150mm. 15cm. Six inches. About the length of biro. That’s the size of the thin, rectangular block of steel Ambrose Burne gave to his artist blacksmithing group after their summer break.
“It was a way of getting them back in to forge, getting them going,” Delyth Done, HCA’s Artist Blacksmithing course director said.
The task was simple. Take this small, nondescript block and make something cool. Or at least something individual. It was a way of getting the group to knock the rust off their summer and get back in to their work.
And then Instagram happened.
As Ambrose and the @HerefordAnvils accounts started posting up the students’ finished pieces with the hashtag #150mmchallenge, the concept began to catch on. It crossed the Atlantic. It featured on blacksmithing podcasts. And it tapped in to a simple and joyful desire for self-expression amongst an admittedly closely-forged community of hammer-swinging artists that spreads the length and breadth of the globe.
Scroll through the page of 900+ images now and you’ll see submissions from South America, to Russia, to the Colorado Rockies. And each has a style as distinct and diverse as the far-away forges and artist blacksmiths that made them. As much as the skill and the beauty and - at times - the humour on show, these pieces are defined by their difference. No two pieces appear even remotely alike.
It’s a stunt, as the kids say. A chance to show off. You give an artist blacksmith a 150x20x20 blank canvas, and challenge them to create something, then you step back and let them go to work.
When hashtag began to pick up some real momentum within the blacksmithing world in early December – in part because of the extensive HCA alumni diaspora, in part because it was cool as hell – an opportunity arose to turn it in to something IRL (In Real Life).
Delyth also co-ordinates Ferrous Festival, a week-long celebration of artist blacksmithing in the heart of Hereford city, and so she embarked upon the not-insignificant task of attempting to assemble as many of the completed 150mm challenge pieces as possible in a showing at the festival, in Hereford, this April.
The artists began sending in their work (think of the international P&P for a metal installation embedded in rock) and quickly began filling up every square-centimetre of spare shelf space in the HCA offices.
But now, with the festival weeks away, the majority of designs have cleared customs and are being photographed at the college ahead of the show.
Below is a small selection of some of the more interesting images – but head to Ferrous’ account here for more info on where and when you can see the full collection on display, and how to get involved with everything else that’s going on around Ferrous 2019.
Pete Braspennix (USA):
"I was drawn to the challenge by the open-ended limitation. Having an opportunity to be creative while under a restriction forces you to address the work in a new way.
"I tool this opportunity to try and use the available mass and length of the material to create a form that would be the sum of the parent stock, yet new form unrecognisable from its beginning."
Thomas Boucher (USA):
"I took the challenge to heart and really wanted to push myself.
"I came up with the idea of making a crab lock and did a series of volumetric calculations to see what was possible while trying to maximise the material used.
"I had a lot of fun with this project and I highly recommend it to any smiths that have not taken it up."
Max Anderson (CAN):
"As with much of my work, this piece was a reaction to the given brief whilst trying to incorporate key aspects of forging that I love.
"The eventual form was provided by the creative process and ended up as an investigation into the relationship between lines and a greater sense of movement that can create."
Henke Levay (SWE):
"It's been so fun to follow all the posts from blacksmiths around the world - to see all the creative ideas take shape from the same stock of steel.
"I like skulls.
"Since I first started forging I often incorporate skulls in my work - it's almost become a signature in some of my designs. With the 150mm challenge I got an excuse not just to forge one skull, but a pile of skulls."
Giles Clarke (UK):
"My work is heavily influenced by the process of forging with a heavy focus on the five fundamental processes we use as blacksmiths in order to manipulate our medium.
"I've titled it Five - and it portrays movement and hopes to evoke a child-like curiosity from within the viewer."
Sam Pearce (UK):
"I wanted my piece to be both obvious and intriguing. As the material was the only constraint in the brief, I felt it was important to show some of the original stock. I believe this also aids in understanding the forging process.
"The piece shows how forging can be used in a precise and controlled manner, while the steel can be allowed to move without restriction.
"Forging is a technique that provides endless opportunities. As a blacksmith I use the forging process to guide design decisions."
Jake James (CAN):
"This piece was totally free forged, with no pre-measurement or drawing. The blacksmith is inspired by my sculptural body of figurative, collaboratively-made works.
"I try to shift the focus of a narrative with my sculpture for the #150mmchallenge - from the made objects to the makers behind them."