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Dedicated to their craft.

In a society where mass consumerism is the norm, Catherine McCormack meets four people whose livelihoods are based on craft and Tradition in VirginBlue’s April 2009 Voyeur. [Below we have extracted the portion of the article dealing with Eveleigh Blacksmith Guido Gouverneur.]

Artisans used to be the backbone of Australia - their skills shaped and built our communities. Today, their craft is often referred to as 'dying' and they can find it difficult to run a niche business. Yet artisans are quick to point out the rewards that come with producing beautifully crafted items. Whether it's building a grand piano, hand-forging a decorative gate, making sausages the old-fashioned way or transforming a client's measurements into a perfectly fitting cotton shirt, these four artisans share a dedication to their craft and a desire to make a difference to the lives of their customers.


Name :: Guido Gouverneur

Position :: Head blacksmith, Wrought Artworks, Redfern, New South Wales.

Why blacksmithing? "I'm really enamoured by the dynamic of working with hot steel. it responds instantaneously. You can join it, bend it, soften it, blow it up like a ball - the potential is enormous.

I remember being five years old and watching my dad fire-weld in our garage. Dad was a second-generation blacksmith and I spent my childhood helping him make things. My mother was a ceramicist and fired everything in an oil-fired kiln we built her she was another strong influence on my artistry. I worked for a local wood-turner as a teenager in New Zealand, then after graduation I began an apprenticeship in fitting, turning and machining.

At 26, I came to Australia, where I met my partner, Wendie, who now works alongside me. Together we travelled to Western Europe to study blacksmithing, then returned to Sydney to establish our own business, Wrought Artworks. In 1991, we moved into the historical Eveleigh Blacksmith Shop in Redfern, a suburb of Sydney.

There are so many areas of specialisation in blacksmithing, but I've always been into the arty stuff. We produce everything from fences to sculptures. I've done a lot of restoration work too. We utilise some modern technology, but only if it makes something better, not cheaper to produce.

The workshop wouldn't survive without our apprentices. However, there's a much broader range of career possibilities for them to choose from now. It's one of the reasons blacksmithing is in decline - not to mention that you're fortunate if you can make $60,000 a year in this business. My son, Atlas, has been working with us for several years - he's doing an engineering degree and one day hopes to take over the family business.

My days are filled with project management, fixing machinery, paperwork and pitching for new jobs. In the last few years, I've also spent a lot of time and money lobbying the State Government for preservation of the workshop, which has been under threat from redevelopment plans.

My philosophy is that I never compete on price. People who value high-quality design, materials and workmanship will be happy to pay for it.

One of my favourite projects to date was an elaborate Spanish-style ironwork screen for veteran property developer Lang Walker. We spent an absurd amount of time on it because the whole thing needed to be assembled without welding, like a giant iron jigsaw puzzle.

What I'd really like to do now is something with an architect and a range of other artisans. It's time to do something really definitive, a piece that makes a statement about the present."

Photo: Guido Gouverneur believes the traditional art of blacksmithing is in decline.