SPENCER, W.Va. -- His heart is as soft as the steel he bends is hard. And his personality is as fiery as the forge he tends.
Artist-blacksmith Jeff Fetty is at once quiet and contemplative, and boisterously excited. On a recent visit to his workshop atop Chestnut Ridge in Roane County, he bounced from one spot to another in his warehouselike studio/forge, touching finished pieces, adjusting the music blasting from hidden speakers, fiddling with his computer, stoking the fire.
But when he's hammering a piece of molten steel, he's laser-focused. He squints through the heat as sparks fly from the hammer in his muscled hands.
Those hands show scars from the many years of his work -- smashed fingers, cuts and, of course, burns.
It all started with his future wife, Charlotte. He was supposed to be picking her up to go out on a date, but he stood near her house, mesmerized by the blacksmith who worked next door.
"The smell of the coal fire, the glow of the embers, the sound of the hammer. I couldn't walk away," he said. He joked that when he realized the farrier was Charlotte's father, Jack Hopkins, he knew he would have to marry Charlotte to be able to be near the blacksmith.
Yet he's come a long way from the horseshoes and tools made by his late father-in-law.
A recent staircase/railing project was a $45,000 job, while other projects have come in at six figures. He tells of a trip to New York City, and the juxtaposition of sleeping in his van one day and dining in a posh restaurant with a client, a well-known corporate executive, the next.
Fetty is the best combination of artist and businessman. His products are exquisite, yet he takes the time to market them to his clients.
"You have to be a salesman," he said, holding a piece of decorative steel tightly in his arms to warm it with his body heat. "I would never hand a client a cold piece of steel. I warm it up before I let them touch it." In each presentation, he shows potential clients the raw materials, and the processes and tools needed to turn the hard, straight steel into a fine work of art.
Fetty's been hammering away for 40 years, and has traveled to conferences in France, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and across the United States. He's taught many young blacksmiths in his studio as well as at various teaching demonstrations. He's been recognized in magazines, but mostly he's been able to make a good living plying his craft.
"When I saw a great demand for my work, I took some time off to study the business end of it all. I have to know that part to be able to preserve my dream that I'm passionate about, of forging hot metal. I never thought that I would be an employer," he said.
While his small pieces are available at Tamarack, it's the larger, commissioned works that pay the bills. His résumé is impressive: He's done pieces for President Bill Clinton's White House, the Elizabethan Globe Theatre in London, designer Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, American writer Tom Clancy, rocker Jon Bon Jovi, and for buildings and homes in Shanghai; Paris; Boston; Peterborough, England; and Vienna, Austria.
Locally, his work can be seen at the Governor's Mansion, in front of CAMC Women and Children's Hospital (the popular large daffodils) and at the state Department of Natural Resources building.
And Fetty was honored last week as one of the world's seven premier metal designers by "Metall Design International 2012."
He scoffs at the celebrity connections. He's just as proud of the delicate daffodils and candlesticks he sells at Tamarack.
"I'm designing for my age now," he said, when asked if his 58-year-old body is feeling the strains of the trade. While he does all of the design and the intricate work that is his trademark, he creates works that others in his studio can help him to complete.
'My life is my work'