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RAD GALS / SHOP TALK WITH CHELSEA GADDY

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October 21 2015 / artists, rad gals, studio visits

The local metalworker takes us behind-the-scenes with wall sconces, the importance of the creative process and her kinship with alloys

Photophraphy / Haley Blavka
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Alchemy, when stripped of its pursuit of life eternal and magical connotations, was primarily preoccupied with transmuting a common substance of little value into one of great value, often metal. The same could be said of Chelsea Gaddy, metalworker and founder of Force/Collide, whose home wares and furniture, although pointedly architectural in nature, are persuaded into being through an organic and experimental process.

It starts with a feeling and ends in reflection.   

“Through every piece, I’m developing my own visual language,” Gaddy says. Hers is a language of bronze and steel that materializes through a series of refinements—sketching, pattern-making, cutting, sanding, welding, grinding, finishing—until all that remains is the most elemental form of her original idea. Her work and the shape it takes is in constant conversation with the space it occupies and the purpose it serves.

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Gaddy went through her own artistic transmutation of sorts after graduating from the University of Washington in 2008 with a BFA in photography. Bridging the gap between student and professional triggered an internal dialogue about her place in Seattle’s art scene and personal fulfillment. She began working in bars full-time before finding her way into the hands-on educational environment of Pratt Fine Arts Center in 2010, where she discovered her affinity for welding and metal fabrication.

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“I took a blacksmithing class just because it sounded fun to hammer on metal,” she says. More than coursework and studio space, Pratt provided invaluable mentorship. Gaddy credits Vance Wolfe, an instructor at the time, with providing the encouragement she needed to take her craft from hobby to vocation. In 2013, she took the all-or-nothing plunge and started Force/Collide. “I had this blind confidence where I knew I wasn’t completely ready. There were other avenues I could’ve taken to get that schooling, but I really just felt a fire under my ass and wanted to get going and learn from experience.”

Truly, the woman who emerged from Pratt no longer doubted her place as an artist, thanks in part to the center’s learn-by-doing approach, but equally to a supportive community. Other skilled craftswomen and men—like Wolfe, knifemaker and shop-mate Hazel Margaretes or expert metal-finisher Marie Trybulski—played a pivotal role in Gaddy’s narrative arc toward accomplished metalworker. The development of her own visual language to describe the relationship she observed between objects and space came from within.

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Maybe it’s an unconscious obsession with compound angles, she muses, but Gaddy sees a certain steepness of angle repeated in her work from dining sets to urns to the unfinished wall sconces spread piece-by-piece across an immense and heavy work table occupying most of her cavernous shop. The four light fixtures are made with 32 hand-finished bronze panels—each a precise copy of the last. These lustrous wings hinge and feather from angular steel basins, reaching out in equal measure to the basin’s depth toward an opposite apex where two points brush, but are not joined. This precarious balance is another of her signatures. Despite the innate structure, strength and weight of metal’s material composition, Gaddy captures her pieces in a suspended moment of anticipation that interacts with its surrounding space and light.

“Even with the most minimal objects, you have a choice on how they look,” Gaddy says. Her aim to improve function through aesthetic considerations results in something of a subdued (very subdued) opulence rooted in the less-is-more attitude of minimalism. Thus, a chevron motif—visually pleasing with an innate ergonomic bent—resonates throughout the Jennings dining set, a stunning piece made in collaboration with local woodworker David Nelson. Perfecting that symbiosis between function and form takes a fair bit of dig-your-heels-in grit, never-give-up patience and figure-it-out experimentation.

Because no one starts out an expert.

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As much as talent, education and encouragement play their part, maybe the truest mark of a master is her willingness to stick with her work and keep at it. “How much do you really love what you are doing?” Gaddy asks. Enough to fail at it countless times? Enough to try again and again and again? Enough to revel in the learning as much as the finished work? “You make things that don’t work all the time. It’s a difficult part of the process, but so important.”

Gaddy’s dedication to her trade and desire to keep improving it shows through each piece. In many ways, she is still an emerging metalworker with many years of refinement ahead. Much like the reductive process that guides her work to coax out the soul of each object’s beauty, Gaddy’s artistry narrows its focus with each new completed project. Like those wall sconces reaching outward to a point as high as their basins are deep, the greater her depth of practice, self-assuredness and vision become, the more on-point and impactful her work will be.

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Each day or project concludes with a note-taking ritual. She’s filled countless journals by now with recaps of what worked, what didn’t and what to do tomorrow. Most of them Gaddy will never read again, but often these times of reflection ignite new inspiration. A feeling emerges, takes shape.

And the metalworker returns to her work to begin the cycle anew.

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Chelsea’s work can be found at www.forcecollide.com

Haley Blavka  www.blavka.com

Woodwork by David Nelson of 66 Originals
Furniture Photophraphy by Christopher Eltrich