In the beginning, sparks flew. The initial thrill of a challenge settled into a slow burn as what was new became more familiar and more difficult, finding its true expression through friction. If this sounds like the unfolding of a long-term relationship, well, it is—only this time, it’s the relationship of a maker to his medium.
Metalsmith and bladesmith Andrew Meers did not set out as a young artist to work with metal, but when knifemaker J.D. Smith took Meers under his wing, Meers traded painting and sculpture for an exploration of metal that would change the course of his life. “At first, it was the challenge that attracted me. I was really not intrinsically good at metalworking,” he explains. In the course of his early trying and failing, he became captivated by the drama of metal (the fire of the forge, the hammering!) and the ways it could be manipulated. Now, he acknowledges that working with metal can be frustrating: the tools are heavy; the work is slow and dirty. “I have a love/hate relationship with it. At times, it can be really static and stable and other times, really plastic and able to be manipulated in very specific ways,” Meers says. Still, his interest in the medium has held for the last sixteen years.
Meers moved on from the initial challenge to a fascination with the technical precision of metallurgy to where he is now, a more personal pursuit of metal’s expressive qualities. Along the way, the Boston native received an MFA in metalsmithing/blacksmithing, earned his Master Smith certification from the American Bladesmithing Society—a ranking only a couple hundred others in the world share—and completed two stints at North Carolina’s renowned Penland School of Craft, first as an instructor and then as artist-in-residence from 2017–2020.
His work—which ranges from delicately engineered folding knives and intricately patterned daggers to small reliquaries or vessels—is united by his interest in pattern and the personal. Meers is reinventing the idea of a reliquary, building knives around or creating containers for tiny relics whose meanings come from Meers’s own life, not a holy tradition. A fox tooth found on a walk, for example. A ladybug. In the same vein, the embellishments that adorn his knives replace traditional cultural motifs with unexpected yet mundane images, such as a cat chasing a ball of yarn, or a mouse and mousetrap. “For me, the meaning is that it is intentionally sort of banal. Just nice little moments from life,” he says.
While Meers describes his style as “playful” and “less refined,” the skill demonstrated in his craft is serious. Over the years, he’s been refining his perspective on the ancient art of pattern welding, which fuses different metals together to create exquisite patterns on the blade. And yet, the patterns—some cloud-like and ethereal, some graphic and bold—make up just one component of a knife. The multistep process for creating one of Meers’s more involved pieces can take years to complete.
Bladesmithing is an art that traces its origins back across millennia. And reliquaries have an ancient history all their own. Andrew Meers uses these noble, time-honored traditions to elevate the everyday, the useful, the personal. He sets the medium free from cultural mythologies and bends it to his own self-expression. He takes the old and makes it new.
See more at andrewmeersstudio.com. Photography by Paul Mehaffey
The eternal quest for artists is the search for the time and space and resources to make their art. Penland School of Craft, an arts education center tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, gives creatives a way to find all three. In addition to workshops in fields that range from textiles to printmaking to metalworking, the school offers three-year artists’ residencies, galleries, and ready access to a thriving community of craftspeople. The residency program aims to empower artists with the support, collaboration, and freedom to focus their next step. Perhaps most importantly, the communal design of the program ensures constant interaction between Penland’s students, other artists-in-residence, and visitors.
Metalsmith Andrew Meers, a recent Penland resident artist, says the shared creative energy was one of the most valuable parts of his Penland experience. His most recent work actually incorporates glass vials that were created by a fellow resident artist. “You know your neighbors are doing the same thing,” he says. “So you can always walk next door and talk to them about your practice.”
Penland School of Craft, 67 Doras Trail, Penland, NC. (828) 765-2359, penland.org