Blacksmith Ted McNett has established himself as one of Carroll County's premier metal workers. The president of the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland, he works to keep the tradition of metalworking alive. Starting Friday, McNett will be featured in his first solo art exhibit at Off Track Art, 27 Liberty St., Westminster.
The exhibit will feature McNett's metalwork, from traditional historic reproductions of colonial style utensils to abstract art, to natural forms. McNett said one of his favorite pieces in the show depicts a duck flying over a field of cattails.
The artistic process begins for him with sketches on a piece of paper. He said he likes to do as much preparation as possible before heading out to the forge, where he uses a hammer to beat heated metal into shape.
"When you're out there, you don't want to have to waste too much time thinking about it, you want to be ready to work," McNett said. "It's mostly really peaceful to be out there with the hammer."
Nolly Gelsinger of the Off Track Art cooperative said the organization contacted McNett based on his work as an instructor at the annual Common Ground on the Hill festival, where he teaches blacksmithing techniques. Gelsinger said his art is something that the gallery had not seen before.
"It's functional art, because it not only embodies things you use all the time, but it includes a level of craftsmanship in the work," Gelsinger said. "Just because it's not done using a paint brush, doesn't mean that it's not art."
McNett compared the smithing process to playing with Play Doh in a more serious form.
"When you heat the metal up to about 2,000 degrees, you can spread it, shrink it, make it longer or push it back on itself and make it bigger," McNett said. "That's the most exciting thing for me. You can do pretty much anything you want. The end product began with an unknown form."
McNett, who works as the assistant supervisor of Career and Technology Education for Carroll County Public Schools, said blacksmithing is practically a full-time hobby for him.
"If we don't keep traditional arts or skills, it's going to be lost forever," McNett said. "We have to preserve the past to promote the future. There's still a valuable use for hand-forged items, be they decorative or functional."
In his spare time, McNett fulfills commissions, including fabricating metal gates, iron rings, antique-style nails and old-fashioned silverware. McNett said a common frustration he experiences is with people who don't appreciate the value of a hand-crafted item.
"People will compare my work to mass-produced projects, and if I'm charging $5 for a hook, they tell me they can get an iron hook that was mass produced at Walmart for $3," McNett said. "The great thing about it being hand-made, though, is we can tailor it exactly how you want it. If you need it larger or smaller, it's just a matter of heating it up and changing it a little bit. It's neat to have a one-of-a-kind piece."
On the other end of the spectrum, McNett said those who appreciate the handmade quality of his work embrace the imperfections of the medium.
"A lot of people today like to see hammer marks in the piece because it says to them that it was handmade," McNett said. "Traditionally though, blacksmiths would work their hardest to make the hammer marks invisible. The hammer mark is a sign that you haven't worked smoothly or carefully enough."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go
What: "Ted McNett Gallery opening reception"
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13.
Where: Off Track Art Gallery, 27 Liberty St., Westminster