Iron Man

By staff June 1, 2002

Amidst the ringing of hammers and showers of glowing embers, in a steel-and-concrete heat-trap in Sarasota's industrial district, George Snowden practices an ancient craft. The third-generation master blacksmith and proprietor of Gulfshore Forge fashions wrought-iron banisters, railings and gates for clients who wait more than six months for one of Snowden's ethereal, one-of-a-kind creations.

"It is nothing more than a piece of iron until you turn it into something that has value," says Snowden, a stocky man with rivulets of coal-soaked perspiration snaking down his face. "It's a precious metal once it is transformed into an art form."

Despite 12-hour working days, each piece is so labor-intensive the Forge only handles up to four projects a year. Snowden and his four employees, including his son, Richard, mold each scroll, spiraling vine and veined leaf of the intricate European-style pieces by hand. Wife Galina, an artist, sketches designs and paints the final product. Even the tools-the 120-year-old cavalry anvil and heaps of patterns scattered around the cavernous forge-are handmade. The personal touch does not come cheap; clients from Boca Raton to Miami pay an average of $400 per foot for a Snowden piece.

Molding metal is an art Snowden perfected through decades; both his grandfather and father were blacksmiths in the Florida Keys, and Snowden began by shoeing horses when he was a child. Since then, he's traveled the world, learning from master smiths in Turkey, Europe, Russia, New Mexico and Wisconsin before starting a forge first in Fort Pierce, and now here. "Nothing really has changed," Snowden says; wrought iron has a timeless appeal, and its creation calls for a combination of intuitive knowledge, raw strength and subtle artistry. Says Snowden: "Iron is forever. It has a lasting beauty that never goes away."

You can reach Snowden at Gulfshore Forge, 2140 20th St. (941) 952-0599.

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