Sometimes, blacksmiths get a bad rap. Like when they’re regarded as little more than muscular brutes who pound hot metal into knife blades.
But blacksmiths C. “Shark” Lambdin and Kamber Sokulsky, creators of Salida’s newest public art sculpture, explain that the art of blacksmithing is much more complex than people realize. It takes scientific know-how, an alchemist’s curiosity and a bit of mysticism to bring a blacksmith’s artistic vision to life.
“There’s innovation and invention that goes on in all of this,” Lambdin says. “We have to be conscious of physics, down to the molecular and intuitive levels. We don’t just beat metal into submission. We have to finesse it.”
The sculpture, located in Riverside Park and titled “Play Me (but don’t wreck me),” is their answer to the Salida Public Art Commission’s request for an interactive, musical, playful piece of art. It is funded by Great Outdoors Colorado, which awards competitive grants to local governments using a portion of Colorado lottery proceeds to preserve and enhance parks, trails, rivers and open spaces.
A river rock at the base of the sculpture represents Earth, while a large circle frames a textured-steel sun centerpiece above a crescent moon. The sun is filled with layers of yellow crushed glass and the moon contains a similar blue version of crushed glass that glows in the dark.
“It celebrates our existence,” Sokulsky says. “The sun, moon, earth – pretty big stuff.”
Like spokes on a wagon wheel, eight hollow bells, or “sounding bodies,” extend from the metallic circle inward toward the sun and can be played musically by tapping the brightly painted end of each chime with one of the four attached mallets.
Even though it’s located in a playground, this new sculpture is meant to be looked at – not climbed on – and should only be played musically with the attached mallets.
Both artists hope people will see it and enjoy it, and maybe even contemplate the quote inscribed on the circle’s edge. The words stem from the first stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Cold Iron,” published in 1910, and are particularly meaningful to the artists:
“Gold is for the mistress – silver for the maid –
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”
“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
“But Iron – Cold Iron – is master of them all.”
“What can I say? We are blacksmiths!” Lambdin says. “All metals – and the world – can be shaped with iron.”
Lambdin and Sokulsky run their own studios but often collaborate on large pieces. Together, they designed and fabricated the pedestrian bridge between the SteamPlant and the adjoining boat ramp. An example of Salida’s art in public places, the bridge plays whimsical homage to the river and is adorned with detailed images of fish, flowers, birds, snails and even bats.
When the duo teams up, Sokulsky typically takes the role of principal designer and Lambdin takes the role of principal engineer. They each specialize in creating certain metallic forms and shapes, and their talents complement each other’s work.
Sokulsky, creator of the Creative District sign on the sidewalk next to the SteamPlant marquee, works in both Salida and Longmont and has been blacksmithing for 25 years. Her sculptures are displayed publicly in Snowmass and Colorado Springs, and she often creates detailed embellishments for top fabricators on the Front Range.
Lambdin’s 35-plus years of metalsmithing, including the past 11 years in Salida, have been spent sharpening his talent, experimenting with new techniques and, now, combining new media into his metalwork. He says he spent a lot of time experimenting with the crushed glass and resin to perfect it for this sculpture.
Most of his (and Sokulsky’s) art is purchased by private collectors, but Lambdin’s art can be seen in public places around Salida in business signage, decorative bike racks (outside Absolute Bikes) and artistic fire pits (Fiesta Mexicana and the former Rivers Edge)
While taking a break from installing the sculpture at Riverside Park, the artists watched a group of children approach the sculpture and begin playing the chimes. When a little girl told them, “Thank you for putting this in our park,” the artists couldn’t have been happier.
Then a group of high school thespians stopped to ponder the sculpture and its quote. “It was fun to watch them interact with it,” Sokulsky says.
“They took naturally to the quote,” Lambdin adds. “Genius is genius, wherever it is.”
Because so much of their artwork is commissioned by elite clients, the artists say this sculpture is especially gratifying because it is designed for the public. “This is rewarding because we get to share it with everyone, rich or poor,” Sokulsky says.
Lambdin encourages everyone to support artwork – public art and individual artists – whenever they can.
“We aren’t doing it for the money,” Sokulsky says. “We’re doing it because it’s something lasting for the community.”