Rappahannock’s ‘Michelangelo of Iron’
River District Arts in Sperryville will host a book-signing event from 1 to 4 p.m. this Saturday (June 20), when ironsmith and author Nol Putnam will be signing his newest work of art, or work of publishing: “Beauty in the Shadows: Wrought Iron in the Washington National Cathedral.”
The Huntly artist, “who speaks the language of iron and steel,” was commissioned by the National Cathedral in Washington to design and create several of his master iron works. The new book explores the iconic cathedral’s iron work of various artists (including Nol) in a book beautifully illustrated with photographs.
While I’ve known of Nol Putnam and his gift with iron, I only met him recently, and I couldn’t stop thinking about “The Pillars of the Earth,” one of my all-time favorite historical novels, by master storyteller Ken Follett, who departed from his bestselling-thriller genre to write about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England in the 12th century.
The book traces the development of Gothic architecture against the backdrop of historical events; Gothic architecture has also fueled Nol Putnam’s passion. Nol is, as some describe him, a “Michelangelo of Iron.” He shares with Follett not only a passion for history (having once been a history teacher) but also a passion for all things Gothic. “Creating iron work is a symphony, a crescendo,” he says, adding that the iron work of the Washington Cathedral “is the finest of it’s genre in the country.”
The book “ illustrates the flowering of but one branch of creations in iron that grace the glorious anachronism of building a Gothic cathedral in the 20th century (1905-1996) with traditional methods,” as he wrote. “I am drawn first to the iron by the physicality of the work. To have now the knowledge to take a bar of iron and with heat and hammer turn it into the design in my head is simply delicious. The dance round the anvil, and the bigger the piece the greater the dance … the dance, the movement, the creative noticing between one hammer blow and the next, the manipulation of the iron on the anvil; the movement of iron from forge to anvil; the intensity of the heat; the focusing of all senses on that precise piece in that precise moment is quite simply glorious. Everything is preparation for that moment and repeated moments … all urging, arguing, cajoling, pushing and promising the completion of the work. This also is a dance.
“Iron must flow and move as in a symphony,” he writes. “In one stage it is malleable movement. A piece will move from thick to thin; bars opened and passed through; organic; always flowing as if drawn from the molten center of the earth. Perhaps our deepest connection comes from the sea, the iron in the sea linked to our blood as eons ago we crawled from the sea. Our spiritual link which begins with birth; which begins with water, fire, earth and air, the most basic tools of a smith.”
“Or, more simply, I have been a studio artist since 1972 and will probably continue until the day I die. . . .”
Day and swim camps at Belle Meade
Growing up in Montreal, I spent many a summer in the Laurentian mountains visiting my grandparents in a lyrical place called Morin Heights, a place so reminiscent of Rappahannock’s rolling hills, teeming wildlife and lush green summers. Belle Meade School in Sperryville offers summer day camps, where kids can enjoy similar outdoor life, all in a setting worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. Day camp sessions are available July 6-17 and August 3-14 for boys and girls ages 6-13. Campers participate in swimming, arts and crafts, canoeing and archery, and take excursions to the mountains and rivers to hike and swim. Transportation from Amissville, Rappahannock County Park and Sperryville Schoolhouse available.
Swim camp sessions centered around Belle Meade’s pool with a view but also including arts and crafts, are available July 6-10 and July 20-24 for ages 4 to 7. Visit bellemeade.net/camp or call Susan Hoffman at 540-987-9748 to learn more.