Meet Natalie Blackwell, the 'Iron Lady'; an artist blacksmith and welder who teaches her trade with infectious enthusiasm. Here she shares with us her love of metal and the highs and lows of life as a woman blacksmith...
"Since GCSEs I wanted to be a big shot sculptor! But quickly realised this might not be possible straight away. I had to just make things, anything at all, and discovered a fascination for materials and their possibilities. It was a longer period of realisation to make the choice between wood and metal, eventually choosing metal, I have never looked back. And the dream is still the same!
I see myself as a servant to metals – if its chemistry of change is respected and maintained, it will repay the favour. Metal is dependable. Metal is truth. Metal continues to surprise and provide discovery, and I know that when I am old I will still learn new truths.
Gender has been a positive and negative aspect. The negatives nearly always leading to a positive. I have been the receiver of severe bullying, daily casual sexism and two assaults, whilst simultaneously intensely practicing and learning metalwork. I think I’m quite hard skinned now – but it depends on the time of the month, as they say.
Now gender is a boon to me, unashamedly I use positive discrimination to my advantage. I have been taught by some excellent men and I still look for new opportunities and jobs alongside men as I know there is more to learn.
My current workshop is a beautiful environment in which to work metal. Safe, clean and full of light. People enter wide eyed wanting to know what objects, tools and machinery do what and what half started projects will become. It’s a place to hang out, play and learn. When someone does a job outside of their gender norm it is a given that they do it because they love it rather than a need to pay the bills. When I teach my craft I am overwhelmed by love of my material, my enthusiasm rubs off on my pupils to the extent they go off to buy their own equipment and quit their 9 to 5. I love to see their delight!”