Terran Marks – Brown County Forge
AA: Who are you and what do you do at Artisan Alley?
TM: My name is Terran Marks, and I’m a blacksmith; and basically what that means is, I hand forge metal at 1800 degrees and then bend it and shape it using a hammer and anvil. I’ve been doing this for over five-and-a-half years.
I started blacksmithing in 2011 doing a work-study program at the John C. Campbell Folk School in western North Carolina. In exchange for six weeks of maintenance/landscaping-type work, I got three free weeks of class, and I just devoted all three of those weeks to learning how to do it.
AA: Why do you continue to practice Blacksmithing today?
TM: I really like working with my hands, being able to create something out of raw materials. I like being able to have an idea, and then make it happen. I’m also drawn to how challenging it is to try to build a business based around the arts. I like that. I like that challenge.
AA: What in your life inspires you to create and work in those different ways?
TM: I’d say my main inspiration is trying to create something that people can use. Something that’s functional, and also a piece of art. If you had to get more specific about it, I get a lot of inspiration from American Colonial ironwork. So more rustic, traditional designs. That sort of thing. But the main focus, rather than being a decorative piece of ironwork, it’s more about function. So I ask, “Can you use it? Can it do a thing? Is it a tool?” before I start.
AA: Give us some examples of utilitarian art pieces that you make?
TM: The main things I make are wall hooks, to hang up your bathrobe, your jacket, your keys, etc. I also make a lot of bottle openers that I sell on Amazon and Etsy. To date, I’ve probably made somewhere around 1,000.
AA: And you’ve authored a book, I hear, targeted specifically at manufacturing and vending these items and more?
TM: Yes. “Hooks 101″ and “How to Make $99 An Hour”, so yeah.
AA: Where did you come up with this strategic business approach to the craft?
TM: Just kind of doing research online. I’m a big reader and I’ve always been interested in doing that myself, being a writer. For ‘Hooks 101’ and the other books, I saw an opportunity by just looking at what was available about blacksmithing online and I said, “I can probably fill that niche better”. The Hooks book, especially. It’s one of those things, when I was learning how to do it, I had multiple blacksmiths tell me that I needed something that was easy to make. Something that could be my bread and butter. This is what’s gonna sell on a regular basis. You’re not gonna be selling tons of iron gates right off the bat, but people will probably buy wall hooks just because they’re useful. Taking that idea, I wanted to reach people who were getting started in blacksmithing, or even thinking about it, and give them a boost. “Here’s something you can do right away. It’s fairly simple to make, and you’ll probably be able to sell it.”
AA: Sounds like a point of accessibility into the craft.
TM: Yeah, definitely.
AA: Exposure. Like every third friend we have is a painter, or a musician. (he laughs) But I know very few people who can say, “I’ve got this forge, you know, and I sell a bunch of wall hooks.” Do you find people are intimidated by that, or interested to jump in and see how accessible it is to make all these things that everyone can find use for?
TM: I think it’s a mix. There are probably some people that just aren’t used to seeing that or being around that, and it’s kind of intense. It’s really hot work. You’re dealing with heavy things and manipulating metal. So, I think there’s some intimidation there maybe. But my hope is that from writing these books and from offering classes, I can reduce that intimidation factor. Bring ’em in, and have them experience the art form and get a handle on it for themselves.
AA: How were you first drawn to this? Did you attend the Campbell school specifically for learning blacksmithing?
TM: It kind of just popped up. I used to fight fires for the U.S. Forest Service, and I had these seven-month stretches where I didn’t have any work. You fight fires in the summer, generally for five or six months, and I was looking for something to do in my off season. My cousin lives not very far from the John C. Campbell Folk School, and she said to come take a class sometime. I said okay, took a look at the work-study program they offer, and went for it. The Folk School offers classes in all sorts of folk arts. You can do woodworking, chair caning, painting. I had some experience in woodwork and painting, so I didn’t want to do that. Blacksmithing sounded interesting, so I went for it.
AA: And ended up sticking with it even after?
TM: Yeah, so when I was a little kid, I started off drawing and painting, but I never really felt I could see the business side of it. I didn’t see it as a way to make a living for me. I still do that stuff, but being able to make something that people can use makes way more sense in my brain. I can make a thing, you can buy it. But you can use it! It’s different than painting something and hanging it on a wall. And paintings are so subjective, too. Whatever it’s of, it’s gonna be a little harder finding that one person who’s gonna really enjoy that particular piece of art. But if you make something like these bottle openers and wall hooks, it’s kind of one-size fits all.
AA: Even though it may seem so niche. For the majority of our history, despite the technical skill level needed, blacksmithing was so ubiquitous! Everyone in every town who needed something wrought from metal, every town needed one, right?
TM: Every town did had one!
AA: What feelings are you experiencing when you’re working and creating?
TM: There’s definitely some excitement. The opportunity to create- making something out of these raw materials, using fire, these basic elements- that’s pretty exciting. And it’s also gratifying. Knowing how to manipulate the materials. There’s a lot of satisfaction that you get out of that. You’re using your muscles, your body, to create this thing… Yeah. If I’ve been in the shop for a while, there’s definitely tiredness. Exhaustion can set in. It’s definitely part of it.
AA: On average, how long do you spend in the shop?
TM: With the forge going, usually not more than three to four hours at a time. That’s usually enough. So when I make hooks or bottle openers, I can make about 25 bottle openers in an hour, but I don’t like to really go over 50 in a day. My arm can’t really do that day-in and day-out. Two hours tops if I’m really crankin’ it, but usually three or four. The rest is just finish work: drilling holes, fitting them with key rings, dipping them in oil to do the finish.
AA: When do you find your self in a place to do your best work?
TM: Generally, in the evenings I have the most energy. I’m not much of a morning person, so I’m not right out of the gate at 7A.M. coming into the forge. Mostly late afternoon into the evening I can crank stuff out. Turn on some music, and just go for it.
AA: You’re fully employed through your craft and this business. Do you work every day?
TM: Yes, I do something for the business every day. Not necessarily in the shop creating something because a lot of it comes down to marketing and sales. I’m actually talking to some folks about working with me to take care of the sales and marketing aspect of the business so I can focus more on making stuff, but yeah every day I’m doing something.
AA: Tell us how you came to be a part of Artisan Alley and working at this location
TM: I finished up my last season of fighting fire in 2015 and I was coming back to the Brown County/Bloomington area since this is where I’m from. I had decided a year before that that I was going to set up a business, and that it was going to be blacksmithing. I was committed to it. But I needed space, obviously. I didn’t want to be out in the cold weather, because I came back in November. So I typed in Google search,“Light industrial artist space.” The top result was Cyclops Studios, which was the rental side of Artisan Alley at the time. I contacted Adam Nahas to see what space he had available. He said he was actually about to start up a whole wood and metal side-by-side warehouse space and once I got back to town, we should sit down and talk about it. The rest is history.
AA: So you were a founding artist of the Burl & Ingot space when it was created?
TM: I was the first shop to get set up on the Ingot side. That was in November of 2015, so I’ve been doing it full time for almost a year.
AA: What’s the biggest change or progress you’ve seen in that time?
TM: It’s grown by leaps and bounds. We have so much interest just in the past few months with people who want to rent out space. There’s also a lot of interest in seeing what’s going on since we have so many different types of artists and things happening. The whole organization has gotten bigger. More people have gotten involved. I feel like we’re on the way to becoming a great arts resource for Bloomington.
AA: What’s the next step?
TM: Continuing to offer more of our free classes. Also letting people know that our community tool share is available. You can come in, rent out tools to accomplish a job so you don’t have to invest a lot of money into buying your own set. Continuing to welcome the community in.
AA: Does the collaboration and range of arts have different results for your business than a more traditional business location and model?
TM: I think it draws in more and different types of people. Say somebody comes over there to check out what’s going on with woodworking, and they realize that there are three working blacksmiths over here. They might have thought about blacksmithing and never really gotten deep into it. Since they were brought in by another artist it gets me more exposure to a different segment of people.
AA: What Artisan Alley events and locations are you involved in aside from your work for Brown County Forge?
TM: My shop is set up in the South building of our South Rogers St. location. I’m there most days. As far as events go, I’m at almost every one of our Arts Markets. That’s about four times a year that we do that. I do demos that people can come in and check out. I make hooks, bottle openers, and other small projects throughout the day demonstrating the craft. I help out with marketing and publicity around town as well.
AA: Do you do a weekly workshop?
TM: I generally attend Metal Mondays with Cody Craig of Silverpaw Workshop. I’m not always an instructor but I am usually there participating and being supportive of what he does, if he needs a second hand. There are some techniques he shows that need another set of hands. Tonight’s actually a Metal Monday, and I’ll be there.
AA: Know what you’ll be doing?
TM: You know, I’m not sure what Cody has in store for us.
AA: Any closing thoughts on AA?
TM: It’s a great place to work. Great place to be. It’s pretty amazing to be around this concentration of talented people.
If you are interested in more about Brown County Forge or what Terran Marks is up to feel free to check out his web and social media links below.