On a recent Friday morning, blacksmith Bill Smith stands over the coals at his workshop at the Cattle Track Arts Compound in Scottsdale. It's almost 100 degrees outside already, but it's even hotter in Smith's workshop, where he's crafting an ornate fireplace poker.
Smith, 75, has been a professional blacksmith since 1950, when he completed a five-year apprenticeship in the small village in Scotland where he grew up. Back then, his work primarily consisted of making horseshoes for Clydesdale horses and iron gates for local farms.
These days, Smith does custom work for interior designers and their clients. He makes fireplace pokers, bed frames, chairs, tables, and pretty much anything else that can be forged from iron. The old world aesthetic of Smith's pieces appeals to a wide range of clientele, including notables like photographer Bruce Weber, who used Smith's workshop as the setting for a photo shoot for the Italian version of Vogue magazine.
"He came in here for a photo shoot, for one of those teeny bopper stores. He had the models and all, and he came in here, and I was like, 'My god, why would you want to come in here and take pictures for Vogue?'" Smith says. "He came in after hours, and had music outside. The models were guys. I didn't get the pleasure of meeting the women."
Smith's bewilderment at Weber's choice of his workshop is understandable - the workshop is hot, smells like burning coals, and is filled with the tools of his trade - hammers, iron rods, and anvils. Most blacksmiths these days use gas or propane, but Smith still uses only coal.
"I just like the nostalgia," he says. "I should be dead by now, breathing all this smoke. I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, but I've made up for it that way."
Among Smith's latest works is a bouquet of roses made from iron. Smith explains that he made a similar piece for a widow who was tired of thieves taking the roses from her husband's grave. Along with his ornate fireplace pokers, each decorated with faces, the iron roses are among Smith's more detailed works.
"There's some stuff I'd love to make, like the masks with fancy wreathes. But that's a different class," Smith says. "I was just a country blacksmith, shoeing horses and things like that. I didn't make anything like this in Scotland. I just did traditional stuff, like if somebody broke a plow or something like that. In the 50s, we were still using horses for plowing. Of course, that fell by the wayside when tractors came into use."
Whether he's making custom dining chairs or horseshoes, Smith's just happy to be doing what he loves. "This is all I do. I don't golf or anything like that," he says. "I think it keeps me going. I come in here around 5:30 in the morning. I've never worked at any other job. I wouldn't know what to do."
For more information on the custom blacksmith works of Bill Smith, call 480-991-2245.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.