their insight, their tips, and their time.  I'm a TOTAL amateur, and I hadn't picked up a hammer in two years while I was in school, but when I approached Al about using his power hammer to do some tapering of ends for this project, he offered me not only a quick lesson in how to use that beast (I'd never even stepped up to one before), but he opened up his entire shop for the project!   I would STILL be pounding away at my backyard anvil if he hadn't been so generous.  We finished up the steel work in 5 very hot sessions, in 100+ Alabama heat. 

Let me be quick to reiterate here:  I am a rank amateur.  This is NOT a complex piece by any means, and someone who knows what they're doing could have done much better with it, but the client was over-the-top happy with it and has already asked for more of the free-floating "branch" pieces to continue the spread into other rooms.  I learned SOOOO much from Al doing this project - he shared so much insight with this often stubborn, bull-headed student who seems to learn best by screwing up first!  

The organization is named "The Vine," thus the John 15 quote at the bottom right.  The trunk of the tree/vine sits on a piece of chair rail in the organization's main office.  Probably can't see it in the photos, but there is a single plate installed at the top of the trunk, which will be a "backplate" for a "Foundation Donor" engraved plate, and below that will go another engraved plate listing all the BIG donors to the organization.  Each piece of metal is tree-bark textured, applied at the power hammer with some tooling Al had.  Each leaf was cut out by the organization's staff, from oak branches, diagonal slices which were hot glued to the wall.  Each leaf will then get an oval, engraved plate with donor names.  There are nearly 200 leaves installed on the wall right now, with more to come (we ran out on install day!)   The beauty of the branches being free-floating was that they provided a LOT of flexibility - on install day the director largely took over placing the branches where she wanted them, and it ended up taking on a life of it's own, even apart from the original design.  

That's it.  Al encouraged me to post this here, but remember I'm a lowly post-grad student who can barely forge a bottle opener!   For my troubles on this project I got a 10" burn on my forearm, which is ALSO textured like each of the steel pieces!   GAH!   A lasting reminder.    All the props here go to Al - without his generosity it'd be next YEAR before I could have completed and posted this.  

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Fantastic project, and well-executed. Great job, all.

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Thanks, JHCC.  If I were a better blacksmith, I would have done the trunk "twisted" somehow, with it having a more twisted-root kind of look, but I'm just not capable of that level of smithing.  Baby steps.  There are lots of talented blacksmiths in this area who could have done that - though probably none who work for free!   LOL!  

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Maybe next time, instead of having continuous pieces running straight from root to branch, make shorter curved segments that suggest a twisted trunk, like this:

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That way, you can still have everything lying flat on the wall and not have to worry about twisting pieces around each other.

Also, if you spiral the workpiece under the texturing dies, that will give a slight twisted look to the individual pieces.

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I like the semi stylized look myself.  Well Done!

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Everything about this project is cool.  The back story, the generosity of you and Al, the concept, the cause, and the execution.  You may not be getting paid in dollars for that one, but I'm sure it's a memory that will stay with you the rest of your life.

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And even if you're not getting paid in dollars, you're getting paid in experience. 

Not to mention (and this is the professional fundraiser in me speaking) the inestimable rewards of being generous. I can't begin to count the number of times that I have seen people feel incredibly rewarded simply by giving away their time, money, expertise, whatever in furtherance of something they consider worthwhile. 

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Spanky, A very nice project and well done.

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3 hours ago, JHCC said:

Maybe next time, instead of having continuous pieces running straight from root to branch, make shorter curved segments that suggest a twisted trunk, like this:

AH, GOOD idea there, I wasn't even able to envision how to do such a thing, but I can see it in your sketch, easily.  Where were you three weeks ago?!?!   

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I was here! Between business trips, even!

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2 hours ago, JHCC said:

And even if you're not getting paid in dollars, you're getting paid in experience. 

Agreed.  This organization offers professional counseling regardless of the ability of the client to pay, which is practically unheard of and so needed.  Incredibly rewarding to be even a small part of their work.   If you need the help of a therapist but can't afford it, there have to be resources out there.  

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In the fifteen years I've been a professional fundraiser, it constantly amazes me how many people are surprised when they receive public recognition for their philanthropy -- and indeed, how many people "just know" (wrongly, of course) that donors give in order to get recognition. For people who do get this kind of public acknowledgement, it's not about the joy of seeing their own name on a donor tree because they're so great, but about having a visible sign that they did something that made a difference.

And now you have a taste of what my professional life is like, because now you can look at that donor tree and feel satisfaction not only in having helped the organization yourself, but in knowing that you have been a part of encouraging and supporting other people's generosity.

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By the way, a little funny:  the design/shape of the free-floating branches came straight from the organization's director - she wanted an elongated, stylized "s" sort of thing.  All through the forging Al and I kept seeing them laying on the ground and we'd think "Snakes!!"   Cuz that's what they looked like!   Install day, we got the first few up on the wall, the director walks in, glances up at the wall and immediately yells, "Snakes!!"   :D

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"We wanted John 15, not Genesis 3!"

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You may be a rank amateur, but you sure are a blacksmith!  You created one heck of a project that started with just a vision.  Don’t underestimate your ability to get a team behind you either.  I just wish you posted about it here before you started so we could have brainstormed with you...if, for no other reason, than for us to be a part of such a great cause as well.

Kudos,

Lou

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kudos for a worthwhile job well done, and "quo vadis" where to now? :D

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You've done a wonderful thing, both in the generosity with which you've supported this cause and the quality of the work you've produced. My hat goes off to you and your mentor.

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Susan, you are way too modest! That is a lovely piece of work that will bring pleasure for many years to come. I like the symmetry of the trunk and the flowing snake-like branches. Along with others here, I applaud your skill and your generosity.

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11 hours ago, Lou L said:

You may be a rank amateur, but you sure are a blacksmith!  You created one heck of a project that started with just a vision.  Don’t underestimate your ability to get a team behind you either.  I just wish you posted about it here before you started so we could have brainstormed with you...if, for no other reason, than for us to be a part of such a great cause as well.

Kudos,

Lou

 

Yeah, in hindsight I wish I'd THOUGHT to post it here first, but I've been out of IFI pocket for a while with school.  Honestly, I'm not sure any real design changes would have been tolerated by the organization's director - she had a vision from the start of what she wanted this to look like, and she acquiesced on some small things (like the finish, wax instead of her original rust idea), but stayed on point on her bigger picture.  I think I could have sold her on the swirled trunk drawing JHCC posted, though.  I tried hard to sell her on metal leaves, but she said she had literally been dreaming of the wooden pieces from the first.  To be further honest, I just could NOT "see" the wood leaves workiing - at ALL - until they went up on the wall.  Then it was like, "Oh...okay....now I see."  It worked.   Lesson learned. 

It was a fun experience for this novice, thank you all for your too-kind remarks.  This was the first BIG project I've done for someone - maybe the LAST!!  I'm gettin' old, I'm thinking more metal/scrap art is in my future.  Welding is easier on the old body than hammerin'.  Al, who opened up his shop and gave of his expertise for this, has had to call it quits after 30 years of hammer swinging because of the wear and tear.  I've already got a bad shoulder and neck, will be sticking to the kinder/gentler kinds of blacksmithing and metal art projects, I think.

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Hi Spanky,

Just yesterday I was thinking where can you be and what can you do nowadays. So I have my asnwer now :)

Awesome project, nicely done! Great texturing, too! - Isn't it delightful to move hot iron with power hammer?  

Don't let age and other "insignificant" factors bother you and your craft. Just do it anyway, in the way you feel the best.

Bests to you:

Gergely

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